Monday, June 30, 2008

'Because killing people is what we do'

Letter to Joe Bageant

I want to share a chance encounter I had last weekend while visiting my brother in southern Ohio. My trips there invariably involve our stopping at various pubs in several surrounding communities. Late Saturday night we visited the pub whose owner my brother considers to be a good friend -- except for his politics. But the guy has a good heart. And he tells funny stories. And he is a good guitar player. He even supplied and “ran” the fireworks display at our parents’ 50th anniversary party a number of years ago. But this particular evening, I don'’t even remember how my brother and I “got started” with him regarding politics,– the military, the war, blah, blah.

It was an unusual night at that pub because just the three of us were there. Usually, it’'s crowded, the juke box is playing, and guys and gals are playing pool in a back room. A few people eventually wandered in. Our friend, tending bar that night because his “help” didn'’t show up, served them and came back to us to continue our debate that got louder and louder. Mainly because my brother and I had already had a few beers.

After a while, the gentleman sitting next to me (to whom we had not directed any conversation) got up, started walking out, and peered at us saying, "“If we don’t fight them there, we'’ll have to fight them here."” Same old. Same old. I didn’'t reply.

Back to the bartender. Next, the only other two people there, a young couple, walked by to leave the establishment. The bartender was probably figuring at that point that we might be driving business away, but he didn'’t stop arguing with us. The young man looked our way as he was leaving, saying something (I can’'t remember exactly what) about Iraq and his having been in Iraq four times. Although I knew better, I replied with some comment about the immorality of the invasion and occupation. His wife at that point angrily kept repeating the fact that her husband had been in Iraq four times.– I guess she expected that we should thank him for that, and when we didn'’t, she was upset. The couple ended up staying in the pub, and the four of us argued debated.

Now, a few days later, I remember only three things the vet said: The old, "“If you don'’t like it here, just leave."” And, "“I hope you die before I do."” I couldn'’t– and still can'’t figure that one out. If he would have just said "“I hope you die"” I would have “gotten it.” But why is it a good thing that I die before he does?

But, then he said incredible thing and this is really why I am writing this to you. My brother and I kept asking the bartender and the couple, "Why? Why? Why are we there? Why are we doing this?" And, of course, we chimed in oil, empire, Israel. And this is what he said:


I know it’s a cliché to say it, but I almost fell off my bar seat. I told him another cliché, "“You hit the nail on the head. I agree with you completely.”" I didn'’t get the feeling he was mocking us. In fact, he seemed satisfied that he came up with a reason.

He then quizzed me about the number of deaths in Iraq, Vietnam and World War Two. At first I didn'’t understand where this was going, but his point was, "Hey, only 4,000 some Americans have been killed compared to 50,000 in Vietnam." And, of course, there was absolutely no mention of the Vietnamese or Iraqi dead.

I don'’t know why this exchange continues to haunt me. I never really “talk politics” in redneck country. I even hate that we use the word “politics” to describe the concept. As you know, a lot of people like to say, "“Oh, I don'’t do politics.”" To me, that’s like saying “I don’t do life.”

At any rate, that was days ago and I am still thinking about what he said. I'’m not even angry. I never got hateful with him or his wife. I never “attacked” him personally. Maybe this stays with me because I realize my alienation from most Americans (including and especially my "liberal" friends) and my culture has reached grotesque proportions. I had already lost all hope, which I think is rational so I don'’t know why this is staying with me. Do you believe it? THAT’S WHAT WE DO. AMERICA KILLS PEOPLE.

Thanks for listening. I wanted to go to Belize before I die, but now I figure I'’ll be lucky to make it to West Virginia. I need to find a cave near a stream. I love to read emails from your fans. One email from a fan of yours stays with me. This one I have saved:

“"As a weirdo and a life-long contrarian, I can say that it isn't easy to go against the herd, and the pay and hours suck. You lose much of your social interaction since you don't have much to talk about with other people once you stop believing in the collective mass-hypnosis."”

Best to you.


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