A Cowardice Manifesto
"What do you think of the war?"
"I'm against it."
"Because I'm a coward and a traitor."
THE SPECTER that haunts pacifism today is its shadow: personal violence; and between light and shadow, there is only twilight: the zone of the coward.
Where pacifism and nonviolence were, there contradictory cowardice will be.
The pacifist project, as far as I am concerned, is no longer tenable. No more Tolstoy or King (too Christian, too manly), no more Gandhi (too resolute), no more strong stand against over-whelming force. "The wisdom of nonviolence" has been vanquished in its pitched battle with the forces of logic, and my eyes sting when I read Mark A. Gragg '91 say to Crimson reporters, "Once we're committed, we're committed."
I have grown up in an atmosphere of unimaginable privilege, given what I never asked for as a matter of course. Pampered, rotten, slothful, free to be amoral, I watch the one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage: history.
I WAS WEANED on the horrors of Vietnam, sickened by the jingoism of Grenada, appalled by the silence of the Panama invasion. There were "proxy wars"--Nicaragua, El Salvador, Angola, Afghanistan, Morocco, Mozambique. And times when the U.S. did nothing in Haiti and Burma, Somalia and Liberia.
From all this (and much else besides) I have learned certain lessons which will not meet with your approval: generals are paid to lie and engineer efficient slaughter, soldiers are compelled into the twin insanities of anonymous murder (or, at best, complicity) and the nominal mental illness of post-traumatic stress disorder, it is all shit and lies and death. The personal ramifications are clear: I would not, and could not, defend my country or you or my loved ones or myself. I will not die for any reason, least of all to make my death my own.
This is what I mean when I say I am a traitor, when I say that Bush has made me a traitor-in-waiting. It is also what I mean when I say cowardice is not a humanism.
Those who call me native--the ones who sneer at the demonstrators who say "Troops Home Now," those "realists" who know so much better--have already ignored what I have had to say about this in the past. Long before the phrase "New World Order" had once again become common coin, I picked it out as the vanguard of post-modern imperialism, a foreign policy that would be profoundly undemocratic--the Bush Doctrine. So much for political analysis.
Lynn M. Gonzales '93 told the Crimson she wears "a little yellow ribbon to support the troops," and thinks "everybody should." I hear her position called "consistent," "logical," and "humane." But it is also totalitarian and oppressive. Violence inheres in the very idea of compassion.
Which is not to say that Gonzales and all the others who wear yellow ribbons are not nice people. The same goes for the 44 percent of Harvard students who believe that it is "the duty of all Americans to support the war effort now that it has begun," and the 24 percent of Harvard students who, according to a Crimson poll, "believe that a denial of civil liberties in time of war is justified." They are simply victims of what Foucault calls "the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us."
Or, as Freud said, "Do you really believe that a handful of ambitious and deluding men without conscience could have succeeded in unleashing all these evil spirits if their millions of followers did not share their guilt? Do you venture, in such circumstances, to break a lance on behalf of the exclusion of evil from the mental constitution of mankind?"
THERE IS LITTLE that can be done about this except abdicate, abjure, ask to be excused--from certain dialogues, communities, and societies, from the sheltering "we"s that we inhabit, that constitute our friends, families and countries. It is a request that I am making, that I don't even expect to be granted.
Gandhi would not grant it. "It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts," he said, "than to put on the cloak of non-violence to cover impotence." King would not grant it. And the Tolstoy who thought the time was coming for the end of war, well, what would he want with an unrepentant sinner like me, who hasn't even the courage to be anti-Christian?
What would Tolstoy or one of the others say if he knew Gary J. Bass '92 and Hazem Ben-Gacem '92, roommates who were touted by The Crimson as a model of Jewish-Arab communication and cooperation last November, and who appeared grinning together in a huge page three photograph, could no longer even live together, and separated?
Which returns my gaze to the wreckage. Out of all these broken things, I pull pieces for my collection, detritis, filed away and rigorously catalogued. The architects of cowardice come from all sides: the pacifists, Albert Camus, Kurt Schwitters, Ilya Kabakov, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, William Tecumseh Sherman, Ross McElwee's "Sherman's March," Sidney Lumet's "The Pawnbroker," Robert Oppen-heimer, Ella Baker. It is not much, but, as King said in '67, "Now there is little left to build on--save bitterness."
I AM MORE THAN WILLING to share these fragments with you (I'm in the book), even though I know they can always be used against me in the court of reason. Contradictions: my populism and my social paranoia. I am a product of my environment that does not sell.
So much for the possibility of an apology for this life. What about you and yours? Not only you who would follow George Bush or anyone else to your death, who would follow them to the deaths of others, who would yourselves lead others to death, who would become an element in the determination of the "kill ratio." But you who would make me think like you or not think at all, who want me to "grow up," "stick it out," "take it like a man," who will think that it took guts even to print this, who will never understand what I thought the moment I, too, considered enlisting in this great mistake. To all of you: you leave me cold.