by The Other Katherine Harris
The Other Katherine Harris’s blog
Dec. 29, 2007
“What’s really worth risking your ass for?” two recent headline-constellations have me asking at this suitable time of year. I speak of those concerning Benazir Bhutto and, less obviously, Jamie Leigh Jones.
Their disparity of age and situation appears to argue against all comparison between these victims, but Benazir wasn’t much older than Jamie is now when she promised her father, unjustly condemned to hang by the military dictator who’d deposed him, that she’d continue his work. A complex of reasons was surely involved: not only principle but family honor and personal identity. “I didn’t choose this life; it chose me,” she wrote and, in any sense of chosen-ness, an element of immodesty accompanies the rest. Yet the danger of her path was undeniable.
That hazards lay ahead must have been plain to Jamie, too, when she embarked on her adventure in Iraq. One has to wonder why her parents let her go there. While a determined 20-something can’t be absolutely stopped, it isn’t hard to think of strong deterrents that could have been applied. Imagine yourself faced by a blonde Barbie-type daughter barely out of school, who has in mind a fortune-quest in a war zone. The right words just come to you, don’t they?
Similarly, one can question why Benazir’s dad didn’t say, “Darling, that’s madness! Don’t even think about it. Look where we are; this is a death cell.” In her case, there wasn’t even anything material to be gained by taking leadership of his party; the family had held substantial wealth for generations. It was landed wealth — the kind that, as with Tolstoy, brought them into close contact with the poor and bred liberal views.
Perhaps there was a political dimension to Jamie’s circumstances, too. We don’t know, but her people in Texas may have been firm believers in the KBR/Halliburton gospel, until the truth of unbridled predation blew up in their faces. Still, if patriotism featured in the choice, wouldn’t enlistment have served rather better than some wildly overpaid starter job on a DOD contractor’s payroll?
Motivational musings aside, both embarked on demonstrably perilous courses, costing one her life and the other whatever remained of her innocence. By the latter, I don’t mean only sexual violation, but also loss of confidence in decency and justice — something a great number of us have lost lately.
As I survey the wreckage of our former way of life and the values I was taught to prize, I can conclude only that we’ve all been gang-raped. It’s a very useful allegory for our time. Most Americans have been indecently assaulted for decades — lulled, like Jamie, by “special drinks”: the Media Martini of distractions and distortions, Deregulation Daiquiris, Globalization Gimlets, Greed-Is-Good Grog, Privatization Punch, Subsidy Screwdrivers, Sanctimony Sours and, most recently, Security Slammers, Terror Toddies, Warmonger Wallbangers, Wedge-Issue Wines and Credit Champagne chasers courtesy of Bubbles Greenspan.
Now those of us who’ve begun to rouse find we’re torn and bloody. And the attack goes on. Things will get worse, probably a lot worse, before they get better. We need courage now, more than at any other moment I’ve known.
Here Jamie’s example serves me better than Benazir’s. She was no people’s princess, waving to her adorers, tempting unkind fate, but a girl savaged and held without food or water in a shipping container ringed by guards from whom she could expect no mercy. Yet she got a bit of it, enough, in the quick loan of a phone, by daring to appeal again and again, evoking in that one necessary man a vestige of good all but lost in evil.
This declaration from D.H. Lawrence seems apt:
That I am I.
That my soul is a dark forest.
That my known self will never be more than a little clearing in the forest.
That gods, strange gods, come forth from the forest into the clearing of my known self, and then go back.
That I must have the courage to let them come and go.
That I will never let mankind put anything over me, but that I will try always to recognize and submit to the gods in me and the gods in other men and women.