The old saw about being doomed to repeat your history if you neglect to learn it is a portentous way to advise one to learn from mistakes. Any animal, from a paramecium to a peccary — even a human occasionally — will learn from mistakes.
The real dilemma is what happens to a people who are willfully taught false history so that they will repeat the mistakes — a people, who can be led fearfully and patriotically into the same disastrous, moral cul-de-sac again and again. Why a government and its media would teach false history is as obvious as why a person in the car repair business would want half the people taught that red is green.
When President Barack Obama proclaimed in February 2009 that he would not prosecute the previous administration for war crimes, for crimes against our Constitution, and for crimes against humanity so that we could proceed into the future with our “core values” intact, he was condemning this country to have no moral future. He was speaking as a lawyer who had no understanding of the purpose of the law. He was speaking as a politician whose understanding of compromise was not for the common good, but for the next election. He was speaking as a person cravenly obedient to the corporate/military complex.
He was, in effect, saying that our core values worth defending are imperialism, unregulated capitalism, and hypocrisy. These values can only flourish in a climate of no accountability. And they all share the similar ethic of necessary collateral damage. People exploited and killed as collaterals share the unique distinction of being martyrs for someone else’s policy and profit, sacrificing their lives unwillingly for someone else’s beliefs. We have allowed to prosper a political system whose core value is collateral damage, which is the core value of empire, not democracy.
We have laws that forbid jailed felons from profiting from the sale of books about their crimes. When there is no accountability, criminals like George Bush and Condoleezza Rice can make millions peddling their self-justifying memoirs, taking limos from talk show to talk show being asked respectful questions about the necessity of torture, preemptive war and unwarranted surveillance to keep us all safe.
Because there was no accountability for the lies that created the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, the Vietnam War, Iran-Contra, countless incursions into Central America and now the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, we have become a country whose only transparency is its determination to inflict its power for control and profit.
On Thursday, war veterans and citizens will gather in protest in front of Obama’s White House to demand an end to the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. I have no illusion that getting arrested in this demonstration will change all that I decry, but it doesn’t have to.
Acts of civil resistance are not symbolic. They are proof that conscience still must be acted on. They are part of a strategy for peace and justice whose only success may be to inspire the next action. They are a step in the process of defiant resistance, a process that is, and always has been, the only safeguard of our real values.
Robert Shetterly is a writer and artist who lives in Brooksville. He is the author of “Americans Who Tell the Truth.”