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 Volume 2.8  This View’s Guest Column October 28, 2002 

More Deep Thoughts from American Celebrities
    Peter Sean Bradley    

In case you missed this, my Canadian partner Penner put me on to this Woody Harrelson essay in the Guardian entitled “I’m an American tired of American lies.” The essay had the singular effect of provoking Penner about attacks on “our” country. Here’s the essay with my observations:

The man who drives me to and from work is named Woody too. A relief to me, as it minimises the chance of my forgetting his name. I call him Woodman and he calls me Wood. He has become my best friend here, even though he’s upset that I have quit drinking beer. He’s smart, funny, and there’s nothing he hasn’t seen in 33 years behind the wheel of his black cab. He drove me for a while before I felt confident he liked me; he doesn’t like people easily, especially if they have a rap for busting up black cabs.

I like this introduction. It sets up Woody as a regular guy. I mean he actually talks to the guy who drives him to and from his work. Woody apparently doesn’t know the word “chauffeur” since he uses the circumlocution “drives me to and from work.” Let’s not dwell on why Woody doesn’t want to use the word “chauffeur” since we have all seen the movie Gosford Park and we know what kind of dissipated, useless people have “chauffeurs.”

Anyhow, Woody’s not like the typical plutocratic parasite who doesn’t even notice that his chauffeur exists. Woody’s cool, as can be seen by the fact that Woody has reached a level of sympatico with this guy who is older than him, employed by him, doesn’t go to the same parties as he does, and doesn’t have his political views. But obviously if you’re on the left you had better have some actual member of the working class to vouch for you, and Woodman will have to do.

Woodman and I agree about a lot of things, but one thing we can never agree about is Iraq. He thinks the only language Saddam understands is brute force. I don’t believe we should be bombing cities in our quest for one man. We’ve killed a million Iraqis since the start of the Gulf war — mostly by blocking humanitarian aid. Let’s stop now. Thankfully, most of the Brits I talk to about the war are closer to me than to Woodman. Only your prime minister doesn’t seem to have noticed.

Most of the Brits he’s talked to???? Woodman is obviously not an authentic member of the working class. Probably, Woodman hobnobs with Labor politicos, attends all the best SoHo parties and gets to write long screeds in the Guardian, while “Wood” goes to the local pub.

I have been here three months doing a play in the West End. I am having the time of my life. I love England, the people, the parks, the theatre. The play is great and the audiences have been a dream. Probably I should just relax, be happy and talk about the weather, but this war is under my skin — it affects my sleep.

Great profile in courage moment. Suck up to the readership, why don’t you.

I remember playing basketball with an Iraqi in the late 80s while Iran and Iraq were at war. I didn’t know at the time that the US and Britain were supplying weapons to both sides. I asked why they were always at war with each other and he said something that stayed with me: “If it were up to the people, there would be peace. It’s the governments that create war.” And now my government is creating its second war in less than a year. No; war requires two combatants, so I should say “its second bombing campaign”.

This is a real attempt at profundity. But it lacks any kind of real thought. I mean, there was no war between Iraq and Iran when the evil Shah [see later] was in power. The corrupt American foreign policy that propped up the Shah thwarted the will of the people who gave the corrupt American foreign policy the old what-for, and the next thing you know millions are dying as (a) the Iranian government attempts to unseat the godless Baathist regime and expand the revolution and (b) the corrupt Baathist regime attempts to capitalize on the shambles the revolution has made of the Iranian military and expand its hegemony. Odd, though, it seems that the answer might be to realize that sometimes the old corrupt government that recognized the virtue of regional stability but thwarted the will of the people might have some virtue, and this might be a reason to favor policies that may lead to changes in current noxious governments — but wouldn’t that be considered “imperialistic” by “Wood”?

The claim that America supplied both sides of the war is true only to the extent of Iran-Contra and American desires — however misguided — to obtain the release of political prisoners held by terrorists. [Check out this site.]

I went to the White House when Harvey Weinstein was showing Clinton the movie Welcome to Sarejevo, which I was in. I got a few moments alone with Clinton. Saddam throwing out the weapons inspectors was all over the news and I asked what he was going to do. His answer was very revealing. He said: “Everybody is telling me to bomb him. All the military are saying, ‘You gotta bomb him.’ But if even one innocent person died, I couldn’t bear it.” And I looked in his eyes and I believed him. Little did I know he was blocking humanitarian aid at the time, allowing the deaths of thousands of innocent people.

Argh, and that man was our president. Why couldn’t Clinton have looked at this pampered poseur and told him to mind his own damned business? Anyhow, it looks like Woody had some effect on American foreign policy, since America didn’t bomb Iraq.

I am a father, and no amount of propaganda can convince me that half a million dead children is acceptable “collateral damage”. The fact is that Saddam Hussein was our boy. The CIA helped him to power, as they did the Shah of Iran and Noriega and Marcos and the Taliban and countless other brutal tyrants. The fact is that George Bush Sr continued to supply nerve gas and technology to Saddam even after he used it on Iran and then the Kurds in Iraq. While the Amnesty International report listing countless Saddam atrocities, including gassing and torturing Kurds, was sitting on his desk, Bush Sr pushed through a $2bn “agricultural” loan and Thatcher gave hundreds of millions in export credit to Saddam. The elder Bush then had the audacity to quote the Amnesty reports to garner support for his oil war.

Jeez, Louise. Make up your mind. Either we blocked foreign aid, or we didn’t. It is a sad fact of life that money is fungible. If we provide Saddam with agricultural subsidies, that frees up money he can use to fund his secret police and nuclear arms development program. And why do the Iraqis and Saddam get a free pass in this? If it wasn’t for a secret policy apparatus of Soviet proportions, the Iraqis could have thrown out the person responsible for the continuation of the sanctions, or alternatively Saddam could have decided to de-militarize and allow free inspections of everything and ended the inspections. Or he could have liquidated his artwork, bank holdings and palaces, and built hospitals and bought food. So, where is the locus of responsibility here?

A decade later, Shrub follows the same line: “We have no quarrel with the Iraqi people.” I’m sure half a million Iraqi parents are scratching their heads over that. I’m an American tired of lies. And with our government, it’s mostly lies.

The money graf. So good of Wood to provide aid and comfort to opponents of America in the foreign press. By the way, the half-million number is an extrapolation of declining death rates in the 80’s compared to actual death rates in the 90’s. The numbers are obviously cooked and undependable. Nonetheless, a fair question is, would a dictatorship committed to military adventurism have simply killed off a larger number of children in some other way? Who knows? After all, in the Iran-Iraq War (1980 - 1988) which was started by Iraq because of Iran’s instability, the Iraqis suffered an estimated 375,000 casualties, the equivalent of 5.6 million for a population the size of the United States. Then, came Kuwait. What would have been next? A nuclear attack on Tel Aviv, followed by an overwhelming Israeli nuclear response? A preemptive Israeli nuclear attack, perhaps? History is all contingency, and statecraft is often simply ad hoc efforts to prevent even worse foreseeable outcomes.

Again, though, one might think that Iraqi parents would scratch their head and say, well, maybe their suffering has something to do with the fact that Saddam invaded Kuwait, got Iraq’s butt kicked after being told to withdraw, engaged in eco-terrorism by torching Kuwait’s oil fields for no rational or military reason, has a secret police that tortures opponents, and is hoarding Iraq’s wealth instead of spending it on food and medicine. But, perhaps, that would expect too much from the spear carriers in Woody’s script.

The history taught in our schools is scandalous. We grew up believing that Columbus actually discovered America. We still celebrate Columbus Day. Columbus was after one thing only — gold. As the natives were showering him with gifts and kindness, he wrote in his diary, “They do not bear arms ... They have no iron ... With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” Columbus is the perfect symbol of US foreign policy to this day.

Woody apparently harbors a virulent bigotry against the Italians. Or against Hispanics. What is it about “darker” Southern Europeans that Woody fears. By the way, what does this have to do with Woody’s thesis about American perfidy in Iraq? It isn’t American government that “lied” about Columbus. The depiction of Columbus as a hero who set sail into the unknown despite skepticism — all of which is true incidentally — is a product of American culture.

This is a racist and imperialist war. The warmongers who stole the White House (you call them “hawks”, but I would never disparage such a fine bird) have hijacked a nation’s grief and turned it into a perpetual war on any non-white country they choose to describe as terrorist.

Woody is counseling war against France? Cool. Let’s go.

But seriously, folks, I hadn’t heard that Belgium was a major supplier of Islamo-fascist terrorism, or controlled by a megalomaniac with a police state apparatus [look up just 6 paragraphs ago] attempting to acquire nuclear weapons. I like to think that if Croatia ever looks like Iraq, we will treat it like Germany in 1945.

To the men in Washington, the world is just a giant Monopoly board. Oddly enough, Americans generally know how the government works. The politicians do everything they can for the people — the people who put them in power. The giant industries that are polluting our planet as well as violating human rights worldwide are the ones nearest and dearest to the hearts of American politicians.

Hence, the EPA, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and policies regarding the National Forests and Parks.

But in wartime people lose their senses. There are flags and yellow ribbons and posters and every media outlet is beating the war drum and even sensible people can hear nothing else. In the US, God forbid you should suggest the war is unjust or that dropping cluster bombs from 30,000ft on a city is a cowardly act. When TV satirist Bill Maher made some dissenting remarks about the bombing of Afghanistan, Disney pulled the plug on him. In a country that lauds its freedom of speech, a word of dissent can cost you your job.

The horrors. A dull poseur who liked to pride himself on being “politically incorrect” by uttering politically correct nonsense irks the public, and the people who own the program respond to public demand. Normally, that kind of responsiveness is considered a good thing by the people Woody likes to hang with when he’s not bonding with his chauffeur and other servants, such as when the gays went after Dr. Laura, and the Left went after Coors beer or table grape growers for their politics. But, hey, it’s America. If Woody wants to take the money he spends on chauffeurs and subsidize a show for Bill Maher on late-night, he can do it. No one will watch, but he can do it.

I read in a paper here about a woman who held out the part of her taxes that would go to the war effort. Something like 17%. I like that idea, though in the US it would have to be more like 50%. If you consider money as a form of energy, then we see half our taxes and half the US government’s energy focused on war and weapons of mass destruction. Over the past 30 years, this amounts to more than ten trillion dollars. Imagine that money going to preserving rainforest or contributing to a sustainable economy (as opposed to the dinosaur tit we are currently in the process of sucking dry).

This is a great idea. I personally am withholding money for (a) Clinton’s legal fees, (b) the substantial reserve liability that I as a taxpayer have for future sexual harassment claims that may arise because the “CEO” of my “corporation”couldn’t understand that you are not allowed to sexually gratify yourself with employees at the workplace and then hand out governmental jobs as a perk, (c) anything having to do with public improvements in West Virginia, (d) any subsidy having to do with abortion, and (e) anything else I can think of.

What, we don’t get to pick and choose that way?

I give in to Woodman, and we stop for a few beers. He asks me what I’d do in Bush’s shoes. Easy: I’d honour Kyoto. Join the world court. I’d stop subsidising earth rapers like Monsanto, Dupont and Exxon. I’d shut down the nuclear power plants. So I already have $200bn saved from corporate welfare. I’d save another $100bn by stopping the war on non-corporate drugs. And I’d cut the defence budget in half so they’d have to get by on a measly $200bn a year. I’ve already saved half a trillion bucks by saying no to polluters and warmongers.

Then I’d give $300bn back to the taxpayers. I’d take the rest and pay the people teaching our children what they deserve. I’d put $100bn into alternative fuels and renewable energy. I’d revive the Chemurgy movement, which made the farmer the root of the economy, and make paper and fuel from wheat straw, rice straw and hemp. Not only would I attend, I’d sponsor the next Earth Summit. And, of course, I’d give myself a fat raise.

And this would solve the problem of Woody’s child being vaporized by a long range Korean nuke, or being killed as collateral damage by an Islamo-fascist, exactly how? Just by good vibes?

Woodman drops me at home and I ask if he likes my ideas. He offers a reluctant “yes”. As he pulls away he yells out, “But I’d never vote for a man who can’t handle a few pints at the end of the day!”

Great, Woody. Your chauffeur agrees with you. Or, maybe he is too polite to say directly what he really thinks. If you remember Gosford Park, you might have remembered how people “in service” could talk past their dim-witted “betters.”

Your chauffeur thinks you are a lightweight.

But, then, because you had the fortune to have a minor role playing a dim-wit on an already successful situation comedy, you now get ink to spread natterings that any intelligent person outgrew by the second year of college. You get to plant notions, that get spread as gospel truth, and you get to undermine your country’s foreign policy, making war more likely since dictators love to believe that dissent in a democracy means weakness.

As my friend Larry, the Serbian Orthodox cowboy, likes to say, “nice piece of ranchwork.”

Lex Communis
October 20, 2002

© Peter Sean Bradley 2002. Used with permission.

    Webpage © ELC 2002    

 Volume 2.8 This View’s Guest Column October 28, 2002 

The View from the Core, and all original material, © E. L. Core 2002. All rights reserved.

Cor ad cor loquitur J. H. Newman — “Heart speaks to heart”