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  Tuesday, September 21, 2004 5:43 PM Subject:

This is a piece written quite recently by novelist E.L. Doctorow. It

first appeared in the September 9th issue of the Easthampton Star. It

is an eloquent and compelling essay worth reading.

I fault this president for not knowing what death is. He does not

suffer the death of our twenty one year olds who wanted to be what

they could be.

On the eve of D-day in 1944 General Eisenhower prayed to God for the

lives of the young soldiers he knew were going to die. He knew what

death was. Even in a justifiable war, a war not of choice but of

necessity, a war of survival, the cost was almost more than

Eisenhower could bear.

But this president does not know what death is. He hasn't the mind

for it. You see him joking with the press, peering under the table

for the WMDs he can't seem to find, you see him at rallies strutting

up to the stage in shirt sleeves to the roar of the carefully

screened crowd, smiling and waving, triumphal, a he-man. He does not

mourn. He doesn't understand why he should mourn. He is satisfied

during the course of a speech written for him to look solemn for a

moment and speak of the brave young Americans who made the ultimate

sacrifice for their country. But you study him, you look into his

eyes and know he dissembles an emotion which he does not feel in the

depths of his being because he has no capacity for it. He does not

feel a personal responsibility for the thousand dead young men and

women who wanted be what they could be. They come to his desk not as

youngsters with mothers and father or wives and children who will

suffer to the end of their days a terribly torn fabric of familial

relationships and the inconsolable remembrance of aborted life....

they come to his desk as a political liability which is why the press

is not permitted to photograph the arrival of their coffins from

Iraq. How then can he mourn? To mourn is to express regret and he

regrets nothing. He does not regret that his reason for going to war

was, as he knew, unsubstantiated by the facts. He does not regret

that his bungled plan for the war's aftermath has made of his mission- accomplished a disaster. He does not regret that rather than

controlling terrorism his war in Iraq has licensed it. So he never

mourns for the dead and crippled youngsters who have fought this war

of his choice. He wanted to go to war and he did. He had not the mind

to perceive the costs of war, or to listen to those who knew those

costs. He did not understand that you do not go to war when it is one

of the options but when it is the only option; you go not because you

want to but because you have to.

Yet this president knew it would be difficult for Americans not to

cheer the overthrow of a foreign dictator. He knew that much. This

president and his supporters would seem to have a mind for only one

thing --- to take power, to remain in power, and to use that power

for the sake of themselves and their friends. A war will do that as

well as anything. You become a wartime leader. The country gets

behind you. Dissent becomes inappropriate. And so he does not drop to

his knees, he is not contrite, he does not sit in the church with the

grieving parents and wives and children. He is the President who does

not feel. He does not feel for the families of the dead, he does not

feel for the thirty five million of us who live in poverty, he does

not feel for the forty percent who cannot afford health insurance, he

does not feel for the miners whose lungs are turning black or for the

working people he has deprived of he chance to work overtime at time- and-a-half to pay their bills --- it is amazing for how many people

in this country this President does not feel. But he will dissemble

feeling. He will say in all sincerity he is relieving the wealthiest

one percent of the population of their tax burden for the sake of the

rest of us, and that he is polluting the air we breathe for the sake

of our economy, and that he is decreasing the safety regulations for

coal mines to save the coal miners' jobs, and that he is depriving

workers of their time-and-a- half benefits for overtime because this

is actually a way to honor them by raising them into the professional

class. And this litany of lies he will versify with reverences for

God and the flag and democracy, when just what he and his party are

doing to our democracy is choking the life out of it.

But there is one more terribly sad thing about all of this. I

remember the millions of people here and around the world who marched

against the war. It was extraordinary, that spontaneous aroused

oversoul of alarm and protest that transcended national borders. Why

did it happen? After all, this was not the only war anyone had ever

seen coming. There are little wars all over he world most of the

time. But the cry of protest was the appalled understanding of

millions of people that America was ceding its role as the last best

hope of mankind. It was their perception that the classic archetype

of democracy was morphing into a rogue nation. The greatest

democratic republic in history was turning its back on the future,

using its extraordinary power and standing not to advance the ideal

of a concordance of civilizations but to endorse the kind of tribal

combat that originated with the Neanderthals, a people, now extinct,

who could imagine ensuring their survival by no other means than pre- emptive war.

The president we get is the country we get. With each president the

nation is conformed spiritually. He is the artificer of our malleable

national soul. He proposes not only the laws but the kinds of

lawlessness that govern our lives and invoke our responses. The

people he appoints are cast in his image. The trouble they get into

and get us into, is his characteristic trouble. Finally the media

amplify his character into our moral weather report. He becomes the

face of our sky, the conditions that prevail: How can we sustain

ourselves as the United States of America given the stupid and

ineffective warmaking, the constitutionally insensitive lawgiving,

and the monarchal economics of this president? He cannot mourn but is

a figure of such moral vacancy as to make us mourn for ourselves.

 

E.L. Doctorow http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst/doctorow.html

 

 

 

 

 

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