THE BLOG
06/05/2007 01:41 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Not a Joke

One of the most irritating editorials of the week-end was the New
York TImes
piece on Dick Cheney, entitled "Dick Cheney Rules". On
Monday, it was one of the Times' most emailed pieces. Surely the
reason for such popularity is the list of Cheney's crimes, not the
tone of the piece, which is ironic, but not, I am sorry to say,
bitterly ironic. The tone is, in fact, playful. Among Cheney's major
transgressions, he "seems unconcerned about little things like checks
and balances and traditional American notions of judicial process. At
one point, he gave himself the power to selectively declassify
documents and selectively leak them to reporters. In a recent
commencement address, he declaimed against prisoners who had the gall
to 'demand the protections of the Geneva Convention and the
Constitution of the United States'." And it points out Cheney's tens
of millions of dollars in profits from his Halliburton connection. But
then editorial limply observes that "Mr. Cheney is in step with the
times. He has privatized the job of vice president of the United
States," and ends. What? Where's the call for impeachment? This
editorial makes Cheney the monster sound like an eccentric but
meaningless old coot like the Dad on Frasier.


Not a page or two from the Cheney editorial is an op-ed by Edward
Wong called "Iraq"s Curse: A Thirst For Final, Crushing Victory", in
which the author reflects upon the desires on the part of most Iraqi
groups to see their enemies killed, dismembered, and dragged through
the streets. Well, excuse me, but, I have to say, I can sympathize.


I've been reading lately about my home state, Missouri, during and
after the Civil War, and it's enlightening these days to think about
those days. The similarities of the Civil War in Kansas and Missouri
(between 1856 and 1865) to the war in Iraq are striking. Just to
refresh your memory, when the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed in 1854,
repealing the Missouri Compromise and giving "Kansans" the right to
choose whether as a state, Kansas was going to be slave or free,
settlers poured into the territory from the north and the south, and
many of those were from the two most extremely ideological states,
Massachusetts and South Carolina. These immigrants hated each other on
sight, and Kansas was soon known all over the country as "Bloody
Kansas". Radicals on both sides gained experience in violence and
hatred. One of these was John Brown, who murdered five slaveholders in
southern Kansas Territory in 1856 and another was William Quantrill, a
Missouri border guerrilla who massacred a hundred and fifty Union
sympathizers in Lawrence, Kansas in 1863. The Union sympathizers, in
particular, made sure to be armed with the latest technology--Sharps
rifles. If they had had IEDs, they would have used them. The Civil War
in Kansas and Missouri was terrifying to both sides exactly for the
reason that the Iraq War is terrifying--no side predominated, neighbor
hated and distrusted neighbor, revenge was a primary motivator, and
everyone was well-armed. All due respect to Mr. Wong, but the Iraqis
aren't unique in their thirst for reduction of the enemy to nothing.
Civil wars, and especially civil wars in territories where loyalties
are divided, like Missouri and Kansas, inevitably produce just such
sentiments.


Since this is a long standing human pattern, witnessed with perfect
clarity in the nineties in the Balkans and elsewhere, you might have
thought that the Neocons would have paused to consider what they were
unleashing in Iraq when they started the current civil war there. But
no. When Cheney decided he had to have control of Iraqi oil, no amount
of blood--whether shed by Americans or by Iraqis themselves--was
considered to be too high a price to pay. And, unable to learn, feel
remorse, or admit error, Cheney persists in his quest. Still, the New
York Times
considers this all a bit funny. He's privatized the
vice-presidency, but hey, so what, life goes on.


Lots of Americans don't consider this funny at all--Dennis Kucinich
has a Resolution of Impeachment before the Congress, and Cheney is the
one to be impeached. If you want to add your name to the petition
supporting it, you can go here. They
need money, too, for ads. The thing is, it's important that Cheney be
impeached, and, hopefully, investigated, indicted, and imprisoned. His
crime of flouting laws and undermining, if not destroying, the
American government we thought we had is equal to his crime of causing
the death and injury of thousands of Americans and hundreds of
thousands of Iraqis. To put it simply, Cheney has been instrumental in
rolling back the rule of law in both the US and Iraq and returning
both nations to a state where vengeance is the only recourse people
have to redress the wrongs done to them. He has enhanced his own
power, limited the legitimate power of the government over his
actions, and flouted every sort of rule that might inconvenience
either him or his pocketbook. He has operated in secrecy, and shown
indifference to even the appearance of legitimacy and fairness.


When those in power exercise it in an unjust manner, they destroy the
sense of trust that average citizens have in their own government and
their own society and they open the society to the return of revenge
as a sentiment and as an act. American history is replete with
examples of how long it has taken and how difficult it has been for us
as a nation to escape vengeance as a social mechanism--Kansas and
Missouri, vigilantes and lynching, gangs and outlaws. Cheney's
specific crimes are reason enough for the New York Times to take
impeachment seriously, but his larger crime against the nation has
been to roll back the clock and infuse people like me, liberals like
me (whom we all know are wimps, right?) with vengeful sentiments and
fantasies. We have the crimes, then we have the arrogance--since the
2000 election, Cheney has been adding insult to injury, here and in
Iraq. The combination is a potent one--the injuries damage our lives;
the insults make us mad (both angry and crazy). The antidote is the
exercise of laws, such as Kucinich's articles of impeachment. I have
news for the New York Times--if you assume that this is all going to
pass away with another election season, you are dangerously wrong.


For you literary types, please go to therealjanesmiley for some
reviews of new books: Marianne Wiggins, Chris Abani, Alexander
Waugh--and one old one, Emile Zola.