TASK OF OUR TIMES: REMEMBER, REFUSE, RESIST
RENATO REDENTOR CONSTANTINO
January 5, 2004
Daybreak. The opening verse. The first week of the first month of a new year.
What will the rest of it bring? Another epidemic of hostilities on top of the current plague? Who's to know?
"While [we] are trying to put out a fire on one side of the Earth, another fire inevitably begins to rage up from the sparks and tinder of history neglected," said Kenneth Champeon.
Without memory, the motivation behind the deeds of men can be terribly inscrutable.
A hundred years ago on January 5, the Wright brothers stated to the Associated Press that they had achieved their goal with the Kitty Hawk flights: "We packed our goods and returned home, knowing that the age of the flying machine had come at last." Powered flight - an idea, eulogized the US government, "born of dreams [and] inspired by freedom." A year later, when asked what the purpose of their machine was, Wilbur Wright answered simply, "War."
Born of dreams but freedom was not the inspiration. According to George Monbiot, as soon as the Wright Brothers were confident that their craft worked, they "approached the war offices of several nations, hoping to sell their patent to the highest bidder. The US government bought it for $30,000, and started test bombing in 1910."
We hurtle towards the great unknown but we are not alone; the past is present. We are accompanied by the old hopes of wise folks who preferred the path that did not lead to oblivion.
Let the blind lead the blind.
Helen Keller, blind and deaf and childhood emblem. Disneyfied and handicapped by history to be forever extolled solely for overcoming her physical handicaps and not for her soaring spirit. "Strike against manufacturing shrapnel and gas bombs and all other tools of murder... Be not dumb, obedient slaves in an army of destruction!" said Keller to the working women and men assembled in Carnegie Hall in 1916, the year before the US entered the European war.
Keller, who abhorred those she called "socially blind and deaf" who defended "an intolerable system." Keller, the visionary who speaks to us today: "Strike against war, for without you no battles can be fought!"
As with J.R.R. Tolkien; he speaks to us too.
Celebrated author, creator of Middle Earth, he disliked the notion propounded by some of his readers that The Lord of the Rings was more than just "a story of what happened in B.C. year X, and it just happened to people who were like that!" He especially detested attempts to use his work as an allegory to cloak as "forces of good" wars waged by whichever side on another.
Yet Tolkien himself had to admit to the poet W.H. Auden that what he created was also a moral narrative, that although "the historical period is imaginary," the "theatre of my tale is this earth, the one in which we live."
"[M]y story is not an allegory of Atomic power, but of Power (exerted for domination)," wrote Tolkien in 1956. "Nuclear physics can be used for that purpose. But they need not be. They need not be used at all... If there is any contemporary reference in my story at all it is to what seems to me the most widespread assumption of our time: that if a thing can be done, it must be done. This seems to me wholly false. The greatest examples of the action of the spirit and of reason are in abnegation."
The power to deny deadly power. The power of refusal.
Governments holding the mightiest of arsenals quake in the face of such power. A power discovered by 100,000 deserters in the US army during its war on Vietnam. A power wielded last month by over 30 Israeli refuseniks - officers of Israel's air force, the most revered branch of the Israeli military - who denounced the Palestinian occupation as eating at the moral fabric of Israel. The refuseniks who said they would no longer carry out illegal orders to bomb Palestinian cities.
The power held by Mordechai Vanunu, who chose to tell the world in 1986 that Israel was the greatest threat to the Middle East, that it had clandestinely created a stockpile of over 200 nuclear weapons. An act of conscience for which he was punished by craven men with 18 years of incarceration. Vanunu has spent over 11 of those years in complete isolation; this year is his 18th in prison.
Israel is the world's sixth largest nuclear power yet neither the Dimona nuclear weapons factory, which Vanunu exposed, nor Israel's biological and chemical weapons factory in Nes Zion, are open to international inspection. And yet America, supposedly searching for weapons of mass destruction, persists in quarrying spider holes in Tikrit and Baghdad and perhaps soon in Tehran.
"It is a dangerous illusion to believe they [nuclear weapons] can be defensive," wrote Vanunu from his prison cell in Ashkelon. "Only peace between states can promise security."
Vanunu, a fallible man of flesh and blood like the rest of us and yet Israel, its insecurities the precis of its perfidies, quakes at his impending release. Trembles at the power Vanunu holds. The whistleblower who chose abnegation. The man who diagnosed what was wrong with the world in a poem he wrote in prison: "I am the clerk, the technician, the mechanic, the driver. They said, Do this, do that, don't look left or right, don't read the text. Don't look at the whole machine. You are only responsible for this one bolt, this one rubber stamp." A salve and slavery Vanunu would refuse.
Vanunu's vile 18-year prison sentence will end this April - the month the world celebrates Earth Day. What better way to show our planetary affections than to ensure the freedom of Mordechai Vanunu? He will soon be free. Let us all head to the Embassy of Israel and demand Vanunu's release. And the release of the Middle East as well from the nuclear weapons that Israel continues to store. We must make it so.
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Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
1. From "Lessons Unlearned: Gabriel Kolko's Anatomy of a War," Kenneth Champeon's review of Kolko's book.
4. George Monbiot, "A weapon with wings," The Guardian, December 16, 2003.
5. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1981. Tolkien also wrote, interestingly, "I am not a 'democrat' only because 'humility' and equality are spiritual principles corrupted by the attempt to mechanize and formalize them, with the result that we get not universal smallness and humility, but universal greatness and pride, till some Orc gets hold of a ring of power - and then we get and are getting slavery."
6. Passionate Declarations: Essays on war and justice, Howard Zinn, Pantheon Books, 2003.
7. "'We're air force pilots, not mafia. We don't take revenge'," Chris McGreal, The Guardian-UK, December 3, 2003.
8. "Anniversary of a whistle blower," Renato Redentor Constantino, TODAY, October 6, 2003.
9. "Israel Is Concerned About Whistleblower," Gavin Rabinowitz, Associated Press, December 30, 2003.
10. For the best background concerning the famed whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, see http://www.vanunu.freeserve.co.uk/