The roots of the shame
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
To some commentators Rumsfelds 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
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.
Rumsfelds 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 (Kants 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).
Rumsfelds, Wolfowitzs 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
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
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
May 12th, 2004