Tuesday, August 11, 2009

rich attack poor

at the end of vasily grossman's war notebooks (see post just below) he notes the bewilderment of soviet troops as they encountered the prosperity of the german landscape.

"our soldiers have seen the two story suburban houses with electricity, gas, bathrooms, and beautifully tended gardens. our people have seen the villas of the rich bourgeoisie in berlin, the unbelievable luxury of castles, estates, and mansions. and thousands of soldiers repeat these angry questions when they look around them in germany: 'but why did they come to us? what did they want?'"

when a certain rich country i know well attacked a certain impoverished country far away from it several years ago, i had the same feeling: why do people living in a material heaven feel impelled to attack countries whose people are living in hell?

it makes so little sense, i can only conclude that many people living in rich countries are completely insensate to reality, particularly the reality of poor people living far away. their imaginations are easily swayed by pro-war propaganda, which builds up dictators into all-powerful devils capable of destroying countries a thousand times more powerful than their own. people in rich countries, even while able to access much information, do not necessarily do so, and so, cut off from suffering by their own comfort, are susceptible to fantasies and paranoid visions. and so they accede to war against people who can scarcely bear it.

a few days ago i saw "the hurt locker," the first mainstream film to show americans the hell of the iraq war. the film is about americans, but in the background are those whose country was destroyed by the war. and we see how awful the landscape is: the trash on the streets, the lack of rain, the cement block houses. i wonder if americans watching the film think to themselves: why did we, with our sprinkler-fed lawns and thick trees and gardens, attack this miserable place?

because the collective psyche allowed itself to be focused on the devilish figure of the dictator, at the exclusion of the tens of millions of people who would bear all the suffering for our moral failure.

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