Every few days over the next several months I will be posting installments of a novel about life, death, war and politics in America since 9/11. Through the Darkest of Nights is a story of hope, reflection, determination, and redemption. It is a testament to the progressive values we all believe in, have always defended, and always will defend no matter how long this darkness lasts.
All installments are available for reading here on my page, and also here on Docudharma’s Fiction Page, where refuge from politicians, blogging overload, and one BushCo outrage after another can always be found.
The tragedy of war haunts me as I walk beside the graves dug into this Northern Virginia hillside. Across the river, the clamoring of politicians for war with Iraq has begun, but there is no clamoring for war here, there is only the silence of the dead. Across that river, the drumbeat for war never ceases. It is being broadcast every day into every American home. There is no escape from it, there is no way to silence it, for that drumbeat is the drumbeat of corporate power, the drumbeat of corporate profit, the drumbeat of a resurgent Manifest Destiny repackaged by corporate America’s bought and paid for politicians as the War on Terror. It is the drumbeat of strident drummers who will never stop drumming, never stop lying, never stop exploiting until there is nothing left to exploit.
Those drums cannot be silenced, but the young men buried here in Arlington National Cemetery have been. They were silenced forever by the lies of politicians, the weaponry of war profiteers, and the blunders of generals. Before too long, sons and grandsons of these men will also be silenced. Politicians, war profiteers, and generals will see to that. They are busy making all the arrangements, in the corridors of the Pentagon, in the West Wing of the White House, and in House and Senate offices where paying homage to the corporate masters of this country is the only agenda.
I watch the last tour bus pull away along the Arlington Cemetery frontage road. Filled with chattering tourists, it rolls along towards the next stop on the schedule, where they’ll get off the bus again, look around again, and take a few pictures of each other again, to put in the family album alongside the pictures they took of themselves at Disney World, the Mall of America, and Las Vegas.
Disgusted with Americans whose superficial knowledge of their country’s history and political system is limited to the names of a few presidents and a vague awareness that we have something called a Constitution, I turn away and walk beside the graves, reading the names on the headstones. What were the final thoughts of these men as death claimed them? Were they terrified? Did they long for another chance at life, did they hope that somehow, someway, they would survive, even as their last seconds of consciousness faded? Some were killed instantly, others endured hours of agony before the end came. Is a quick death merciful or cruel? Is death itself merciful or cruel? I do not know. I cannot say.
I walk to John F. Kennedy’s grave, where an Eternal Flame burns in memory of what might have been. I walk to Bobby Kennedy’s grave, where a solitary cross marks the final resting place of a seeker of peace. I walk away in tears. My father told me a man who has no tears has no heart, and as long as my heart beats, I will not be ashamed to shed a tear for the fallen defenders of peace and justice.
I have not endured solitude on the first miles of this journey, I have welcomed it. Solitude brings me what peace I can find. There are times for solitude, and there are times for companionship. There are times for quiet contemplation and there are times for communion with others. There are times to speak and times to listen. There are times to tolerate what cannot be changed, and times to change what can no longer be tolerated. That time is coming, it will come when enough Americans finally notice the stench of fascism pervading this city, and become the change this suffering nation will need if it is to have any hope of surviving.
Until then, I cannot accept what I’ve seen. I will not accept it. I’ve seen Republicans perpetuate a vicious cycle of deceit that has turned their political party into a cult. I’ve seen them forge the most noble of human emotions into weapons of menace. I’ve seen them corrupt patriotism into the opposite of patriotism. I’ve seen them corrupt Christianity into the opposite of Christianity. I’ve seen them corrupt everything in sight until there’s nothing left to see but coast to coast corruption.
I drive across the 14th Street Bridge, past the Lincoln Memorial, and find a parking spot near the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. Etched somewhere on the black marble of The Wall is Sarah’s father’s name. She was three years old when he hugged her one last time, boarded a 707 bound for Vietnam, and never came back. He was killed at the siege of Khe Sanh in 1968. There was nothing left of him to send home, an NVA artillery shell erased him from this world.
There have been too many fathers erased from this world, on too many battlefields, in too many wars, in too many ways too horrible to think about. Too much love has been erased by hate, too much truth has been erased by lies, too much kindness has been erased by cruelty, too much dignity has been lost, never to be found again.
I drive past the White House, where George W. Bush betrays America when he’s not busy betraying America somewhere else. I drive past the Supreme Court, where four old men and an old woman erased the Florida recount so they could hand the power of the presidency to that pathological liar. I drive past the RNC, where reality is being erased by the operatives of an ideology degenerating into fascism.
Fascism. It has returned from out of the darkness of the past to claim new victims. Americans have forgotten the past, but the past has not forgotten them. It is stalking them, but they do not hear its footsteps. They only hear what the corporate masters of this country want them to hear, so death and destruction will erupt across Iraq, just as death and destruction erupted across Vietnam.
Meet the new war, same as the old war.
I feel no pride in America any more, I feel only shame. Nauseating spectacles like this depraved city of hypocrites reminds me why. I feel like a stranger here. Who are these people? What is the matter with them? How much longer are their deceit and corruption and betrayal going to be tolerated?
Getting out of my car near the National Archives, I hear a helicopter, and shield my eyes against the setting sun as I watch it approach over the Potomac. As it passes by overhead I see The United States of America emblazoned on its fuselage. Marine One. Heading back to the White House from the Pentagon. It hovers above the South Lawn, then descends until it is hidden from view by the trees.
Most Americans support the alcoholic aboard that helicopter. They tell each other he’s a strong leader. They tell each other he’s a Christian. They seek refuge in the belief he’s protecting America from her enemies and their weapons of mass destruction. But he’s not protecting America, he’s betraying America. He is the weapon of mass destruction they need to worry about.
It’s dark by the time I get back to my hotel. I’m tired but too restless to sleep. I turn on my laptop, skim through the “news” on CNN’s and MSNBC’s websites to see what they’ve filtered out, and then check my e-mail. There’s only one message, but it’s one I’ve been waiting for . . .
We need to talk.
Can you meet me at noon tomorrow at the Lincoln Memorial?