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Once Again—Death of the Liberal Class

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Posted on Nov 11, 2012
Alexis Gravel (CC-BY-ND)

By Chris Hedges

(Page 2)

I am not sure when I severed myself irrevocably from the myth of America. It began when I was a seminarian, living for more than two years in Boston’s inner city on a street that had more homicides than any other in the city. I had to confront in the public housing projects the cruelty of white supremacy, the myriad institutional mechanisms that kept poor people of color trapped, broken and impoverished, the tragic squandering of young lives and the fatuous liberals who spoke in lofty language about empowering people they never met. The ties unraveled further during the five years I spent as a war correspondent in El Salvador and Nicaragua. I stood in too many mud-walled villages looking at the mutilated bodies of men, women and children, murdered by U.S.-backed soldiers, death squads and paramilitary units. I heard too many lies spewed out by Ronald Reagan and the State Department to justify these killings. And by the time I was in Gaza, looking at the twisted limbs of dead women and children and listening to Israeli and U.S. officials describe an Israeli airstrike as a “surgical” hit on Islamic militants, it was over. I knew the dark heart of America. I knew who we were, what we did, what we actually stood for and the terrifying and willful innocence that permits most Americans to think of themselves as good and virtuous when they are, in reality, members of an efficient race of killers and ruthless profiteers.

I was sickened and repulsed. My loyalty shifted from the state, from any state, to the powerless, to the landless peasants in Latin America, the Palestinians in Gaza or the terrified families in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those who suffer on the outer reaches of empire, as well as in our internal colonies and sacrifice zones, constitute my country. And any action, including voting, that does not unequivocally condemn and denounce their oppressors is a personal as well as a moral betrayal.

“We talk of the Turks and abhor the cannibals; but may not some of them go to heaven before some of us?” Herman Melville wrote. “We may have civilized bodies and yet barbarous souls. We are blind to the real sights of this world; deaf to its voices; and dead to its death.”

For a poor family in Camden, N.J., impoverished residents in the abandoned coal camps in southern West Virginia, the undocumented workers that toil in our nation’s produce fields, Native Americans trapped on reservations, Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghans, those killed by drones in Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or those in the squalid urban slums in Africa, it makes no difference if Mitt Romney or Obama is president. And since it makes no difference to them, it makes no difference to me. I seek only to defy the powers that orchestrate and profit from their misery.

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The oppressed, the more than half of the world’s population who survive on less than $2 a day, will be the first to be sacrificed because of our refusal to halt fossil fuel’s degradation of the natural world and the assault of globalization. They already hate us with a righteous fury. They see us for who we are. They also grasp that for power to be threatened it must be confronted by another form of power. They know that the only way to effect change is to make the powerful fear their ability to retaliate. And the oppressed, inside and outside empire, are methodically building that power. We saw it at work on 9/11. We see it every day in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we will see it, although I pray it will be nonviolent, on our own city streets.

The corporate state, faced with rebellion from within and without, does not know how to define or control this rising power, from the Arab Spring to the street protests in Greece and Spain to the Occupy movement. Rebellion always mystifies the oppressor. It appears irrational. It does not make sense. The establishment asks: What are their demands? Why do they hate us? What do they want? The oppressor can never hear the answer, for the answer is always the same—we seek to destroy your power. The oppressor, blind to the brutality and injustice meted out to sustain dominance and prosperity, escalates the levels of force employed to protect privilege. The crimes of the oppressor are seen among the elite as the administering of justice—law and order, the war on terror, the natural law of globalization, the right granted by privilege and power to shape and govern the world. The oppressor cannot see the West’s false humanism. The oppressor cannot, as James Baldwin wrote, understand that our “history has no moral justification, and the West has no moral authority.” The oppressor, able to speak only in the language of force and increasingly lashing out like a wounded animal, will be consumed in the inferno. 

“People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction,” Baldwin wrote, “and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.”

Chris Hedges is the author of many books, including “Death of the Liberal Class” and, most recently, “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt,” written with Joe Sacco.


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