In the USA – “I Cannot Write!”
by Andre Vltchek - CounterPunchAt the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), in Los Angeles, a gigantic, carnivorous flag with torn ends was waving in an artificial wind created by enormous propellers.
There were no visitors at the exhibition. For a while I thought that in all this huge space I was totally alone.
But soon I noticed two figures in black torn dresses, moving slowly, in semi-darkness, desperately clinging to the walls. Backs bent, they passed by the bookstore right near the place where someone had put a small sign on the wall that said, “I cannot breath!”
Most likely it was a performance, a desperate protest action of one man and one woman, a performance against this giant all-devouring flag.
“I cannot breath!” A man shouted before he died, before he was murdered by the regime.
“I cannot write!” I thought. Which to me was almost the same as not being able to respire.
It was the first time in many years that I had missed my column, my essays, for several weeks.
Even when I was arrested in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Kenya, in Senegal, I still managed to write.
I managed to write after a deranged, evangelical and fascist preacher paid hotel staff to poison me in the Indonesian city of Surabaya.
I wrote in many warzones and desperate slums, from Iraq to Mindanao, from Haiti to Marshall Islands.
But I couldn’t write in the United States of America. Not one single line, not one word. Not this time.
I spoke. I was invited to speak and I spoke at some huge conference in southern California, and I gave talks at peace and opposition gatherings in Monterey, San Jose and Fresno.
I was asked to speak on my 1.000 page book “Exposing Lies of the Empire”, which became a bestseller, defined my stand against the Empire, showing horrors it has been committing all over the world.
I showed films, excerpts from my films on Africa: on Rwanda and Congo, on refugee camp for Somali refugees, and on the horrific slums of Nairobi.
I was asked to show all this and more, but at the end, a man stood up and asked: “Why are you showing all this to us?”
“Because your country is murdering millions, right now”, I replied.
“What are you expecting us to do?” He asked again, in a cool voice.
As he uttered this, I was still recovering from a monstrous jetlag, after travelling for 48 hours from South Africa, arriving in California only one day before the presentation. In South Africa, I was among my comrades. Everything was different: there is a tremendous struggle for a better world, poor people confronting and pressing their government, the great UNISA (University of South Africa) getting deeply involved. There I spoke at The 14th International Symposium on the Contributions of Psychology to Peace. There I spoke and spoke, and fought and fought, and was involved in negotiations, and was helping to shape the concepts: of how no peace could and should exist without justice, without social justice and how no progress could be made anywhere on the Planet, without confronting Western imperialism and fascism.
In California it was up side down: all totally different. In California I stood alone, facing cold faces of self-righteous crowds; crowds convinced of their superiority, even when they were, “benevolently” and mildly critical of several murderous actions committed by their country in countless parts of the world.
“They are not telling us the truth”, I heard people repeating on several occasions.
The citizens of the Empire were eager to describe themselves as “victims”. Did the same spectacle appear in Nazi Germany in the 1930’s? Most likely yes! “Defeated Germany was hit by hyper-inflation, reparations, therefore it was a victim!” It felt it became a victim of the Bolsheviks and the Jews and the French, and the Roma… The United States was not defeated externally, only internally. The two settings are different. Yet there are many similarities, especially in how two empires have treated “un-people”.
“Do you believe in collective guilt, in collective responsibility?” Someone challenged me from the public.
“Definitely!” I shouted back.
“The responsibility and the guilt of the West, of the white race, of Christianity, of the Empire! Collective responsibility and guilt for hundreds of millions of victims defined as un-people. Victims gassed, bombed, starved, mutilated… Collective guilt and responsibility for raping the free will of billions in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, Asia and Oceania. Collective guilt and responsibility for the ongoing global apartheid!”
I felt no urgency from people living in Southern California; I felt no urgency in Fresno, Monterey or San Jose. Life was going on. Their life… About other lives, they knew nothing. They actually made sure to know nothing.
Once in a while they protested, to feel good about themselves.
I was pushing speeches, presentations and talks about what I saw in Africa and the Middle East: perpetual wars, destruction of entire nations, millions of corpses piling on top of the others. I gave examples and showed films. I was offering in-depth analyses about how the West has been antagonizing China and Russia.
At one point I began talking, passionately, about Latin American revolutions: about poetry and music, about stories, about the quixotic beauty of rebellion. I spoke about poets like Neruda, Paz, Cardenal and Parra. I was trying to ignite the crowd. Then, suddenly, I felt there was something wrong… dead silence. I looked in front of me: most of the “crowd” consisted of women over 80-years old, some on wheelchairs, several of them sleeping.
“Young people here are… into themselves,” I was told. “It is not easy to make them join…”
Day after day I was questioning what I was doing here; in the middle of the country responsible for mass murders all over the Planet. Was I also becoming insane, like several editors of the pseudo left-wing, Eurocentric publications in both North America and Europe, who preach to the world that the people in Spain, Greece and the US actually suffer as much or almost as much as billions of un-people worldwide? As if most of them have not been, despite everything, enjoying tremendous privileges paid for by lives and blood of Africans, Asians, and Middle Easterners. No, I still knew what was going on! I still knew who the real victims were. I still wanted to get out of there, as quickly as possible!
Here, it was all one tremendous nonsense; the “feel good” empty stuff! Peace movements… Almost no blacks, very few Hispanics or Asians! They were not buying any of this. They knew it was not for them.
The people that I kept meeting did not really want any change, it was patently clear. They did not want to “know”, either. Information has been available on-line, from RT, from Counterpunch, it was everywhere, really everywhere! But to actually know would mean that one could not hide behind his or her ignorance, anymore; to know would mean that one would be obliged to act!
There are almost no revolutionaries left in the United States or Europe, just the morally defunct masses, emotionless, insincere, selfish individuals scared to lose their privileges. At least the right-wingers are honest!
The regime takes full advantage of the situation. It feeds, and upholds the state of things. But both the rulers and selfish, hypocritical masses became inter-dependent; they push the same line. That is why fascist parties are never voted out of power: almost everyone in the US and Europe wants the exploitation and rape of the rest of the world to go on!
Does anyone really believe that those protesters in Spain and Greece are fighting some internationalist battles, battles for humanity? Or do they simply want their social and economic privileges back? Those privileges they were swimming in just one or two decades back, privileges delivered through grants and subsidies, while millions of un-people in the poor world were being plundered and sacrificed, so their lazy fellow human beings in the EU and the US could live the high-life, because they were born white and in one of the ‘right places’?
The left wing lost in both North America and Europe. It lost patently and shamefully. But until now it is so arrogant that it dares to address countries like China or Russia with that Western, Christian air of superiority: it dares to think that it has right to decide whether China or South Africa are actually socialist or Communist or, to use that idiotic Western propaganda slogan, “more capitalist than the West itself”.
During my two-week stay in California I detected no remorse. When I showed and explained how millions have been killed by Western imperialism, people would say “oh how terrible!” Because, that is what they were trained to say. But there was no determination to change things, no true feelings.
Wherever I went, I felt thoroughly out of place. I was expected to “fit”. I was told not to show images too shocking, as people were “very sensitive”! Eventually, I decided not to show any images at all. It was understood that I should be polite. While all I wanted was to shout insults to the faces of those self-righteous men and women, who were following that appalling Christian tradition: do some good while ignoring real evil, all in order to buy some credit before facing eternity.
I kept hearing cliché statements about peace, about democracy. Some wanted justice and an end to wars, but clinging desperately to the symbols of the Empire, to the legacy of its old collaborators, like Vaclav Havel, Pope John Paul II, Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa…
I couldn’t breath. I lost the ability to write. I felt anger building inside me. The anger was suffocating, strangling me. It was unhealthy anger, mixed with frustration! It was not that sacred anger one feels when going to a battle against great evil. It was also somehow petty, indescribable, and pathetic. It was breaking me, humiliating me.
I hated the fights I had to fight here.
I tried to see the reality that was surrounding me with different eyes but wherever I looked I saw only a dysfunctional, sad, collapsing country and culture.
I drove on freeways full of patches and bumps. I rode on a primitive rail system. I encountered people who were absolutely not interested in working or improving their country. I was confronted by individualism, by egotism. I saw people who clearly disliked each other, but pretended that they are full of concern and courtesy.
But one wrong move, and hatred and explosion would follow.
I saw a country where basic positive human instincts and values have already collapsed.
To function in this society was humiliating. I tried to send a package. At Clermont post office I was made to repack it three times, as I did not have the right box (only the post master knew what the right box actually was, but he would never bother to show me). At the train station, a woman who was idle, banging into her smart phone, informed me that the train station does not sell tickets. I had to go out, into the terrible heat, and try to buy them from a vending machine. I could not see – the sun was merciless. I returned, and asked again. “Call the train company and complain”, I was told. “Could I buy my ticket on board?” “No”, I was told. “And if you board your train without ticket, you can get arrested”.
It all began when I arrived. After travelling some 48 hours from South Africa to Southern California, carrying films and books for the conference, I was not even met at the airport. So I took a taxi. But nobody met me at the place where I was supposed to stay. I stood on the street for more than one hour. A few days later, moving to another place, the person who was supposed to take me there was two hours late. When I commented on that, in a matter-of-fact tone of voice, he began shouting: “Do you want to walk?”
I was not expecting much from people living in a country that is murdering millions, but the arrogance that I encountered, was still mind-blowing. It was not just the arrogance from airport security personnel: it was the arrogance coming from the ordinary citizens.
I also detected an unbelievable lack of discipline. In China, India, Vietnam, people would get fired if they would adopt the tone of voice and performance of many US employees. I heard many times “we don’t want to end up working like people in Asia”. “Great!” I would reply. “Fine! But then don’t expect people worldwide working overtime, or even dying for your lethargy”. What a luxury, such attitude!
Leaving the US for Ecuador, I tried to check luggage to my final destination. The Delta employee had no idea where Quito is, and at 05:20am she obviously did not want to learn. She checked my luggage only to Mexico, and when I protested (I would have to drag my suitcase through Mexican customs and re-check it again), she began regurgitating some rules that she invented at the spot. I insisted. She called her supervisor. She was told to check me all the way to Quito. But she had no idea how. Was she apologetic? Not at all! The longer it took her, the more bullish she became.
It was obvious that the Empire had learned how to murder un-people long-distance, and how to control them remotely.
The Empire’s citizens have been bitching that their privileges have been disappearing. Well, they are melting away, but most of them are still there. No country outside the Western realm could survive with such low work ethics, performing so poorly.
In the West, to be “left wing” means demanding greater privileges and benefits for the Westerners, therefore exploiting more slave laborers abroad.
To us, the left wing means “internationalism”.
The two visions are antagonistic, not complimentary. The goals of the left wing in Ecuador or Venezuela would suffer, if the left wing in the West actually wins.
Colonialism never died!
Apartheid was never dismantled; it just became global.
Slavery was renamed but it continues.
Otherwise, how could the United States and Europe survive in their present shape?
During those two weeks I met some of the greatest thinkers living in the United States: Michael Parenti, and John Cobb. Some time ago I worked with Michael on two books, one his and one mine, but this was our first face-to-face encounter. I discussed Christianity with John Cobb, trying to define what is encoded in it that allows the most horrid atrocities to be committed in the name of the Cross. It was deep, philosophical discussion, and we will convert it into a book, soon.
I also spent one wonderful evening in LA, with CounterPunch editor Joshua Frank and his wife Chelsea, both brilliant and good hearted and fun to be with.
I worked and travelled with a dedicated radio host and activist, Dan Yaseen and his partner Camille.
Yes, of course, there are bright, good and devoted people living in the United States. But even they know and admit that the group is just too small for the size of the country, too tiny to stop the crimes that the Empire is committing.
I was shocked by the state in which I found the United States.
I left many years ago. I left New York, which was, for more than a decade, my home. I never returned, except to launch my books and films, and to see my friends. I never stayed for long time. Two weeks, this time, was the longest in years.
This visit broke me. It exhausted me. It thoroughly depressed me.
I saw clearly how grotesque pseudo-morality, disgusting religious concepts and hypocrisy influenced and ruined entire nations, client states, worldwide, especially in Asia and Africa.
Yes, I believe in collective guilt. Holding US citizenship, I share the guilt. And therefore, I work non-stop, not to wash my hands, but to stop the madness.
I am convinced that the West, the white race and its lackeys abroad, have no right to rule over this Planet. I saw enough to back my conviction.
The West is finished, its culture dead. What is left is unattractive, even horrifying. There is no heart, no compassion, and no creativity. And those billions of people beyond the Western realm should not be dying, while forced to support the aggressive individualism of the post-Christian, post-Crusade colonialism and fascism of Europe and the United States.
During those dreadful two weeks, my ability to write collapsed, but only until that moment when the landing gear of my airplane that was heading south, towards Latin America, detached itself from the runway of Salt Lake City airport.
After that, everything went back to normal. The engines roared, and I opened my Mac, and began typing. By the time I landed in Mexico City, half of this essay was written. And in Quito, surrounded by warmth, kindness of local, mainly indigenous, people, I felt happy, strong and alive once again. I began writing; I was able to write. Therefore I survived. My nightmare was over.
Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. His latest books are: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire” and “Fighting Against Western Imperialism”.Discussion with Noam Chomsky: On Western Terrorism. Point of No Return is his critically acclaimed political novel. Oceania – a book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific. His provocative book about Indonesia: “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear”. Andre is making films for teleSUR and Press TV. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and the Middle East. He can be reached through his website or his Twitter.