The Texas Ayatollah
This inquiry is about the extent to which we (and nations) can be
entranced by a belief in the inevitability of our righteousness, of our
dominion, of our superiority. Once such trances are broken then the
world looks a different place. That was certainly true for me following yesterday's US Presidential Inauguration.
Forty years ago I was highly entranced by America, by its creativity, its music, its culture, its vigor As an art student in London I couldn't wait to get to the US. Visiting and living in the New York of Thelonius Monk, and Gil Evans was to be the cream in the coffee. And I drank so much coffee that I started a heart arrhythmia!
Returning to the US in the mid sixties, I made a film for the BBC about MIT an organization which, when I worked there, had seemed to epitomize the intelligence and vitality of America. Called How to be First, it was filmed in the years before the moonshots, the inertial guidance systems for which were being made at MIT. This was why, we supposed, our filming merited the distant but persistent attentions of the FBI.
I saw this film again recently and was astonished to see how, naive as I was politically; I had picked up the deepening American domination trance. A trance kept glued in place as I saw it then, and even more now, by the military industrial complex (ably assisted by US network TV). I dubbed the music of Dukas Sorcerer's Apprentice over pictures of the hi-tech denizens of Cambridge's Route 128, Raytheon et. al., and over pictures of the cadet parades at MIT (many students were on military scholarships) and raised the question of whether a line had not been crossed between education and militarism. The film, a mix of wonder, awe and shock is a good match for my experience of MIT. Perhaps not surprisingly MIT tried and failed to stop it being shown in the US.
Almost two decades later, when the insanities of Mutually Assured Destruction were casting a notably more threatening trance, I had the opportunity, along with a long term Action Research group to make a film about it called The Nuclear State. In search of material that would ground the group's unraveling of the spellbinding nuclear threat, I travelled again to the US. After being certified by an official at the Pentagon as no, or low threat, I trawled the vast film archives of the US Air Force, later calling on a selection of the main military industrial contractors eg Boeing, Grumman, McDonnel Douglas. The trance-breaking, dissenting posture of the finished film was underlined by its being seen as trash by the channel who had commissioned it, and it took a public fight to get it transmitted.
But back to my theme, traveling the US for this film, visiting military industrial contractors, being in touch with the sheer scale of the military industrial complex, further deflated the spell which the US cast and which I had happily bought into. I came upon a whole town making ammunition that described itself as 'munition-minded'; I realized how deeply embedded military technology was, how many mortgages were paid by people going to work every day making nuclear-ready bombers, or packing cluster bombs that scattered plastic shrapnel which didn't show up on x rays. As I arrived at Boeing, the bus paused while a cruise missile was moved from one shed to another. Reality sank in. I became increasingly convinced that the US was a prisoner of the military industrial business, its science and technology and as it seemed, its vitality, were being corrupted by the huge scale (and the secrecy and unaccountability) of military agendas and spending.
And yesterday's inauguration of President Bush, to the accompaniment of tears of fury and disappointment on my part, demolished any further remnants of the trance I might have been under regarding the US of A. Heralded by a band playing The Saints Go Marching In, and preceded by Bush speech in which he declared that 'we have a calling from... (slight hesitation) beyond the stars', the sheer scale of the false front that the Inauguration presented seemed beyond comprehension. Bush's blatantly trance-inducing repetition of 'freedom', the mismatch between it and US actions on the ground, not just this year but in preceding decades, seemed an invitation to the whole world to shout 'liar'.
As though the context of the word 'freedom' always meant freedom from... and had never been used by US interests in the sense of freedom to... control, dominate and exploit. And yet around half of those Americans watching this farrago I suppose were asleep to the second of these usages, or are busy profiting from it.
I often think that a helpful guideline about subliminal marketing techniques of the kind that the Bush and other administrations deploy, is to assume that if there are a lot of assertions about 'strength' or 'security', to presume this compensates for, or denies weakness. The incessant repetition of the word freedom in Bush's inaugural speech raises the question of where, how and for whom, is freedom about to be restricted.
A recycled cliché
So why did I find yesterday's Presidential Inauguration so shocking? It was as though a well-known person, a beloved friend, someone who had been a source of delight and inspiration, showed up one day at a public event stark naked and appeared entirely unaware of their nudity. Yes I know it is a well-worn cliché but this emperor really doesn't have any clothes and he doesn't know, doesn't apparently want to know.
According to Chas Freeman, former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia and head of the independent Middle East Policy Council, Mr Bush recently asked Mr Powell for his view on the progress of the war. "We're losing," Mr Powell was quoted as saying. Mr Freeman said Mr Bush then asked the secretary of state to leave. Financial Times 13-01-05
What ultimately got to me, what I felt as the deepest and most profoundly hypocritical and thus shocking aspect of the Inauguration, was that we seemed to be witnessing the swearing in of a theocracy. Christian Americana oozed from every pore. The 'god beyond the stars' seemed to be in every second sentence and in most of the music, Bless This House... sung by Susan Graham.
Bless these walls so firm and stout, Keeping want and trouble out:
Bless the roof and chimneys tall, Let thy peace lie over all;
Bless this door, that it may prove ever open to joy and love.
Bless these windows shining bright, Letting in God's heav'nly light;
Bless the hearth a'blazing there, with smoke ascending like a prayer;
Bless the folk who dwell within, keep them pure and free from sin;
Bless us all that we may be Fit O Lord to dwell with thee;
Bless us all that one day we May dwell O Lord with thee.
God of our fathers, Whose almighty hand
Leads forth in beauty all the starry band
Of shining worlds in splendor through the skies
Our grateful songs before Thy throne arise.
Thy love divine hath led us in the past,
In this free land by Thee our lot is cast,
Be Thou our Ruler, Guardian, Guide and Stay,
Thy Word our law, Thy paths our chosen way.
From war’s alarms, from deadly pestilence,
Be Thy strong arm our ever sure defense;
Thy true religion in our hearts increase,
Thy bounteous goodness nourish us in peace.
Refresh Thy people on their toilsome way,
Lead us from night to never ending day;
Fill all our lives with love and grace divine,
And glory, laud, and praise be ever Thine.
The Supply and Supplier of faith and freedom
How excellent is Your Name in all the earth
You are great and greatly to be praised
Oh God, as we conclude this 55th inaugural ceremony
We conclude it with an attitude of thanksgiving
Thank you for protecting America's borders
After all, as the psalmist reminds us
Unless you O God guard the territory our efforts will be in vain
Thank you for our armed service personnel
And it is with our unswerving thanksgiving that we pause to remember the persons... who have made the ultimate sacrifice to help ensure America's safety.
Thank you O god for surrounding our personnel, their families, and our allies with your favour and your faithfulness
Deploy your Host from heaven so that your will for American will be performed on earth as it is already perfected in Heaven.
I confess that your face will shine upon the United States of America, granting us social peace and economic prosperity
Particularly for the weary and the poor
I also confess Oh God that each American's latter days will be better than their former days
Let it be unto us according to your word
Rally the Republicans, the Democrats, and the independents around your common good
So that America will truly become one nation under god
With liberty justice and equal opportunity for all including the least, the last, and the lost.
Bless every elected official right now
Oh God I declare your blessings shower upon our president George W. Bush
Bless him, his family, and his administration
I once again declare that no weapon formed against them shall prosper
And God, forgive us for becoming so ensnarled in petty partisan politics that we miss your glory and flunk our purpose.
Deliver us from the Evil One
From Evil itself.
And from the mere appearance of Evil.
Give us clean hearts so that we might have clean agendas, clean priorities and programmes and even clean financial statements
And now unto you Oh God the One who always has been and always will be the one King of Kings and the true power broker
We glorify and honour you
Respecting persons of all faiths, I humbly submit this prayer in the name of Jesus Christ
Why do I include so much of this stuff? Partly because it epitomizes trance induction but mostly because of the disconnect it entails, even celebrates. Sitting behind Kirbyjon Caldwell as he delivered his Benediction were rows of people who have either endorsed, or are prepared to bystand, the legitimizing of torture, imprisonment without trial or access to lawyers, and the indiscriminate bombing and shelling of women, children and non-combatants.
The whole ceremony recycled the pre-psychological trance of christianity, telling us that god was the ultimate authority, it not us that's doing this, its not us that are in power here, it is not our full spectrum dominance, our shock and awe, we are only doing god's work. This is telling the ultimate lie, the ultimate in irresponsibility, it is not me that does this, no matter how many people die, no matter how much damage and distress we cause, it is god's work. As though the Jesus story of humility and gentleness and caring didn't exist.
It is perhaps only personal but the single image that I most tripped over was this young soldier, (and that it was a soldier), who was put up to lead the singing of the wall-to-wall warfare-talk of the American national anthem.
Oh, say can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, now conceals, now discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines on the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! O long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wiped out their foul footstep's pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven-rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Very unpalatable, but I realize that increasingly what I feel about the US is what I suspect many people in Germany in the 30's must have felt as the Nazi craziness grew and spread and its ambitions of world domination were being implemented—alarmed, endangered and helpless. Yes, lets go on with this, unpalatable or not, Guantanamo, Bagram, Abu Ghraib, 'concentration camps' under development? And the pending installation as US Attorney General of the man who wrote the legal advice to the President that has legitimized torture by the US military; adding the Geneva conventions on warfare to the list of international agreements in which the US unilaterally declines to participate. A sad day. I hope I'm wrong.