Monday, May 5, 2008

Chickens Coming Home to Roost

"The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved."
-- Jeremiah

I can't imagine the prophets of old took any satisfaction in seeing Israel laid low. Sneering "I told you so" is hardly a sign of holiness. It's cold comfort to be proven right when you're a prophet of doom. The whole point of prophesying was supposed to be to lead the people to repentance--to change--to escape The Verdict.

So many people have gotten their blood pressure up over Jeremiah Wright's "chickens coming home to roost" comment, as though he were speaking as a politician, not a prophet. Well, he's not a politician. He's a lousy and misguided prophet, to be sure, but that is the vantage point from which he speaks.

Look, I lived in New York City when 9/11 happened. My wife was working two blocks south of the towers, and had to help get hundreds of school children out of the building, down to Battery Park, and to safety. I didn't see her until about 8:00 that night, and most of the time I had no idea where she was or whether she was safe. So if anyone has a right to be uppity about such comments, it's me.

And I'm not.

I know, I know--the people who worked at the World Trade Center didn't "deserve it." They personally did not inflict death and destruction on anyone in the Muslim world. But they are--and we are--citizens of a country that has sharp elbows and a big footprint, and likes to throw its weight around--sometimes with moral justification; sometimes without. The fact that most of us have escaped any kind of accountability or reckoning or payback for the actions our government has taken abroad over the years is a sign of good fortune, not divine grace.

Direct your attention to the slaughtered innocents above. This is from a private collection of photos from Hiroshima that the general public has never seen until now. We've seen flattened buildings, but not wrecked bodies. Well, here are the bodies. Some of them.

Did the people of Hiroshima deserve the atomic bomb any more than the people at the World Trade Center deserved the planes? No--no more, but also no less. Were they ordinary people, going about their business in a non-military area--raising children, going to work, tending their gardens? Yes, absolutely. Was their government perpetrating death and destruction abroad in their names, trying to build a great empire? Yes, absolutely.

(By the way, I'm not saying that we are, or are trying to be an empire, I'm not comparing any of our actions to anyone else's. I'm not saying USA= imperial Japan, Bush = Hitler, or any of that other nonsense. All I'm saying is, what is done in our name connects back to us, here at home.)

But Japan was an empire, you'll tell me. They did not have a democracy. The people did not get to choose their leaders. They did not have a say in the running of their government. They can't be held responsible for what Hirohito and Tojo were doing.

And it's certainly convenient to think that way. But I don't think it's true. I'm sorry. I just don't buy that argument anymore. Everybody votes.

If you take to the streets or the barricades and say NO! you are voting. If you stay at home and choose to ignore what you know damned well is happening, you are voting. There has never been a government on earth that was not outnumbered by its people. Build as large a secret police force as you want to--the people will still outnumber you. And as long as that is true, then the status quo--whatever it is--has been elected. Elected by choice, elected by silence, elected by fear...but elected.

And I'm not saying that Al Qaeda had legitimate grievances, or that any grievance would have justified the hideous thing they did. That's an argument for another day, and beside the point. You cannot be protected from consequences just because you think you are a good person and your actions are right. Because guess what--not everybody agrees with you. When you do unto them, they just might do unto you. That's the risk you take by acting in the world at large. And you take that risk when you think the action is important. But you don't get to decide how people will respond to what you do to them.

This whole "chickens coming home to roost" thing started with Malcolm X speaking in response to the assassination of President Kennedy. It was an obnoxious and inappropriate comment in the circumstances--just as Wright's echo was. But it doesn't mean the larger message was wrong. When you send violence out into the world, violence might just come back and be visited upon you. Call it karma, call it physics, call it whatever you like. It's the kind of uncomfortable truth that a prophet is supposed to tell us. We're not supposed to like it.

And if we don't like it, and we don't like the implications of it, then we are free people and should take action to change the equation.

Or, you know, we can just kill the messenger and pretend that the message dies with him.

And it's something we've known since Day 1--since the day our representatives at the Second Continental Congress declared themselves free from Britain but continued to hold Africans in slavery. There were political reasons why they did it--why they felt they had to do it. And possibly there would not have been a country without that ugly compromise. So it was necessary, perhaps. But that doesn't mean it was right. They took the action. The consequences came later. But boy, did they come. And sadly, as we've seen with Obama and Wright, they haven't stopped yet.

Our old friend Thomas Jefferson, who was there at the scene on Day 1 and saw it all happen--he knew. He knew what he was doing, and he sensed what it would mean. "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just," he said, "and that justice cannot sleep forever."

Here's all I'm saying: if I was unlucky enough to face True Judgment at some point, with the pit of hell waiting for me on one side and the promise of heaven on the other, and The Voice said unto me: "Now this Iraq thing...the war, the torture, the whole knew it was wrong for a long time, right? So why didn't you do anything to stop it?" What, exactly, would I be able to say in my defense?

Good thing it's all a myth, eh?


Anonymous said...

"I know, I know the people...'

Then you went to morally equate they did have it coming. My brother-in-law and the rest of the 3,000 did not have it coming no matter how you explain it.

Do you know what is significant about September 11, 1683? If not, perhaps you ought to find out.

We are the same nation, far further advanced then the one fully constituted in 1789. Yet even that argument is scurrilous. Read some more about why slaves were counted as three-fifths of person (hint: it had nothing to do we lessoning them as human beings and that very passage layed the groundwork for ending that atrocity).

Our nation does not "send violence out into the world." We did nothing to invite the attacks upon our nation before either 12/7 or 9/11. You babbling about Hiroshima is more of the same. I guess we it have been more humane to just invade, lose somewhere between 250,000 and a million more American lives and kill millions of Japanese in the process rather than drop two bombs killing a few hundred thousand. It is a dumb argument you make.

Agathon said...

See, this is the problem. We do send violence out into the world. Sometimes we have to. Sometimes we just think we have to. But damage done for a good cause is still, in somebody's eyes, damage--and they don't always see the necessity or even the larger benefit of what we've done.

I wasn't equating the destruction of the trade center and the bombing of Hiroshima as morally equivalent acts. I was simply saying that we can't keep preserving the fiction that the actions of our government are disconnected from our safe, secure, private lives. They used to be, because the world was much further away from us. But the world can reach us more easily now. So we just have to be very sure that we agree with what's being done abroad in our name, because sometimes we do have to pay the price for it.

Heather said...

Amen, Brother.
I found the last paragraph particularly hard...but right.