by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
May 13, 2004
WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Say it's 1770 in the Colonies. Tempers are starting to boil over land ownership, taxes and debt-collecting. Yet many are thriving under the rule of the English king, George III. It's treason and heresy to publicly damn him. Are you a Whig or a Tory? Which side are you on?
That's what I was thinking when I saw "The Equivalent Lands," last weekend. The play, by Joe Greenhoe, was put on by the Vermont Theater Company and sponsored by the Dummerston and Putney Historical Societies.
The play tells the story of Lt. Leonard Spaulding, who bought land on the western bank of the Connecticut River from the governor of New Hampshire. He cleared the land, built a home on it, brought his family there, and began working it, only to have it taken away by New York during a land grant dispute. Spaulding eventually led a rebellion against the king that some consider the first volley in the Revolutionary War.
History is written by the winners, so from our view, the Revolutionary War looks like a fait accompli, a dead cert from the start. It was fought and won by patriots and heroes and for all the right reasons: independence, self-determination, taxation with representation, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." Good stuff, all of it. But the truth is that the Revolution pitted neighbor against neighbor. Many supported the king.
It takes a lot to challenge the status quo, especially when the costs are high. Back then, the status quo was George III. I couldn't help wondering if I would have had the courage to damn the king and possibly die for my beliefs? Would I have risked "Our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor," as the Declaration of Independence says?
Which side would you have been on?
Or say it's 1950, and for a while there you really believed in the ideals of brotherhood and socialism - before the realities of Soviet-style Communism made a mockery of them. Now Sen. Joseph McCarthy is holding hearings in Washington, and you're trembling in fear. Will they call you to testify? Will you lose your job and your standing in the community? If you are called, will you name names? Or will you have the courage of your convictions and be blacklisted for life?
Which side would you be on?
We've been brainwashed by our entertainment industry into identifying with the victorious -with the heroes, the leading actors and actresses of any play or movie or show on television. No matter what we look like, while they are on the screen we are them.
In our national life, this translates into thinking of ourselves as "the greatest country on earth," and "the good guys." The other guys are the villains, or, in the language of our president, "the evil-doers."
Now which side are you on?
After 9/11, several columnists lost their jobs for pointing out that Pres. George W. Bush hid in a bunker on the day of the attacks. Dixie Chicks's records were burned. Censorship was everywhere.
Americans, suddenly aware of their vulnerability, desperately wanted to believe they had a leader who could keep them safe. Playing on that, the right-wing Republicans erected an impermeable wall around Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney: no press conferences; no public appearances that weren't scripted; lies and evasions from the press secretary to a cowed and imprisoned White House press corps. Speaking against Bush was called treason. People were denounced for it. Muslims were randomly put in jail.
The wall helped maintain the illusion that the government was on our side, working to protect us. God save the King!
Now the wall has been shattered. First came the immensely touching photographs of flag-draped coffins. Then ABC's "Nightline" showed us the names and faces of 721 Americans who have died in Iraq. Then came the Abu Ghraib torture photos and videos. Then came the even more shocking information that "contractors" (read mercenaries), not American soldiers, are running that show. Now we have the revenge beheading of an American businessman. Next, I understand, we'll be seeing videos of American soldiers sodomizing Iraqi prisoners and having sex in front of them.
Meanwhile, the conservatives - Who are these people? How deeply can one person dig his or her head in the sand and still be able to breathe? - are doing their best to regain control.
Secretary of Defense (we attacked Iraq without provocation - shouldn't the name of his department be changed to the Dept. of Offense?) Donald Rumsfeld has taken "full responsibility" and apologized, as if that means anything more than a Britney Spears song: Oops! We did it again! Sinclair Broadcast Group and Piedmont Television, companies which own ABC stations, censored the "Nightline" show as "a blatant political act to undermine support for Pres. Bush and the war." Rush Limbaugh said our soldiers in Abu Ghraib were just "letting off steam" and their interrogation techniques were no more serious than a college hazing. (That kind of hazing is outlawed now, Rush.)
Meanwhile, the Administration - the one supposed to keep us safe before and in the wake of 9/11 - is mining new Middle Eastern terrorists as if they were golden nuggets, while at the same time bankrupting our country with the cost of the war. (The woman who took the coffin photos was fired from a $100,000 contract job. Is anyone in the United States making $100,000 a year loading cargo planes?)
Which side are you on, America? Why aren't you in the streets, demanding that Bush resign? Why aren't you demanding that he be tried as a war criminal? Why aren't you demanding the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, where we have no right to be? How much more truth do you need slammed down your throats?
Now think back to those Revolutionary War days. Those of you who were right-wing conservatives then - the Tories - backed the king and lost. And you're still backing the wrong horse.
I know it's hard to admit you are wrong. No one wants to believe their king, or their president, is a liar and a jackass. No one wants to believe that everything they are told, everything they believe in, is a lie.
George Orwell said, "Speaking the truth in times of universal deceit is a revolutionary act." After a year in Iraq, Americans know the truth. When do they become revolutionary? When do they say, "Enough. No more. We don't want to be the biggest bully the world has ever seen."
Which side are you on?
In December of 1941, just before America entered World War II, the great essayist E. B. White wrote in "Intimations": "To hold America in one's thoughts is like holding a love letter in one's hand - it has so special a meaning... (But) who is there big enough to love the whole planet? We must find such people for the next society."
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.