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 to 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 the 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 the world most of
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
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
Copyright 2004 East Hampton Star
The original is here.
A bibliography of Doctorow's work is here.