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TITOLO: Cultural roots of Abu Ghraib

WRITTEN BY: Lorenzo Matteoli

DATE: May 12th, 2004

 

 

 

The roots of the shame

Lorenzo Matteoli
May 12th, 2004

 


The World press has been busy for two weeks censoring the moral catastrophe of Abu Ghraib. Censure is severe, total and unconditional. Rumsfeld, the offender, with his incompetent and dishonourable generals confessed to a TV audience of millions. Bush confirms his trust in the Secretary of Defence and shares the misery.
After the first disclosures, more horrific details follow: the stench seems to have no end. The systemic pattern of appalling behaviour is documented, its institutional base and its duration in history as well.
To some commentators Rumsfeld’s TV show has been a monument of democracy in action and an example to the World of political “accountability”: To me it was just a TV show.
The debate will go on for months. The devious thugs will be spectacularly tried to hide in silence and protect the military top brass and the leading political hierarchies.
To me this squabble is no longer relevant: I wrote in a previous note that the horror of Abu Ghraib and the rout from Fallujah seal the American moral, cultural and military defeat in Iraq. I also wrote that such a catastrophe has historic planetary relevance and I now add that the meaning is comparable to the meaning of the fall of the Berlin wall, of the Hungarian uprising in 1956 and of the defeat of Nazi-fascism. I said that it is now time to acknowledge the defeat and to evaluate its future implications and consequences. I have not been able to find any attempt at such an evaluation in the plethora of editorials and articles that have been published since the first disclosure.
The Twin Towers attack and the rout from Fallujah are the two historic landmarks of the Collapse of the Empire in a tragic symmetry. After 9/11 we all said that nothing would have been the same any more and now we start to have the feeling of what exactly that clichéd intuition could mean.
Other more important commentators (the pompous Friedman, Paul Krugman, Fisk, Pilger, Cockburn) after Fallujah and Abu Ghraib suggested a more or less hypothetical idea of a possible American defeat. I have no doubt and here is my evidence.
What is now happening in Iraq is the final stage of the long process of cultural and political degradation that has been ruling life in the United States during the last 50 years. It is not an accidental error, the mistake of a few, nor the criminal behaviour of a bunch of devious thugs: It is the consistent tragic expression of a system of degraded values.
Rumsfeld’s criminal arrogance, unconditionally upheld by the president with the entire Cabinet, his confirmation as Secretary of Defence, the insulting hypocrisy of the “apologies” without the political consequence of resignation or dismissal, do not allow any other understanding. This is the misery of the present ethical American paradigm confirmed by the top political authority: It is the sense of living today in America (Kant’s definition of culture).
We can see the same misery in other recent episodes. Economic rationalism pushed to the limit of financial crime, trials without condemnation of CEOs responsible for huge thefts to the World economy, systematic economic strangling of the poor to the advantage of the rich, the school system producing illiterates and incompetent graduates, scientific and technology peaks based on social ignorance and a cultural void, the celebration of gratuitous unchecked violence, the puerile cult of personal guns, institutionalized environmental waste, environmental pillaging of third world resources, the speculation on miserable Asian, African and South American salaries, aggression as means of career and tons of Prozac to allow survival of the defeated (like the “soma” in Brave New World).
Rumsfeld’s, Wolfowitz’s and their shameful generals’ unpunished arrogance persevering in a ferocious and catastrophic behaviour are the mirror of a culture that has been shaping up for the last 50 years, unchecked by the American and World public opinion because of its gradual progress and protected by the powerful, now empty and obscene ideology of the American Dream as it is relentlessly hammered with the daily Pledge to the Flag: …one Nation under God with Justice and Liberty for all.
It will take generations to get out of the tunnel and there is no way out if a radical overhaul of the basic structures is not set out (education, formation, taxation, welfare, military, foreign policy, environmental policy, energy, economy): a challenge that demands an incredible political strength and the vision of an enlightened leader supported by a social culture capable of enduring action over half a century.
We can think of Charles De Gaulle who in 1962 was able to lead France out of the Algerian tragedy, or the United States with Franklin Delano Roosevelt who was able to overcome the 1929 crisis, England winning WW2 with the overwhelming passion of Sir Winston Churchill and coming out of the structural crisis of the eighties, thanks to the powerful conservative and innovative whip of Margaret Thatcher.
Regrettably, the American electoral machine, victim and matrix of the same ethical decay, is not capable of producing this kind of leadership. So we are in for the long haul.
A long journey begins with just one step (Mao Tse Tung). The step today is the acknowledgement of the most obvious evidence: the Coalition defeat in Iraq.
World public opinion must be made aware of the blatant truth: Panebianco on the Corriere della Sera is again wrong when he invokes yet another faulty “domino theory”: The American defeat would be the defeat of the West, the defeat of us all.
The opposite is true. The American defeat would be the tragic opportunity to come out of a long nightmare. The nightmare we stepped into when, overwhelmed by youthful enthusiasm, we chose the American Dream rejecting the Stalinist Gulag.
The dream ended in Saigon and Abu Ghraib is the last stage of the long degradation.
To help The United States to find them again we need to speak with blunt sincerity. From the horror of Abu Ghraib and from the rout of Fallujah a new radical beginning can spring again. It will take decades and there is no time to lose.
Maybe this is what thousand Marines (as of today) and tens of thousands of Iraqis have died for, and for which many more will die.

 

Lorenzo Matteoli
May 12th, 2004