Thursday, November 18, 2004


This is hard to say and will be hard, I expect, to read. In view, however, of the appointment to Justice of someone who finds the Geneva Conventions “quaint,” the ideological attacks on Senator Specter, the ongoing purges at the CIA and Department of State, the “Christianization” of America’s domestic policy, and the militarization of its foreign policy, it must be said.

My country has gone off a deep end. I no longer recognize the place and no longer feel I have a stake in supporting the wrong-headed decisions of its leadership. Like Neva Chonin writing in the Chronicle Sunday before last, I feel like I live in an occupied land. Now, two weeks after the election, however, the sense of urgency and agency is, in a sense, gone. The yahooism must still be resisted but now seems overwhelming, popping up round every corner, its smirking hubris now unbounded, its hands on every lever of power. But, there’s time – four years – to fall back, re-group, re-establish priorities. It doesn’t all have to be done by Tuesday.

Maybe I’ve lived too long overseas – twelve years? Maybe I’ve lived too long on the margins? Maybe I’ve just lived too long, experienced too much? I just find the people who run this place far too shallow, cynical, hypocritical, and patronizing to take seriously or have any truck with. Having lost touch with reality, they believe their own propaganda and, in this regard, are dangerously dumb, because they don’t know how dumb they really are.

Maybe because Germany’s been on my mind these past few days – the anniversary of 1989, watching “Goodbye, Lenin” – I find myself seized by two Germanic modes of distancing. Like my erstwhile friends in long-ago communist East Germany, I find myself tempted to slip into a “What me worry?” comfort zone of “inner-migration.” Let them do what they want in Washington. Life’s too sweet in this private, very blue patch of California. Much as I want to adopt that stance, however, I know I can’t. It’s all well and good for defiant New Yorkers to describe their city as “an island off the coast of Europe,” but the Bay Area is, I recognize, another threatened island, not nearly close enough to Tokyo and way too close to Fresno, Boise, and Spokane. Moreover, Paul Loeb (Soul of a Citizen) is right, it would hurt too much in the pit of my stomach to abandon the field to the yahoos and ideologues. But still the temptation exists.

The second stance that comes to mind – that of those heroic souls who, under Hitler, rescued the reputation of the “good Germans” – is one I find easier to adopt – that of divorcing my love of country and people from loyalty to an unjust government and policies that are wrong. Looking at the rubble of Fallujah – a “battle” begun just hours after the election - I find myself in the emotionally troubling but rationally and spiritually required position of praying for the survival of our individual soldiers, but praying also for the failure of their collective endeavor. For that endeavor – invasion, occupation, and the slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis – is, to use the President’s favorite word, evil. It dishonors all I hold sacred about my country and trivializes the sacrifice of our sons and daughters sent to die for God knows what.

It is only a small leap from disengaging one’s loyalties to engaging in resistance. It’s a leap I’ve probably already made…now two years ago. It’s a decision I’m willing to live with.

I take great heart in the fact that I appear to be on the side of the best minds and most sensitive souls in this country; and there are still many. Perhaps the over-reaching we’ve already seen in Washington will yield a backlash of outraged sensibilities and produce an barricade of rationality against the looming disasters.

I fear, however, a deepening, ever more bitter Kulturkampf>. The “moral values” crowd seems to know no bounds. And the media is more cowed than ever, conceding to the fundamentalist right their claim to be the sole, God-ordained repository of moral rectitude. Where are the church leaders on the left? How strange, indeed, to find the social ethics of the Gospel of Jesus Christ labeled “leftist.” What sort of moral idiocy are we dealing with that reduces morality to issues of sexuality and ignores poverty, war, and state-sponsored killing?

As an American who believes that there is a “shining city on a hill” still to be had and as a Christian who believes in a Gospel that is truly revolutionary, counter-cultural, and liberating, I feel compelled to keep speaking for social justice, peace, and sanity. I have the sinking feeling, however, that if I keep it up – speaking truth to power – I’ll be reined in by my government, or, worse yet, by my church. Then what?

Let me be clear, we’re nowhere near where Germany was in 1937. But, in the record of our past four years and in climate of the moment, there are troubling echoes of an earlier time in Germany, when resistance in the form of solidarity and a well-placed word might have sufficed to fend off the disaster, the outlines of which were then already clear. How often, in this regard, I’ve thought of that belated lament by Martin Niemöller, that patriotic u-boot captain turned pastor:

First they came for the Communists but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists but I was not one of them, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews but I was not Jewish so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.

And, how often I’ve thought also of that other lament by Leo Baeck, the leader of German Jews from 1933 to 1943: “Nothing is so sad as silence.”

Please, please, don’t be silent. Speak truth loudly, bravely, now! And speak out for the weak, the vulnerable, the marginalized in our society. In this time ahead, we are all Jews.

Posted by Vicki at 08:03 PM