What the hell happened? How did we get to this? Who would’ve thought that this country we’ve been working so hard for so many years to change would still be invading other nations, building new nuclear bombs, forcing its financial will around the world, and jailing dissenters at home? Now the walls of Fortress America extend globally as prison, sweatshop, and fire base.
Rather than falling into despair or self-destructive rage, it might help if we review the history of the age in which we live. Despite tendencies toward revolution and reform, what has shaped our times most strongly is revanchism. Rolling back change and reinstating the old order has been the dominant current.
This began immediately after the Russian Revolution, when the United States, Britain, France, and Japan sent in soldiers to try to reverse it. Although they failed, this marked the beginning of seventy years of military and economic warfare. The capitalist powers were so threatened by communism that they pulled out all the stops to overthrow it, unleashing an offensive of sabotage, espionage, and armed conflict that killed millions in Korea and Vietnam, brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation, and eventually brought the Soviet government to its knees. If communism hadn’t been under this relentless attack, it might have developed into a much different system.
The anti-communist campaign helped fuel the second revanchist movement, fascism. In a Germany impoverished by territorial losses and the injustices of the Versailles Treaty, the Nazis portrayed communists and Jews as actively destroying what was left of the country. They used them as scapegoats to mobilize the Germans into a war of reconquest, to restore the Reich.
[amazonify]097384423X:right[/amazonify]The cataclysmic results of this for the Jewish people — one out of every three of them in the world murdered — increased Zionist demands for an independent nation. They became determined to retake the territory from which the Romans had expelled their ancestors two thousand years ago. Their historic chronicles and centuries of vowing, “Next year in Jerusalem,” convinced the Zionists the land actually belonged to them and they had the God-given right to take it back.
Their attempts to do so enraged the current residents, whose ancestors weren’t involved in the expulsion. For centuries Arabs had lived peacefully with Jewish minorities in their midst, but the proclamation of a Jewish state, seizures of land, and the influx of millions of Europeans was to them an invasion. The Arabs saw the creation of Israel as an effort to maintain European-US power in their region after the retreat of colonialism.
[ad#article]Their bitterness over this gave rise to the fourth revanchist movement, Islamic fundamentalism intent on revenging defeats, driving out the infidels, and reestablishing the grandeur of their ancient empire.
The fifth revanchist movement is the right-wing assault on the cultural changes of the 1960s and ’70s. Deeply threatened by the creative chaos that erupted then, conservatives have launched a crusade to stamp it out and restore their version of virtue. From sexuality to religion to politics, liberating trends are being beaten back into conventionality.
It’s become clear that we live in a reactionary era. The conservatives have far more power than the progressives and are determined to use it with as much brutality as necessary to maintain control.
As radicals we’re defying the zeitgeist. We’re opposing not just the Republicans and the Baptists but the tenor of our times. The tide is against us.
But tides change and zeitgeists change. Taking a farther look back in history, we should remember that none of the radicals of the mid 19th century lived to see their ideas put into practice. The reactionaries of their day squashed their efforts, and most of them died thinking they’d failed. But their work caused some cracks in the power structure, and they’re recognized now as revolutionaries. Their writings and actions helped form our efforts, as ours will for the next wave.
So we must persist. Patiently. Perseveringly. After all, Rome wasn’t destroyed in a day.
The unpleasant truth is that Fortress America has to fall. It’s too destructive of people and the planet and too resistant of reform. It’s willing to change only in ways that shore it up, so before anything truly different can be built, we have to bring it down.
Its rulers portray our alternatives as either them, Arab terrorists, or Chinese commissars, but that’s just a scare tactic. Our choices are far greater, and we can forge a future better than this.
To defend itself, this system wields a revanchist club in its right hand while waving the promise of democracy in its left. Its liberals play on our hopes of seeing a decent society in our lifetime. They claim to be open to substantive change, a mirage always glimmering four years away but never arriving. Their illusion of reform camouflages the fact that working people around the world are under attack and the conditions of their lives will continue to worsen until we all dismantle this colossus.
Given its power and resilience, that’s going to take a long time, a work of generations. We won’t live to see the new era, but historically that’s not important. What matters is widening the cracks, opening up possibilities for change that others can expand. This is our moment, with its own ragged glory. Overthrowing the corporate dominance of our world and its peoples is a task nothing short of heroic. All else is collaboration.
Now onward! Plenty of cracks are already showing on the structural weak spots, and light is gleaming through them from the other side of these dungeon walls. Bring more wedges and hammers, bring levers and pickaxes. We’ll break out.
William T. Hathaway
|William T. Hathaway began his writing career as a newspaper reporter in San Francisco, then joined the Special Forces to write a book about war. A World of Hurt won a Rinehart Foundation Award for its portrayal of the psychological roots of war: the emotional blockage and need for patriarchal approval that draw men to the military. Summer Snow tells of an American warrior in Central Asia who falls in love with a Sufi Muslim and learns from her an alternative to the military mentality. CD-Ring is a young-adult novel about a boy learning the futility of violence and the need for peaceful communication. Radical Peace: People Refusing War presents the true stories of activists who have moved beyond protest into direct action, becoming criminals for peace by defying the government’s laws and impeding its capacity to kill. Wellsprings: A Fable of Consciousness is set in 2026 as an old woman and a young man battle the corporations that control the remaining water resources after the earth’s ecosystem has broken down under human abuse. Hathaway was a Fulbright professor of creative writing and American studies at universities in Germany, where he currently lives. A selection of his writing is available at www.peacewriter.org.|