Poets Against War Autumn Newsletter 2007
Poets Against War Newsletter Summer 2007

In this issue:

The Republic of Poetry: Hampshire College Commencement Address by Martín Espada
Two Poems and Two Paintings by Tarek Eltayeb
Poetry of Solidarity by Karen Margolis
What Country is This? Editorial by Sam Hamill
The Good Artists Were Usually on the Right Side by Samih al-Kasim

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Sam HamillWhat Country is this?

What country is this? What has happened to the moral imperative, to the idea of a government that is representative of the people? I watched, with rising outrage, as the “leading” Democratic candidates for president of this country repeated, each after the other, that she or he could not promise to have American armed forces out of Iraq in another five years. How outraged can one tired old man be? I was the fool who suggested Barack Obama as the best alternative to another Clinton presidency, a candidate who would end this immoral, illegal war.

The United States’ armed forces are in Iraq to stay. The “new American century” envisioned by Rove, Cheney, Bush and their cronies is a fascist state planning American hegemony over the world. Blackwater, Halliburton, oil companies—the war profiteers enjoy soaring profits as the American experiment in democracy crumbles and the people are impoverished by generations of debt and another war of aggression bloodying our hands.

Who will represent the will of the people, who will stand for the moral imperative against war as a capitalist enterprise? If this war had any moral imperative, we the people might insist that it be conducted as a not-for-profit operation; we would demand a draft so that all classes of people serve equally; we might demand that taxes be raised to pay for this carnage rather than putting the bill on our soaring national debt. We might remind our government that we, the people, are the owners of our Constitution— and that is the only thing that protects us from tyranny.

What has happened to our Constitution? I live in a country that uses secret prisons and torture chambers, a country run by a government that never stops lying, spies on its citizens, and spits not only on the Geneva convention accords, but on our Constitution— a country with five percent of the world’s population and twenty-two percent of the world’s incarcerated population. What happened to habeas corpus? What is the definition of tyranny? What is the definition of fascism? The Corporate State. This president tells Congress and the American people that he is doing away with secrets prisons and torture while at the very same time planning new secret prisons and more advanced torture. He invaded and destroyed a country that had done nothing to us, a country run by a tyrant we armed and encouraged to wage war against Iran, Saddam being our “ally” in the Eighties; and now, in the midst of a tribal civil war, we contribute, day after monstrous bloody day, to the slaughter of innocent people.

Does the Republican chant, “Support our troops,” also include supporting our tens of thousands of mercenaries—some of whom murder with impunity? And what an ugly, utterly impersonal word, troops.

When I was in Marine Corps boot camp, the first thing I learned was that my paramount duty was to “become a killing machine.” When we send “killing machines” into other countries, it would serve us well to understand that these men and women are not only killing machines, but young, often naïve people who return home with deep psychic as well as physical wounds, each agony in its own way unique. Mercenaries, on the other hand, represent a Republican ideal— privatization of war. They are paid five or ten times what our “service” men and women are paid and are regulated (as far as anyone can tell) by no one other than corporate bosses. These are the twenty-first century incarnation of the mine-owners’ thugs who beat up union organizers a hundred years ago—in Virginia… and in Brazil and in Peru and…

We, the People, are not innocent. We cannot wash the blood from our hands. This is our government water-boarding prisoners in our little gulag in Guantánamo, Cuba— Cuba, whose government we have attempted to overthrow time and time again since the infamous Bay of Pigs, a country that has suffered from our embargoes and other anti-Cuban policies for half a century. We are not innocent. We cannot pretend to separate ourselves from our government. We are our government. We are representative of our long inglorious history of violence against others, of relentless imperialism, from the slave trade that financed our revolution (along with French money) to making Latin America safe for the United Fruit Company and Standard oil; from our genocide practiced against Native Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries to the poisoning of Vietnam with Agent Orange and the poisoning of Iraq with depleted uranium.

September 11… 1973: The day democracy died in Chile— the day Richard Nixon’s CIA succeeded in overthrowing the democratically-elected government of Salvador Allende— and another day democracy died another little death in the USA. We the people brought Augusto Pinochet to power, and with him, secret prisons, torture chambers, unknown thousands of “disappeared” people who opposed his tyranny. When the poet-folksinger (and theater director), Victor Jara, was captured by Pinchet’s thugs, he was beaten repeatedly; the bones in his hands were broken, as were his ribs, while he was taunted and ridiculed; and finally, he was gunned down and his body dumped along a road. Such are the practices of CIA-sponsored coups. Such are the practices of the government of the United States. And we are our government.

Victor Jara and Salvador Allende stand for something. The Demopublican-Republicrat one-party system of the United States stands for something else. As it has stood for a long string of tyrants— the Shaw of Iran, Augusto Pinochet, Manuel Noriega, Ferdinand Marcos, Saddam Hussein, and yes, even Osama bin Laden, etc. etc.— we the people have stood for them. The dark side of our national history reveals a perpetual killing machine cranking out bodies and profit for corporate powerbrokers since the birth of our nation—the slave trade and the arms trade.

September 11, 2001: Osama bin Laden celebrates the deaths of three thousand innocent people. He celebrates again when, on March 20, 2003, the United States invades Iraq; he celebrates again on May 1, 2003 when Bush gleefully, smugly, declares, as a looted Baghdad lies amidst burning rubble and chaos, “Mission accomplished!” Again and again, bin Laden celebrates.

And today bin Laden undoubtedly celebrates again because our representatives have declared the Iranian guard “a terrorist organization,” thereby giving a murderous president all the authorization he needs to extend his war against Iran.

Before we can be good citizens of the United States, I believe absolutely, we must be good citizens of the world. The only alternative is perpetual war. To be a citizen of the world, we must learn to see it—clearly see it—through the eyes of others. As a poet, as a man, my first allegiance is not to a flag, certainly, and not even to my country, but to the alleviation of the needless brutal suffering of humanity.

My government represents neither my political will nor my moral imperative against perpetual war for perpetual profit. Our Constitution has been decimated. And I have no representative to stand or speak for—to represent— my convictions, and I have no candidate. And I ask my fellow citizens, “Where is the great cry of outrage? Where is the conscience of our country?”

—Sam Hamill


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