Thursday, November 18, 2004

The Glorious Empire

Cats and dogs scamper along streets littered with fallen bricks, broken glass, toppled light poles, downed power lines, twisted traffic barriers and spent cartridges. Walls and security gates are laced with bullet holes. Marines have blown holes in walls and knocked down doors to search homes

Dead Iraqis still lay out in the open Monday, their stiff limbs akimbo, like department store mannequins knocked off their pedestals. At least two women were seen among the dead. Some districts reeked from the sickening odor of rotting flesh, a stench too powerful for a brisk breeze sweeping in from the sandy plain surrounding the city 40 miles west of Baghdad. A Marine-directed body collection effort begun a day earlier stalled Monday when Iraqi workers demanded that Marines first open a road to their village.

The engineers’ convoy passed a wrecked market square, its wooden huts burned. Red chili peppers rotted in the sun, strewn about near an abandoned insurgent mortar position. At an amusement park, bumper cars were tumbled on their sides. A whirling spider-shaped fun machine was torn by gunfire. Along the main east-west commercial thoroughfare, burned cars stood in front of shattered storefronts, where electrical goods and sacks of grain spilled into the street. Other shops appeared less damaged, however. A Marine bulldozer scraped debris from the street. Big red spray-painted X’s mark buildings across Fallujah. The marks signify structures that Marines have searched for insurgents and weapons, often after battering their way in.

Marines are billeting in homes abandoned by Iraqis, sleeping on mats and huddling against the nighttime cold under abandoned polyester blankets. “All these houses have this stuff. They must treat their guests like kings,” said Lance Cpl. Freddy Ramosavilla, 22, of Commerce City, Colo. The Marines are often careful to put back the sleeping gear and they burn the remains of their food rations, but they have had to build latrines in yards. And the rooftops from where they have watched for insurgents often look like huge ashtrays.

Gagging amid the overpowering stench of rotting flesh, the Iraqis had to take special care because of the danger that insurgents have booby-trapped some bodies with explosives. On one stoop, the Iraqis pushed over a corpse and a grenade rolled out of its pocket. The weapon didn’t detonate, but Marines quickly hurried the workers away. Bodies lay in homes, on verandahs and in shallow, makeshift graves, buzzed over by flies and darkened by days of decomposition. Muslims generally bury their dead within 24 hours, but the fighting prevented the interment of most corpses.

[U.S. Marine Capt. Alex Henegar, a civil affairs officer attached to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment] said authorities were eager to clear the city of bodies quickly, to lessen health risks for returning civilians. Dr. Salah Al-Issawi, acting director of Fallujah General Hospital, voiced similar concern. “The city is completely isolated, and we expect the decaying of dead bodies and the spread of diseases,” he said in an interview with Al-Jazeera television.

- from the AP

I wrestle with how my feelings about this country after it voted to re-elect these people. I took a stab at it here, but I'm still wrestling with it. Jane Orben did a little better with it, and got me thinking about where I fit in, in a country where half the people aren't crazy about me and mine. I liked her post, but I was troubled by “you love this country, it’s the government you hate.”

Actually I can remember times in the 1990s when I liked the government a damn site better than I liked the public, and I wondered whether they were good enough to deserve it. While it’s occasionally wasteful and inept, the US government was built up by generations of progressives as a system to divert resources from the well-off to the needy. Over the last couple decades the Right has tried to tear this system down, with a great deal of public support.

Do I love this country? I love the country that was here in 1950, while acknowledging its deep flaws. It’s a place that gave birth to great things in literature, food, music, technology, and movements expanding political and social freedom. I love the cities and the small towns, even those filled with people who disagree with me. They have a kind of community I can understand and appreciate. But that part of America that stands on ground that was farmland in 1950 and now is something else, I loathe. Strip mall nation with its vapid consumerism is not for me. Such an alienated life has spawned a yawning inner void among its denizens: it is this void which is responsible for the growth of fundie mega-churches and the Christian Coalition. This movement emerged as a way to fill the spiritual void, not by reclaiming a meaningful life by taking constructive action, but by self-justification and a promised salvation without meaningful change. Sprawlville is a truly a place where nothing happens, a country not worth living in. At this point I hope for the survival and revival of the remaining islands of old America, traditional America, my home.

Politics and geography are all mixed up for me, and if you want to see why just go check out the maps again. I feel like my country is being erased from the earth, and this terrifies and enrages me.

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