Bernard Fall, the great French-American writer on the wars in Vietnam, wrote a piece in his Street Without Joy about his early days in Vietnam, during the French war there. One day Fall was in Cambodia doing interviews and research, and afterwards went with a pair of French officers that he’d interviewed to the local club tennis courts, and watched them, in their spotless tennis whites, play a full match of tennis. Early on in their game, a Cambodian NCO came up to the court and attempted to get one of the officers to sign some papers he had. The NCO got a brushoff—the French officers were busy with their game—and so the Cambodian NCO just went off to the sidelines, squatted on his haunches the way Cambodians do, full out in the tropical sun , and waited while the two French officers in their tennis whites batted the ball back and forth. Fall watched, with a feeling of dread coming over him, as the post bugler sounded Last Post, the colors were lowered, the Cambodian standing to attention while the French officers continued playing tennis. Fall wrote:
“Something very warm welled up in me. I felt like running over to the little Cambodian who had fought for his whole life for my country, and apologizing for my countrymen here who didn’t care about him, and my countrymen in France who didn’t care about their countrymen fighting in Indochina…”
Eventually, the game ended, the one officer went over to the NCO and signed the necessary document, the NCO saluted and wandered off. The French officers shouldered their racquets, called out to Fall to join them, and went off to the club for drinks. Fall then said:
“And in one single blinding flash, I knew that we were going to lose the war.”
Moment like this lately in Austin. Not one when I knew that we were going to lose our wars—I’ve known that from before day one of all of them. No, this moment was more than about just exactly how completely useless the left is nowadays here in the US. The conventional political left. And its more than how we all have come to accept all the war-related lies put out by the war party as the new narrative of our world and our place in it. It’s about our future, and it’s darker than just losing a war in Southeast Asia then or central Asia now.
Lefty event I caught back in September was put on by the local Catholic college, St. Edwards. Exactly 50 years ago, farmworkers in Texas struck for higher wages and marched from the Rio Grande valley, Texas’ prime agricultural region, to Austin to petition for redress against the gross wage and work insults they faced from so many of the reactionary anglo landowners in the Valley. The UFW fight in California got the national news attention, but this march was a major turning point in Texas society and politics, when the latino sleeping giant first stirred.
The event was well promoted in all the lefty circles here in Austin, and it got a good turnout that filled the floor of the St. Ed’s basketball gym. For once, the audience for a major lefty political event was not exclusively social security age anglo—there was a good turnout of latino Austin there, a good number of St. Ed’s ethnically diverse students showed up, and for once (other than at the Bernie events) persons younger than 40 showed up.
But this event took place on Sunday, September 11, and consequently the left Catholic St. Ed’s promoters of the farmworkers’ event grafted on a remember 9-11 episode at the front of it. Event organizer nattered pointlessly* for a bit about the 9-11 tragedy, and then drug out a young Hispanic female AFD to natter pointlessly some more on the subject and then lead us all into standing silently with our heads bowed for a full minute to remember all those killed on 9-11.
I saw red at this. Once more, 9-11 and the eternal kowtowing to everything Bush and the war party brought along in its convenient wake was being forced down all our throats, again, here at a public event where it didn’t belong. I said this to all the persons sitting at my table, and told them that all this 9-11 commemoration garbage was nothing but more war justifying propaganda being fed us and more political narrative manipulation by them to keep the wars going. My tablemates were all on the younger side of the audience demographic—I recognized a couple of them from the Bernie campaign—and they listened sympathetically to me say this. But when I urged them to sit down and not take part in this nonsense, well there I lost them. You could tell from their looking around the room that they weren’t going to unless everyone else was, and there wasn’t a single other table that didn’t already have everyone standing up and shuffling their feet. They all slowly got to their feet and played along. I stayed seated, and was the only person in the entire lefty audience to do so.
I talked to numerous attendees afterwards about this, and asked them if they didn’t see 9-11 commemoration like this as anything but war propaganda, and why they let themselves be a part of it. Nobody wanted to talk about it beyond saying that everyone else was doing it. The fact that everyone else was doing it was sufficient reason for them to do it; none were willing to stand up by sitting down. I didn’t get any arguments from them about how the 9-11 nonsense this many years on was nothing but more war propaganda, but I had a terrible sinking suspicion that they, the leftmost Austinites there are, really didn’t think so, that they had internalized the media narrative of 9-11 America under attack we must fight back against the threat and support our troops etc etc etc deeply enough to where it was now well-lodged in a reason-proof part of their psyches. The terrible Bernard Fall moment for me there—not just the left’s grade-school infantilism of not wanting to look different in a group, but that the liberal class of Austin, Texas, has swallowed, hook and line if not hook, line, and sinker, the narrative of the war party for permanent war abroad. That’s the deep belief of the respectable left here in Austin Texas, and the puny strength of their political and moral convictions most of them have, too. It isn’t going to be any different anywhere else in this country, either. Bernard Fall moment there, seeing that the left isn’t going to do anything useful to lead us out of our vile, pointless, and lost endless wars. Or lead us anywhere else worthwhile, either. Bernard Fall knew in his moment that his France was going to lose in Vietnam. I in mine know that we will continue in our vile wars until a most painful catastrophe strikes us—economic failure greater than the Depression, or climate failure, or our stumbling into an even more vile and idiotic war involving nuclear weapons. The darkness cometh, and I fear it.
*Any New Yorker who wants to argue this point with me can stick it deep and high and hard. Near a decade ago the Texas Book Festival had a panel of authors of books about 9-11. Four novelists, including Bret Easton Ellis, author of Less than Zero, and a non-fiction author who did the graphic novel account of 9-11. Mr. Ellis told how Norman Mailer had told him that 9-11 was such a big event that it couldn’t or shouldn’t be written about for at least a decade. In the Q&A I set the bait by asking Mr. Ellis if he had then asked Mr. Mailer why then he didn’t wait about a millennium before writing The Naked and the Dead. Lot bigger event that, WWII, you know. Got a laugh out of them with that. But then I asked them if any of them had taken a walk on the Capitol grounds—event was being held at the Capitol building—and looked at the big monument on the grounds to Texas firefighters killed in the line of duty. None had, of course. I went on to explain to them that most of the plinth was blank, but one side was almost entirely filled by names of the Texas City VFD killed in the ’47 Texas City disaster. Every single member of the department was killed when the Grandcamp exploded, except for the dispatcher back in the offices. Empty casket funerals for all of them, because they were all blown to stray unidentifiable small pieces, mostly found later by birds and dogs and cats. You know, I said, I never have seen a single person wearing a Texas City VFD t-shirt wandering around showing solidarity with them and their sacrifice, and I’d bet, you know, that within a week of the Texas City disaster there wasn’t a single word on it in the New York Times, or in any other major media source. Yet with 9-11 we here in the US, you in particular there in the NY media and literary world, keep coming back to it. Why is that? Texas City officially killed something like 700 people, and it is now generally acknowledged that 500 or so Mexicans were living in a ghetto next to the docks and they all got vaporized too, but nobody in Texas counted Mexicans back then so they didn’t make the official figures. Why does 9-11 get so much attention, attention by you? I specifically excluded the author of the nonfiction book—but aren’t all you unwittingly being a part of a propaganda narrative put out by the authorities for their own regrettable at best purposes? Do you see that, or do you disagree with my analysis? Nobody on the panel wanted to touch that, but after a bit Mr. Ellis volunteered that Texas City was different, that it was a natural disaster. If Mr. Ellis speaks for the NY literary intelligentsia here, well, I’m being kind to say that they really are all very dense to think that ships full of ammonium nitrate blowing up and in turn blowing up petrochemical refineries is a natural disaster like a hurricane or earthquake. But that’s the greatest possible extent of any kindness I have for anyone in the intelligentsia to be so blind and cowardly about their at best semiwitting participation in war propaganda by harping on 9-11 the way they have and still do. Or anyone from NY doing that, too.
A tip of the hat is due to Colin Kaepernick, as his example encouraged me there at the event.
Also posted on Contrary Perspectives.
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