ON CYNICISM, INDEFERENCE, AND NAIVETY
Presentation during the International Writing Program, Iowa, 2002.
Presentation during the International Writing Program, Iowa, 2002.
(Versión en español Sobre el 11 de septiembre)
I happened to be in the States, teaching in the South, during the attacks of September 11. I was still here when the war against Afganistan was cooked, decided and started. Of all the impressions I remember of the days immediately following September 11 there are two that match together for me as part of that internal, private puzzle, that is one´s opinion, one´s feelings about an event that has been regarded, interpreted, and often manipulated in so many different ways.
The first of those impressions was a little talk about the attacks I had with a secretary at my university. She was, and I am sure she still is, a charming, well educated lady, wonderfully helpful. She asked me very cautiously about my opinion on the attacks, and when I said that, of course, I was as horrified as everyone, she seemed to be relieved that we were both on the same side and she went one saying:
I don´t understand why this is happening to us, you can see that we are good simple people. We love our families, we go to church, we always give money to poor countries. I just don´t understand all this hatred. At this point she sighed and concluded: I think that there are a lot of envious people out there in the world.
The second impression was something that came from a man not nearly as nice as this secretary, but very clever in a cinical way, something he said as a proud confesion during an interview on TV. This man was Zibriew Brevszinsky, defense advicer during the war beteween the Soviet Union and Afganistan. He was remembering the invasion of Afganistan by the Soviet Union with a glimmer of thriumph in his eyes. As soon as he saw the soviet soldiers marching there, he explained, he knew that this was the opportunity, a golden chance for the United States to give to the Soviet Union their own Vietnam. He had been the master mind behind the resistance plan that finished, ten years after, with the falling of the wall in Berlin. He explained the different ways in which the US government armed and trained the afgan people and how they converted the country during those ten years in a nightmare of guerrillas for the soviet soldiers. Osama bin Laden, as I learned with surprise, was fighting there as a freshman soldier, an excentric millonarie with a private army, good friend of the Bush family, learning all the military skills, and yes, trained and armed by the States. Our only mistake there, said Brevszinsky, was to leave the weapons in the country after the war was over. With no economy left at all, and with a generation of young people that only knew how to kill other people, the whole country turned into a training camp for terrorism of various countries. At this point I remembered an interesting confusion that people in my country frecuently commit with respect to the monster of the novel Frankestein, maybe the same happens here. They tend to give to the monster the name of the creator, and they would think that the monster´s name is Frankestein. And indeed, very often creator and creature can be called by the same name.
Anyway, I just wanted to point out these two poles, these two extremes that work together so well in american society, this gap that strikes anyone who arrives in the States and come in contact with all the really nice people that you can meet anywhere you go. A cinical, deliberate, agressive external policy combined with the good cheer, the naivite, the indiference, and sometimes even the ignorance of most of the population about what is going on out there.
But naivite is not always inocent and cynicism is not always clever.
When I left the States last year, and as retaliation for September 11, a major war, supported by ninety per cent of the americans, was carried on, a war that from the very beggining was condemned to fail in the proclaimed main goal. Instead of going for the one man that they suspected, two million innocent people were pushed to the border lines in panic, two million people had to leave their houses and everything behind them to scape from the bombings. All of us remember those pathetic images of planes dropping bombs and food almost at the same time. One year later Osama Bin Laden has not been caught. However, this doesn´t seem that important now. I was astonished to see, when I returned this year, that the really important thing now... is to start another war!
Yes, another war is being cooked and decided, and the arguments cannot be more strange. There is no connection whatsoever between Irak and the attacks of September 11. It is been said that Irak could achieve the capacity to develop nuclear weapons. There is no proof of this at all, but suppose for a moment that this is the case. So what? Is that what could make them such an obvious target? North Corea, India, Russia, many countries in the world, have nuclear weapons. There is just one nation in human history that has proved by now to be capable of throwing nuclear bombs against cities full of inocent people, without any clear remorse. That nation is not Irak. And no one out there in the world is considering starting a preventive war against that nation. But before all this fuss about nuclear weapons, have they already forgotten that the only weapons that the terrorists needed in September 11 were some plastic knives and pocket money for plane flying lessons?
It is being said that Saddam Hussein is a dictator. And so what? We all know that the United States sometimes loves dictators. For decades, after the Cuban revolution, the official foreign policy of the United States for Latin America was to place and support dictatorships in each of our countries.
There is no real threat, there are no real arguments. The hidden reasoning for this war is not totally clear, but what is clear is the hidden cynicism. It is built on the belief, that after Serbia, after Afganistan, the planes of the United States can go anywhere to drop bombs without any american deaths. It is built on the belief that from now on wars can all be like that, an easy business for the United States, a thing that you can repeat once and again against any country. The cynicism of power what is fueling this new war. But cynicism is not always clever. The most perfect page, wrote Borges once, is at the same time the most fragile. The most perfect war machinery has created these new warriors with plastic knives. Maybe they cannot fight the american planes, but they are going to fight back, in one way or another.
A famous Machiavellian line says that war is just the continuation of politics by some other means. This is exactly what you feel when you hear the american politicians speaking in the media as if going to war were a natural step at some point in the discussion. Here again cynicism proves to be not always clever. War is not a continuation of anything, war is a gap and an abyss, war is a jump into the worst of human beings, war is the very end of life for thousands of people. War, as Michael said last week, is the breakdown of all values.
And yet, as we can see, a second war in less than a year is being cooked and prepared in a country of two hundred and fifty million people without any visible resistance.
Another old statement, from the old times of rebellion, says that a revolution is possible if you can count on the fierce resolution of few people, the silent consent of many and the indiference of the rest. I guess that the same is true for the call to war. And this is when naivite is no longer inocent, and when indiference and ignorance can be deeply criminal.
Henry James has written some of his best pieces of narrative by addressing the issue of naivite and enthusiasm of the young american nation and contrasting it to the wickedness and deceitful sophistication of the old Europe. But he says as a warning in one of his novels: Naivite is like the zero in mathematics, it´s importance depends on the amount it goes with and the place you put it.
A hundred years after Henry James, the United States is not anymore a young nation and has a long history of cinical interventions. The naivite of the people is still there, but it seems more and more a convenient way of not paying attention to the dirty work that is carried on around the world to keep the standars of living, including the cheap oil, for the entire american population. If you don´t know, you don´t have to worry for any uncomfortable dilemmas of the conscience. If you don´t know you don´t need to act, to defy, to challenge, to do all the tiring and often risky things that are involved in political oposition. Naivite and cynicism match together well.
The fierce resolution of few, the silent consent of many, and the indiference of the rest.
The war against Irak already has the fierce resolution of the government and of the media. The war against Irak already has the silent consent of half of the american population. It is still open whether or not it will have as well our indiference.
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