This is the season of death, when we celebrate the dying of the sun with an orgiastic burst of consumption and environmental destruction. This is the season of rebirth when we spend time with loved ones and reach out to help others we don’t know.
Now would be an appropriate time to come to grips with public murder and make a public investment in peace. If I were summoning back ghosts of governments past for a press conference at the National Press Club, my first inclination — lasting only a split second — would be to bring the Filipinos, the Vietnamese, the Native Americans, the Laotians, the Mexicans, the Cambodians, the Iraqis, the Guatemalans, the Japanese, the Afghans, the Germans, the Yemenis, and all the peoples of the world dead by our indifference or malevolence and by our sacred tax dollars. Pacific Islanders killed by weapons testing would join children killed by drug testing, and prisoners both innocent and guilty killed by electric chairs and injections, standing side-by-side with the resurrected bodies of men tortured to death by the CIA, kids melted with white phosphorous, and presidents — both foreign and domestic — cut down by assassins spreading freedom and joy.
My second inclination would be to line up a handful of press-worthy celebrities whose celebrity might motivate a bit of our national press corpse [sic] to hop an elevator for the long commute to the press club despite the fact that these particular celebrities were murdered by our government. First might be Paul Robeson. Here’s a wikipedia summary for those unfamiliar with this great man. Here’s a taste of Robeson’s voice. And here’s audio of a discussion with Robeson’s son and others of how the CIA drugged him and then electroshocked him, effectively debilitating and silencing a voice that had never before faltered, a voice that had gone so far as to denounce the House Un-American Activities Committee as un-Americans to their faces. This article sums up this crime. This more recent article looks back.
Next to Robeson before the cameras might stand John Wayne. In 1955, movie star John Wayne, who avoided participating in World War II by opting instead to make movies glorifying war, decided that he had to play Genghis Khan. The Conqueror was filmed in Utah, and the conqueror was conquered. Of the 220 people who worked on the film, by the early 1980s 91 of them had contracted cancer and 46 had died of it, including John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead, and director Dick Powell. Statistics suggest that 30 of the 220 might ordinarily have gotten cancer, not 91. In 1953 the military had tested 11 atomic bombs nearby in Nevada, and by the 1980s half the residents of St. George, Utah, where the film was shot, had cancer. You can run from war, but you can’t hide. Imagine that comment in John Wayne’s voice as he stands, newly restored to life, speaking at a podium surrounded by handsome hacks who play journalists on TV.
Beside Robeson and Wayne at the best-attended-ever press conference we might line up Ernest Hemingway. When I was first told that Hemingway had killed himself, it was explained to me that he didn’t want to live as an old man incapable of hunting lions. And yet this was the author of The Old Man and the Sea. Make sense of that if you can. Now we learn from Hemingway’s friend and collaborator over the last 13 years of his life that the FBI’s surveillance of Hemingway “substantially contributed to his anguish and his suicide.” Hemingway’s close friend didn’t take Hemingway’s complaints about the FBI seriously until his FBI file was finally released, confirming the surveillance. “It’s the worst hell,” Hemingway had said. “The goddamnedest hell. They’ve bugged everything. That’s why we’re using [a friend]’s car. Mine’s bugged. Everything’s bugged. Can’t use the phone. Mail intercepted.” I wonder how many high school English classes will mention this.
Next to Hemingway, let’s bring out Bob Marley. The CIA’s files on him are being kept secret for your protection, but the death and destruction the CIA was bringing to his country is undisputed, the CIA’s responsibility for the failed assassination attempt against him is very likely, and it appears that in the end the CIA got him by a manner that sounds insanely bizarre if you haven’t heard about giving an entire French town LSD or targeting a single intended victim (Fidel Castro) with a poisoned diving suit, an exploding cigar, a ballpoint-pen syringe, an exploding conch shell, and dozens of other crackpot schemes that sound less comical when they work.
Some surprise guests at the press club might include John and Robert Kennedy. Others might include, after all, the millions of nameless forgotten dead, the victims of the industrial-scale “signature strikes” that have been our biggest public investment. Not that the reporters would all see the point of cramming so many resurrected bodies into their club, but because some of the celebrity victims might more clearly grasp and articulate the purpose of the event. Sooner or later we are going to have to stop killing people and start loving people, or the rebirth of life after winter won’t keep repeating.