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Blanket of Christmas

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The Idea of Greed

"They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force--nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others.  They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got.  It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and man going at it blind-- as if very proper for those who tackle a darkness.  The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly fatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.  What redeems it is the idea only.  An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea--something you can set up and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to..."

Joseph Conrad, from the Heart of Darkness


As I have read the accounts, coming out of Fallujah, seeing the pictures of the devastation, hearing the hopelessness of the survivors one begins to enter a sort of somnambulist state of being, perhaps it is shock, disbelief, frankly I don't know.  In my case, perhaps it is stronger than that.  One feels revulsion, anger, inconsolable desperation that man can be so cruel, so heartless, so monstrous.  One begins to search for words, for thoughts that perhaps could explain--but of course there aren't any. How could there be.

One always retrieves, or attempts to make reference to past experience as a guide to help explain the present state of affairs.  At the conclusion of the Second World War, when knowledge of the Holocaust became a topic of discussion, there was disbelief, similar feelings to those I am sharing here.  The concept that the German race was 'abnormal' that it was directly to blame for the attrocities of the war was commonly entertained.  But as time went on, we know that this is not the case.  There is no Nietzschean 'superman' (Ubermensch) to blame. Just like Iraqis are not to blame for the atrocities committed by Hussein.  Just like the American soldier is not, to blame for the atrocities being committed in Fallujah and other towns, in this nation under the siege of invasion and occupation.  It is the 'statesmen' and the moneyed men behind this war, and something else less palpable.

Can man in a generic sense be held to blame for the violence that we witness ? Is there something in the species perhaps that would explain this capacity for creating horror ? It is common knowledge, at least among those who have sought to inform themselves outside the mainstream media sources of information, that the Iraq invasion was prompted by greed.  Examples abound whether one looks at the case of Halliburton, or looks further into the scandal involving James Baker and the Carlyle Group--with ties to the Bush family and the administration.  Enormous profits are being made at the expense of the horror and devastation.  Iraqis and Americans are both paying for this greed with their blood. 

Such statesmen and war profiteers are not unique, history provides plenty of examples in this regard.  The Great War was also waged for economic reasons.  The continent of Africa continues to show us the depravity in the human soul, as empires continue to exist in a shadowy form enforced by the IMF and WTO.  The continent is gradually being depopulated by incessant wars, disease and famine.  The great sadness is that such devastation and suffering is avoidable and unnecessary.  Once again the spectre of greed, a  depravity nascent because of economic profiteering is mainly to blame.  There exists an international drive by some of the most advanced and industrialized nations to dominate the natural resources of this rich continent, whether it be for gold, diamonds, oil, copper, uranium, bauxite, or rare minerals used for the production of cellular phones

The suffering of Africa has changed little since civilization started to maintain a historical account of events. All one needs to do is look at the pictorial record of Sebastiao Salgado, or the statistics amassed by the United Nations to recognize that Africans continue to be victimized, their sole 'crime' is that they continue to bear their pain in silence--mainly because the world does not, or refuses to, hear their pleas. 

In the late 1800's the novelist Joseph Conrad, described in words part of this misery, which he published in 1902:

"Black shapes crouched, lay, sat between the trees leaning against trunks, clinging to the earth, half coming out, half effaced within the dim light, in all the attitudes of pain, abandonment, and despair.  Another mine on the cliff went off, followed by a slight shudder of the soil under my feet.  The work was going on. The work !  And this was the place where some of the helpers had withdrawn to die.

They were dying slowly--it was very clear.  They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now--nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom.  Brought from all the recesses of the coast in all the legality of time contracts, lost in uncongenial surroundings, fed on unfamiliar food, they sickened, became inneficient, and were then allowed to crawl away and rest.  These moribund shapes were as free as air--and nearly as thin. I began to distinguish the gleam of their eyes under the trees."

Joseph Conrad, from the Heart of Darkness

It is not so much the awful machines of death, the apache gunships, the missiles, the bunker busters, the RPG's, the tanks, the AK47's or the bullets that make war and destruction possible.  War begins as an idea.  Atrocities in war begin as ideas that somehow make sense in the minds of the soldier and the statesman.  As ideas go, it is greed that drives most of the devastation on this earth; a devastation that is bearing a sickly fruit, as hundreds of living things become extinct every year, and as the 'lungs' of the earth are incinerated or chopped up into pieces. Slowly the greed is bearing a sickly fruit that promises a cure for all the devastation, more greed and depravity-- and this world will become uninhabitable.

In the end it makes little difference whether the idea was prompted by an unquenchable drive for power or wealth or for some seemingly 'noble' purpose.  War is not noble, glorious, or righteous.  Seeing the devastation of Fallujah is proof of that.

"In all the nations of the world--even including Germany--this war was not a popular war; nor is there one place left on the face of the globe where the government has dared to put it up to the fighting men whether they would begin the war, and having begun, whether they will fight on.  In all these embattled nations, whose proud crests just now flaunt in chief the word Democracy, a small class of immensely wealthy people own the country, while an enormous mass of workers are poor..."

John Reed, 1917, from This Unpopular War 

One gets the notion while reading the Christian Bible, that in the beginning there was the word.  It is clear to me at least, that the end will come as the result of an idea !

V. Saraiva / Editor


Posted  December  4, 2004

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