November 12, 2006

Exploiting the Dead

Baudrillard, via Leninology:
Celebration and commemoration are themselves merely a form of necrophagous cannibalism, the homeopathic form of murder by easy stages. This is the work of heirs, whose ressentiment toward the deceased is boundless. Museums, jubilees, festivals, complete works, the publication of the tiniest of unpublished fragments - all this shows that we are entering an active age of ressentiment and repentance.
From Paddy Chayefsky's The Americanization of Emily, excerpted in my essay, "Against Sentimentality, and In Praise of Cowardice":
[I]t’s not war that’s insane, you see. It’s the morality of it. It’s not greed or ambition that makes war: it’s goodness. Wars are always fought for the best of reasons: for liberation or manifest destiny. Always against tyranny and always in the interest of humanity. So far this war, we’ve managed to butcher some ten million humans in the interest of humanity. Next war it seems we’ll have to destroy all of man in order to preserve his damn dignity. It’s not war that’s unnatural to us – it’s virtue. As long as valor remains a virtue, we shall have soldiers. So, I preach cowardice. Through cowardice, we shall all be saved.


I don’t trust people who make bitter reflections about war. ... It’s always the generals with the bloodiest records who are the first to shout what a Hell it is. And it’s always the widows who lead the Memorial Day parades … we shall never end wars ... by blaming it on ministers and generals or warmongering imperialists or all the other banal bogies. It’s the rest of us who build statues to those generals and name boulevards after those ministers; the rest of us who make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields. We wear our widows’ weeds like nuns and perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices. My brother died at Anzio – an everyday soldier’s death, no special heroism involved. They buried what pieces they found of him. But my mother insists he died a brave death and pretends to be very proud.
If you genuinely wish to honor the dead, I commend you for it. Do so privately. If you let the state do it and engage in another of our endless public displays, the state will use the dead for its own destructive ends -- as it uses everything else, and as it has from the beginning of time.

And if you want to honor the dead, work to bring an end to the destructive myths and the deadly illusions that give rise to war. That is addressed not only to warmongering Republicans, but to warmongering Democrats too; indeed, it is addressed to warmongers everywhere. (And it is most definitely addressed to you, Hillary "Torture" Clinton.)

By Wilfred Owen:
Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
-Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,-
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
Wilfred Owen was one of the best poet-soldiers of The Great War. In the Wikipedia biography, there is this passage, which should make you weep:
He is perhaps just as well-known for having been killed in action at the Sambre-Oise Canal just a week before the war ended, causing news of his death to reach home as the town's church bells declared peace.
That was in 1918. Since then, we have made war countless times. Most of those wars were entirely unnecessary and unjustified, and only worsened the alleged problems they were supposed to "solve." The always and inherently unforeseeable and uncontrollable consequences then provided the justification for still more war. This is The Folly of Intervention, which we still do not understand, even after the latest nightmare chapter in Iraq. Since we refuse to grasp the nature of our error, it is repeated endlessly. As long as we mire ourselves in self-selected ignorance, the folly will continue, as will the carnage and the horror.

So what right does the state or do we have to use the dead for our narrow, usually dishonest purposes? We have none at all. We denied them peace while they lived, when it would have been a beneficence beyond description and when it would have meant something.

At the very least, we can grant them peace now.