T he poet W.B. Yeats was right in 1919 when he said the center cannot hold, as if, following the first great industrial slaughter of modern times, he discovered the lethal vacuum at the center of modernity itself. There was a lot to be nervous about after the First World War. And right away, of course, enter, stage-right, Adolf Hitler. We’re still trying to explain that cat to ourselves, and not just the Germans, either. Who cannot be awed by the appearance of genuine evil in the world?
Although, perhaps most remarkable in our time is not merely the presence of evil, but the eerie dearth of heroes, and by that I do not mean supernatural gym rats in spandex outfits swinging from the Frank Gehry condos on cords of spider silk. I mean living, breathing humans willing to engage with great and implacable forces. American sniper Chris Kyle was one of the rarees, and he was a strange case, really. Not just because of his alleged frailties, his tendency to play up his exploits, brag, maybe lie a little, but because he carried out his lethal deeds mostly at a remove — up there on the dusty rooftops of Fallujah, where he could reach out with his sniper-scope and swat human flies from a position of relative safety. Yet it is not hard to identify with his mission to kill “bad guys” — especially two years after his loopy martyrdom on a Texas gun range at the hands of a deranged fellow soldier driven mad on his own wartime mission.
The more interesting hero to me is Snowden. The purity of his name alone kind of says it all. The documentary movie about his brush with history, Citizen Four (by Laura Poitras, also a hero), is now showing on cable TV. It follows Snowden during the days of spring 2013 when he went rogue on the National Security Agency and revealed to the public the extent to which the American government was prying and worming its way into everybody’s electronic life — ignoring the pain-in-the-ass constitutional limits on such mischief, and setting the USA up to be a police state beyond the frontiers of anything George Orwell dreamed about in his darkest nights of the soul.
It is more than ironic that Snowden was also Mr. Ed, because if you take his comportment on film at face value, never was there such an exemplary and seemingly normal American young man. His heroism resided largely in his amazing composure under the strain of events. He spoke English clearly and calmly, and reacted to the weighty events he set in motion with startling equanimity. He appeared to know exactly what he was doing, and with quiet, unshakable moral commitment. And then he disappeared down the gullet of America’s modern times nemesis, Russia, where he continues to taunt with his very existence, the NSA gameboys, lizard-lawyers and puppet-masters who cordially invite him back home to face, ho-ho, our vaunted justice system. Of course any six-year-old understands that they would love to jam Snowden down some federal supermax memory hole as an example to any other waffling NSA code-jockey having second thoughts about reading your grandpa’s phone records.
And then, strangest of all to relate, there is Putin. Our guys are moving heaven and earth to jam him into a red-hot Satan suit but it’s not working. The pitchfork they want him to brandish looks strangely like a sword of justice. Even Americans of modest intelligence, when not locked into the Kardashian trance, can detect something false in all our official handwringing over Ukraine — the made-in-the-USA failed state now eating itself alive on Russia’s border. Before February 2014, Ukraine was just a struggling, marginal demi-nation still economically dependent on Russia, of which it had effectively been a province for centuries. Mr. Obama and his haircut-in-search-of-a-brain Secretary of State, Mr. Kerry, thought it would be a good idea to make Ukraine our client state instead. They couldn’t have botched the operation more completely. I have to say, Vlad Putin’s composure in the face of this perfidious idiocy is really something to behold, regardless of the roughness of the polity he rules. Our guys, in contrast, look like something less than sheer clueless rogues. They look like empty suits.
Note: JHK’s 2015 Forecast is available now at this link: Forecast 2015 — Life in the Breakdown Lane
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