Wounded to the soul

Thursday, July 13th, 2006

“The question that remains is: Are we who want the killing to stop as committed to peace as those who are committed to war?”

Ouch, this is a devilishly tough question, unless you’re content to answer it in the negative. Then, of course, no problem. A bitter grimace and a stiff drink or whatever (name your poison) will get you through the day. Watch the opinion polls plummet — Gallup this week finds two-thirds of Americans opposed to the war in Iraq — and shrug in wonder that it doesn’t seem to matter, but exercise patience. When three-quarters of Americans oppose the war, then the politicians — surely the Democrats at least, surely Hillary — will lip-sync a different tune . . .

Or you can scream.

One recent e-mail correspondent, after reciting the familiar litany of insanity about this war, from the lies to the slaughter to the cynicism, signed off her letter: “Wounded to the soul.”

If, like her (and like me) you don’t merely “oppose,” in some abstract way, a la Gallup, the Bush administration’s high-tech exercise in nation-wrecking, but feel wounded to the soul about it, then perhaps it’s time to face the question quoted above, which Ted Glick posed recently in an essay for truthout.org: “The war machine will certainly commit the lives of our children and Iraqi children. But will we commit our own lives?”

This was Glick’s way of announcing his participation in a nationwide fast to protest the war in Iraq, Troops Home Fast (troopshomefast.com), sponsored by CODEPINK, Global Exchange and Gold Star Families for Peace. It began on the Fourth of July and now has more than 3,700 people — including Dick Gregory, Daniel Ellsberg, Cindy Sheehan, Susan Sarandon, Willie Nelson, two congresswomen (Cynthia McKinney and Lynn Woolsey) and many other high-profile participants — committed to depriving themselves of food for at least 24 hours. This is a “rolling fast.” The idea is to keep it going till Sept. 21, which is International Peace Day.

To the isolated cynics out there, and to the isolated cynic in myself, who wonder what the point is — how is this going to help? — I dedicate the rest of the column. I see the fast as nothing less than an attempt — the beginning of an attempt, a heartfelt, anguished groping in the tradition of Gandhi — to rewire American society, to make it physically responsive to a kind of violence we’re not adequately prepared to deal with, the kind that originates from within.

It’s a leap of self-sacrifice for an idea: that our future is better served not by the reflexive swatting back at an “enemy” — not when swatting back means causing indiscriminate civilian casualties, the generation of undying animosity toward us guaranteeing endless hostility and insecurity, and the use and continued development of doomsday weaponry that is poisoning the planet as we speak — but by the recognition of our interdependence with others and a common, borderless humanity.

The fast is deliberately counter-instinctive. It’s where politics and evolution meet. The Bush administration has forced the issue by breaking contract with every compromise of the past, which balanced fear-based governance with diplomacy and global outreach. Bush governs solely on fear, amplified to a decibel level that justifies virtually any response to it.

Thus another recent e-mail correspondent, after shrugging off recent U.S. war crimes as a small matter compared to the importance of our mission in Iraq, concluded his response to a recent column:

“I can only hope you travel to Iraq and fall into the hands of the Iraqi insurgents so they can treat you to some of their renown Islamofascist fairness and tolerance. Maybe as you sit in your filthy cage waiting to be beheaded you’ll come to realize what a great country America is, the America you now seem to hate so much.”

You wish, pal. I towel off the spittle and take another peek at that Gallup poll. Yep, two-thirds, it says. That’s how many respondents indicated they were tired of this kind of rhetoric and now see, perhaps, that the conjured horrors in it refer to our own actions (Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib) as much as those of the “Islamofascists,” and are ready for us to stop.

We have a war machine that’s fed by hate and fear — indeed, by the need for enemies without the least humanity, because that absolves us of the need to have any ourselves. It’s the age-old formula for war, but we have entered a time when it is globally life-threatening. When the world’s only superpower swaggers through the Middle East with that kind of delusional anger and a military budget of half a trillion dollars that requires annual justification, watch out. It is time for new priorities.

So I write about a fast and imagine participants numbering not in the thousands but in the millions — a critical mass of people gathering enough courage to go hungry for a measured period of time, a day or longer, and telling others what they are doing and why.

I also know the only way such a vision has a chance to become reality is if I commit to put my own body on the line, and so, publicly, I do. I not only support but join the Troops Home Fast for the day of this column’s release date. And I invite others to consider joining this effort. Visit the Web site to sign up. And let me know if you do.