by Len Deroches
During the U.S. war in Vietnam, a few of us in Canada formed The Committee to Free South Vietnamese Political Prisoners from Detention, Torture and Death. When the French military were chased out of Vietnam, they left behind the “Tiger Cages.” These were cages where the U.S.-backed regime of General Thieu kept some of the political prisoners. At the time there were about 200,000 political prisoners. The “Tiger Cages” were intentionally built too low to allow the prisoners to stand. Some prisoners were caged for so many years that when they were released, they could no longer use their legs. We managed to get three ex-prisoners to tour Canada. At the end of the exhausting tour, one of the prisoners, who had been tortured, asked me a very unexpected question. He had met some amazing Americans on a previous U.S. tour and was genuinely confused when he asked me, “Why do the American people elect some of their worst people?” No sarcasm. Profound confusion.
When U.S. President Donald Trump was asked if he supported the use of water boarding as a form of torture, he replied, “Yes, absolutely…and a hell of a lot worse!” Once he declared, “When somebody hurts you, just go after them as viciously as you can.” On another occasion, he insisted, “If somebody hits you, you’ve got to hit ’em back five times harder than they ever thought possible. You’ve got to get even.” And then, this ugly, naive and dangerous revelation, “I don’t like losers!”
I agree with Trump that empires need all this torture and revenge. That is exactly why, after thirty years of active warfare, French Général Jacques de Bollardière renounced the very institution of war on which depends every empire. His political masters in the French Empire were demanding that he use torture to extract “intelligence” from war prisoners. Bollardière called torture, “a dialogue in terror”- something President Trump approves of.
Shelley Douglass, a gentle, strong friend from Birmingham, Alabama, writes in her Catholic Worker newsletter, “This empire in which we live is corrupt from its beginning. Built on genocide and continued by slavery, it must be transformed from the bottom up if there is ever to be peace or justice.”
Rabia Terri Harris, of the Muslim Peace Fellowship, in the U.S.A., reflects: “Whether motivated by private ego or by that collective manifestation of ego known as empire, the results are likely to be the same. Power is not some magic trophy to be fought for, but an infinite spiritual resource.”
Not so long ago, the Roman Empire thrived. During the rule of Emperor Tiberius, Pontius Pilate was the governor of the province of Judea. When Jesus was brought before him, as a political prisoner, Pilate asked him about his activities. Jesus replied, “I bear witness to the truth.” Pilate blurted out, “Truth! What is that?” On another occasion, Jesus declared, “The truth will set you free.” One has to be brave to be truthful and to live truly free. President Donald Trump lives by his own “alternative truth.” Neither courageous honesty nor freedom. For both Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, power is not an infinite spiritual resource, but a magic trophy to be fought for – with nuclear weapons.
When I think of my friends in the U.S.A. who choose to live power with others, rather than power over others, I know that the power of community is stronger than the office of the presidency. The United States has always had a history of resisting slavery, capital punishment and war – resisting empire.
As my Alabama friend puts it, “…we can spend a life in this work, a life rich in friends, beauty, risk, hope, and joy. A life worth living.” Worth living in both the U.S. Empire and the Canadian wannabe empire.