the sand in the hourglass runs down, and the Grim Reaper
gets ready for harvest time in Iraq, I think of the
poetry of Robinson
Jeffers, and of the
poet himself: a difficult man, serenely alienated
from the world of his time, whose poems echo down through
the years like the voice of some forgotten prophet who
got it all right. Too right. Bitterly opposed to World
War II – in describing his President, he wrote of "the
cripple's power need of Roosevelt" – Jeffers' bitterness
was turned into a thing of beauty when he put pen to
this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity,
protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and
sighs out, and the
from "Shine, Perishing Republic," which we
its entirety yesterday because its author seems
to have captured this moment in history as if in a dream.
Our old Republic, once the enemy of kings and contemptuous
of empires, is now donning the imperial purple, and
soon the accolades for Caesar will fill the air, drowning
out all protests in a roar of approval. Americans and
Iraqis both will line the bombed out boulevards of Baghdad,
shouting "Hail Caesar!"
America we loved is lost, perhaps forever. That is the
meaning of this war. The republic that bound its rulers
with the chains of the Constitution and freed the rest
of us to live in peace is no more. In its place arises
… what? For answers I turn to books: Jeffers and Garet
Garrett, to start with, the poet and the polemicist.
Each were a bit of both, and it was the latter who predicted
this day, this hour, half a century ago:
have crossed the boundary that lies between Republic
and Empire. If you ask when, the answer is that you
cannot make a single stroke between day and night; the
precise moment does not matter. There was no painted
sign to say: 'You now are entering Imperium.' Yet it
was a very old road and the voice of history was saying:
'Whether you know it or not, the act of crossing may
be irreversible.' And now, not far ahead, is a sign
that reads: 'No U-turns.'"
thought we had crossed the Rubicon back in 1950, when
Truman went to war without the consent of Congress,
setting a precedent that would strip the peoples' representatives
of their constitutional prerogative. But the precise
moment did not come for another fifty-three years, when
day turned to night and the bombs fell on Baghdad. That
moment, as I write, is a matter of hours in the future,
and I am glad for Garrett that he did not live to see
it, for I find that its arrival does matter a
great deal, like the arrival of an arrow in one's breast.
But I shall try to take the Olympian attitude of Jeffers
sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make
fruit, the fruit rots
of the mother; and through the spring exultances,
ripeness and decadence;
home to the mother."
although I can hardly hope to attain the heights of
his unique detachment, or the clarity of the poetic
vision that let him look down on what was happening
to his country:
is good, be it stubbornly
mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than
is what hurts: that the republic shines even as it murders,
even as it morphs into a grossly misshapen parody of
itself. So that its rulers can speak half-credibly of
"liberation" when they mean conquest; can
say "freedom" to signify subjugation, can
commit war crimes and still call for the prosecution
of war criminals, can do the Devil's work and still
invoke almighty God. I turn to Garrett, again, for an
explanation, some clue to the mystery of schizoid America:
now, thou American, frustrated crusader, do you know
where you are?
it security you want? There is no security at the
top of the world.
thine own self a liberator, to the world an alarming
portent, do you know where you are going from here?"
American Story, Garrett's last volume, published
in 1955, and it might almost be mistaken for poetry.
His warning is a kind of incantation, meant to ward
off, even if only temporarily, the incubus of Empire.
His phrases leap off the musty pages of old books, challenging
our would-be Caesars and the citizens of a New Rome:
is no security at the top of the world.
the real lesson of 9/11, was prefigured in Garrett's
evocative prose, written at the rosy dawn of the American
Century. An ancient message in a bottle washed up on
the shore, and read by an astonished beachcomber with
complete understanding. What was cryptic, in 1955, is
brutally clear in 2003, as the government announces
that we have gone on "High Alert," or "code
orange" in the color-scale of terror.
thine own self a liberator, to the world an alarming
W. Bush and the neoconservative cabal that has manipulated,
bullied, and finally inspired him into war, invoke the
ideals of the American Revolution even as they betray
and corrupt the vision of the Founders. The Devil is
known to invoke scripture, but this particular demonic
clique has made a fetish out of it: they invoke "Americanism"
to implement the most anti-American agenda imaginable.
Only too glad to claim the mantle of "idealism"
as against the
dire realism of their own intelligence agencies,
they seek to "export" democracy to the four
corners of the globe, at gunpoint, starting with the
most intractable region, the Islamic world. If only
we could make The American Story required reading
for our civilian chickenhawks, so they could at least
calculate the costs of their sinister "idealism":
American revolution was a pilot flame that leaped the
Atlantic and lighted holocaust in the Old World. But
its character was misunderstood and could not have been
reproduced by any other people. It was a revolution
"democracy" take root in the arid soil of
the Middle East, forcibly implanted and fertilized with
plenty of U.S. tax dollars? To the social engineers
of the neoconservative persuasion, who see the world
as their laboratory, it is an experiment worth conducting.
The threat of terrorism, they maintain, cannot be defeated
unless we go in and yank it out by its roots – and plant
something else to take its place. Like the Soviets,
and all modern tyrants, they are contemptuous of tradition,
of the accumulated knowledge and cultural heritage handed
down over millennia. They see themselves as revolutionaries,
and that they are. But their revolution is not directed
primarily against foreign tyrants: for even as they
put on a great show of "liberating" foreign
peoples, they are in the process of enslaving the American
people, and destroying the remnants of the Constitution.
They are worse than mere hypocrites: they are defilers,
who pray loudly even as they desecrate the gravestones
of their ancestors.
era of the American Republic is over, and age of Empire
is begun. Where the U.S. once fought wars in self-defense,
it now wages wars of outright conquest. Where once we
fought to preserve our constitutional form of government,
today we must fight to restore it. The difference is
that now we are fighting a rear-guard action. The enemy
is not only within the gates: he has seized our main
headquarters, and is now conducting mop-up operations
against such pockets of resistance as still persist.
The citadel is taken.
war on Iraq is going to be short, but the occupation
will a task without end, a heavy burden that will be
more than just punishment for our vainglorious "victory."
As the self-elected arbiter of every ethnic dispute
that arises among the quarrelsome peoples of the Middle
East, we are walking into a snake-pit, I fear, without
thought of the consequences. A future of endless conflicts,
perpetual war for perpetual peace, and color-coded terror
unto infinity – that is what we have to look forward
despair, I turn to the forgotten prophets of the Old
Right, and, in the end, to the poet Jeffers, who
offers not consolation but only a merciless clarity:
long having foreseen these convulsions, forecast
of civilization past prime striving to die, and
through verse, image and fable
more than twenty years tried to condition the mind
bloody climate: – do you like it,
would rather have died twenty years
"'Sad sons of the stormy fall,'
said, 'no escape, you have to inflict and endure …
the world is like a flight of swans.'
said, 'No escape.'
knew also that your own country, though ocean-
nothing to gain, by its destined fools
be lugged in.
said, 'No escape.'
you had not
beaten beforehand, hopelessly fatalist,
might have spoken louder and perhaps been heard,
Have you never heard
who'd lead must not see?
saw it, you despaired
preventing it, you share the blood-guilt.
ON THE MARGIN
you haven't already seen it, the March 18 issue of USA
Today carries an
editorial written by me on the Iraq war.
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