Obama’s Best Speech Never: What the President Should Have Said

OBAMA’S BEST SPEECH NEVER
Obama’s speech at Ft. Hood, honoring the dead in the recent shooting, is being hailed as a masterpiece of rhetoric.  Marc Ambinder at the Atlantic (http://politics.theatlantic.com/2009/11/the_best_speech_obamas_given_since_the_inaguruation.php) says:
(blockquote)
“I guarantee: they’ll be teaching this one in rhetoric classes. It was that good. My gloss won’t do it justice. Yes, I’m having a Chris Matthews-chill-running-up-my-leg moment, but sometimes, the man, the moment and the words come together and meet the challenge. Obama had to lead a nation’s grieving; he had to try and address the thorny issues of Islam and terrorism; to be firm; to express the spirit of America, using familiar, comforting tropes in a way that didn’t sound trite.”
(/blockquote)
And yes, it’s a moving speech (http://politicalwire.com/archives/2009/11/10/obamas_best_speech_ever.html#032175a), worthy of recognition alongside some of the best ever given by American presidents.  For me the strongest parallel is with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, not only in its power but in its aim:  to soothe the pain, to give meaning and context to the senseless killing, to re-energize the nation to continue the work.
And just like Lincoln’s address, the speech is full of obfuscations, distortions, spin, and propaganda.
So I offer below an alternative speech:  the speech Obama should have given.
* * *
We come together filled with sorrow for the fourteen souls that we have lost; with gratitude for the lives that they led; and with a determination to honor them — not by carrying on their work, but by setting it aside.
America has been at war almost continuously since its birth, even though it has not been attacked by military arms for fifty years, and no foreign soldier has set foot on this land for two hundred years.  Still, these Americans did not die on a foreign field of battle. They were killed here, in the heartland of the American community, on American soil — soil bought dearly with the blood of American Indians.  Perhaps we should not be surprised that war sometimes manages to follow us home.  But for those who believe in American greatness and beneficence, the fact that they died in America’s heartland makes the tragedy even more painful and even more incomprehensible.
Today I am called to soothe that pain and give meaning to that meaninglessness.  But I will not do so.
For those families who have lost a loved one, no words can fill the void that has been left. You knew these men and women as mothers and fathers; sons and daughters; sisters and brothers.
But what is their true legacy?  Here is what you must also know: their life’s work is the freedom that America’s rich and powerful too often take for granted. Every evening that the sun sets on a tranquil town far from the field of battle; every night that predator drones rain fire on innocent marriage parties; every dawn that a flag is unfurled over a conquered land; every moment that a rich, powerful American enjoys life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – that is their legacy.
Neither this empire – nor the capitalist values that it is founded upon – could exist without men and women like these fourteen Americans. And that is why we must pay tribute to their stories.
It is traditional, in times like these, to speak of the dead in as if they were called to a great sacrifice, as if America’s freedom were some vengeful goddess that demands the blood of our sons and daughters.  I could speak, for example, of Staff Sergeant Justin DeCrow, who joined the Army right after high school, married his high school sweetheart, and had served as a light wheeled mechanic and Satellite Communications Operator. I could say that he was known as an optimist, a mentor, and a loving husband and father.  Speaking of him in this way would hide the fact that he only joined up because he was poor and had few other options; that he and his wife dreamed of retiring from the military and teaching children to ride horses; that he had sought medical discharge due to difficulty sleeping; and he was only there at Fort Hood because his paperwork was tied up in a bureaucratic snarl.
Lincoln said, of the drafted soldiers lying in the bloody mud of Gettysburg, “that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion”, even though they had been drafted and had no choice.  And he said, “we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain … that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” even though the United States was never in any danger of being conquered by the South.  Lincoln drafted them to his cause in death, even as he did so in life.
I will not do this.  I will not stand here today and enlist the dead, who cannot speak in their own defense, who cannot tell their own stories.
But I will speak of the fourteenth man, Major Nidal Hasan, who joined the military right after high school.  Though his body lives, I will honor him here as one of the fallen.  His spirit was battered by the strain of prejudice against his Muslim background.  His heart was strained by the stress of trying to give psychological help to soldiers returning from battle, to help them deal with the murders they had witnessed and committed, to reload them and return them to kill again.  He tried to leave the military; he tried to escape our “volunteer” army, as his conscience called him to do; but he could not get discharged — he was little more than a slave to the American military.  At some point his spirit broke, and he committed a horrible act of violence.  His body lives, but the state of his soul is unknown.
For those who believe that America is a force for good in the world, it may be hard to comprehend the simple logic that led to this tragedy. But the blame lies squarely upon our military.  And nothing justifies our murderous and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor. And for what we have done, we know that we will be met with justice – in this world, and the next.
These are expansive times for our military. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, we continue to prop up our commercial interests, while endangering innocent Afghans and Pakistanis. In Iraq, we still have not ended a war that is beneficial for our oil companies, and we continue to deny the Iraqi people the independence that they have sacrificed so much for.
Some would say that the stories of those at Fort Hood reaffirm the core values that we are fighting for.  We claim that our military is a call of service, responsibility, and duty.  But they were not answering a call of service; they were driven to the military by propaganda, fear, social pressure, or poverty.  They do not embody responsibility.  They do not call us to come together.  They were simply people, trying to live as well as they knew how, killed as a side effect of our imperial greed.
We claim to be a nation that endures because of the courage of those who defend it. But our nation endures simply because we are not under attack.  It is the military, the empire, which needs defending.
We claim to be a nation of laws — but the laws do not apply equally to all.  We will treat a gunman and give him due process, and we will see that he pays for his crimes.  But the warmongers and capitalists who ground down his soul and would not let him live a life of peace — these live by a private law, and they will recieve no due process, and give no payment.
We claim to be a nation that is dedicated to the proposition that all men and women are created equal. We claim to see it in the varied backgrounds of those we lay to rest today. Yet who among them was a rich man?  Who among them were executives, lawyers, stockbrokers, politicians?  We claim to be on the side of liberty and equality, while our military engages in slavery and prejudice. That is who we are as a people.
Tomorrow is Veterans Day, marking the end of the War to End All Wars, and marking the beginning of all the wars that came after. Our military takes this day to pause, and to pay lip service – for students to learn of the wars and aggression that preceded them; for families to mourn the military murders of parents and grandparents; for citizens to reflect upon the blood that we have spilled in the name of “a more perfect union”.
Our empire’s official history is filled with heroes. We are asked to remember the stories of a grandfather who marched across Europe, but not remember the firebombs that killed so many German children.  We are asked to remember an uncle who fought in Vietnam, but not the innocent people killed by our bombers and chemicals.  We are asked to remember a sister who served in the Gulf, but not the craven greed of our oil companies.
Are we to honor this generation, too?  This generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen are are part of the deadliest fighting force that the world has ever known. They have killed again and again in distant, different and difficult places. They have stood watch over our business interests in blinding deserts and on snowy mountains. They are man and woman; white, black, and brown; of all faiths and stations – all people our military has duped, cajoled, bribed, and herded together to protect our standard of living, while denying others half a world away the chance to lead a better life.
Here, at Fort Hood, we pay tribute to fourteen men and women who were not able to escape the horror of our wars, even in the comfort of home.
Let us not honor them by claiming that one day the fighting will be finished.  Let us not gild their memory by saying that they persevered not just when it was easy, but when it was hard; or that they paid the price and bore the burden to secure this nation, or that they stood up for the values that live in the hearts of all free peoples.  For they persevered despite their better judgement, and often against their will.  They paid the price and bore the burden to secure nothing more than our business interests.  They turned against the values that live in the hearts of all peoples — peace, freedom, justice.
Instead, as we say goodbye to those who now belong to eternity, let us set aside this mindless pursuit of war.  In their names, let us call home all our troops.  In the name of honor and justice, let us disband and disarm.  In the name of peace and friendship, let us turn away from violence.  In the name of God, let us stand down.  And may God bless us all.

Obama’s speech at Ft. Hood, honoring the dead in the recent shooting, is being hailed as a masterpiece of rhetoric.  Marc Ambinder at the Atlantic says:

“I guarantee: they’ll be teaching this one in rhetoric classes. It was that good. My gloss won’t do it justice. Yes, I’m having a Chris Matthews-chill-running-up-my-leg moment, but sometimes, the man, the moment and the words come together and meet the challenge. Obama had to lead a nation’s grieving; he had to try and address the thorny issues of Islam and terrorism; to be firm; to express the spirit of America, using familiar, comforting tropes in a way that didn’t sound trite.”

And yes, it’s a moving speech, worthy of recognition alongside some of the best ever given by American presidents.  For me the strongest parallel is with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, not only in its power but in its aim:  to soothe the pain, to give meaning and context to the senseless killing, to re-energize the nation to continue the work.

And just like Lincoln’s address, the speech is full of obfuscations, distortions, spin, and propaganda.

So I offer below an alternative speech:  the speech Obama should have given.

physviolenceWe come together filled with sorrow for the fourteen souls that we have lost; with gratitude for the lives that they led; and with a determination to honor them — not by carrying on their work, but by setting it aside.

America has been at war almost continuously since its birth, even though it has not been attacked by military arms for fifty years, and no foreign soldier has set foot on this land for two hundred years.  Still, these Americans did not die on a foreign field of battle. They were killed here, in the heartland of the American community, on American soil — soil bought dearly with the blood of American Indians.  Perhaps we should not be surprised that war sometimes manages to follow us home.  But for those who believe in American greatness and beneficence, the fact that they died in America’s heartland makes the tragedy even more painful and even more incomprehensible.

Today I am called to soothe that pain and give meaning to that meaninglessness.  But I will not do so.

For those families who have lost a loved one, no words can fill the void that has been left. You knew these men and women as mothers and fathers; sons and daughters; sisters and brothers.

But what is their true legacy?  Here is what you must also know: their life’s work is the freedom that America’s rich and powerful too often take for granted. Every evening that the sun sets on a tranquil town far from the field of battle; every night that predator drones rain fire on innocent marriage parties; every dawn that a flag is unfurled over a conquered land; every moment that a rich, powerful American enjoys life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – that is their legacy.

Neither this empire – nor the capitalist values that it is founded upon – could exist without men and women like these fourteen Americans. And that is why we must pay tribute to their stories.

It is traditional, in times like these, to speak of the dead in as if they were called to a great sacrifice, as if America’s freedom were some vengeful goddess that demands the blood of our sons and daughters.  I could speak, for example, of Staff Sergeant Justin DeCrow, who joined the Army right after high school, married his high school sweetheart, and had served as a light wheeled mechanic and Satellite Communications Operator. I could say that he was known as an optimist, a mentor, and a loving husband and father.  Speaking of him in this way would hide the fact that he only joined up because he was poor and had few other options; that he and his wife dreamed of retiring from the military and teaching children to ride horses; that he had sought medical discharge due to difficulty sleeping; and he was only there at Fort Hood because his paperwork was tied up in a bureaucratic snarl.

Lincoln said, of the drafted soldiers lying in the bloody mud of Gettysburg, “that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion”, even though they had been drafted and had no choice.  And he said, “we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain … that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” even though the United States was never in any danger of being conquered by the South.  Lincoln drafted them to his cause in death, even as he did so in life.

I will not do this.  I will not stand here today and enlist the dead, who cannot speak in their own defense, who cannot tell their own stories.

But I will speak of the fourteenth man, Major Nidal Hasan, who joined the military right after high school.  Though his body lives, I will honor him here as one of the fallen.  His spirit was battered by the strain of prejudice against his Muslim background.  His heart was strained by the stress of trying to give psychological help to soldiers returning from battle, to help them deal with the murders they had witnessed and committed, to reload them and return them to kill again.  He tried to leave the military; he tried to escape our “volunteer” army, as his conscience called him to do; but he could not get discharged — he was little more than a slave to the American military.  At some point his spirit broke, and he committed a horrible act of violence.  His body lives, but the state of his soul is unknown.

For those who believe that America is a force for good in the world, it may be hard to comprehend the simple logic that led to this tragedy. But the blame lies squarely upon our military.  And nothing justifies our murderous and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor. And for what we have done, we know that we will be met with justice – in this world, and the next.

These are expansive times for our military. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, we continue to prop up our commercial interests, while endangering innocent Afghans and Pakistanis. In Iraq, we still have not ended a war that is beneficial for our oil companies, and we continue to deny the Iraqi people the independence that they have sacrificed so much for.

Some would say that the stories of those at Fort Hood reaffirm the core values that we are fighting for.  We claim that our military is a call of service, responsibility, and duty.  But they were not answering a call of service; they were driven to the military by propaganda, fear, social pressure, or poverty.  They do not embody responsibility.  They do not call us to come together.  They were simply people, trying to live as well as they knew how, killed as a side effect of our imperial greed.

We claim to be a nation that endures because of the courage of those who defend it. But our nation endures simply because we are not under attack.  It is the military, the empire, which needs defending.

We claim to be a nation of laws — but the laws do not apply equally to all.  We will treat a gunman and give him due process, and we will see that he pays for his crimes.  But the warmongers and capitalists who ground down his soul and would not let him live a life of peace — these live by a private law, and they will recieve no due process, and give no payment.

We claim to be a nation that is dedicated to the proposition that all men and women are created equal. We claim to see it in the varied backgrounds of those we lay to rest today. Yet who among them was a rich man?  Who among them were executives, lawyers, stockbrokers, politicians?  We claim to be on the side of liberty and equality, while our military engages in slavery and prejudice. That is who we are as a people.

Tomorrow is Veterans Day, marking the end of the War to End All Wars, and marking the beginning of all the wars that came after. Our military takes this day to pause, and to pay lip service – for students to learn of the wars and aggression that preceded them; for families to mourn the military murders of parents and grandparents; for citizens to reflect upon the blood that we have spilled in the name of “a more perfect union”.

Our empire’s official history is filled with heroes. We are asked to remember the stories of a grandfather who marched across Europe, but not remember the firebombs that killed so many German children.  We are asked to remember an uncle who fought in Vietnam, but not the innocent people killed by our bombers and chemicals.  We are asked to remember a sister who served in the Gulf, but not the craven greed of our oil companies.

Are we to honor this generation, too?  This generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen are are part of the deadliest fighting force that the world has ever known. They have killed again and again in distant, different and difficult places. They have stood watch over our business interests in blinding deserts and on snowy mountains. They are man and woman; white, black, and brown; of all faiths and stations – all people our military has duped, cajoled, bribed, and herded together to protect our standard of living, while denying others half a world away the chance to lead a better life.

Here, at Fort Hood, we pay tribute to fourteen men and women who were not able to escape the horror of our wars, even in the comfort of home.

Let us not honor them by claiming that one day the fighting will be finished.  Let us not gild their memory by saying that they persevered not just when it was easy, but when it was hard; or that they paid the price and bore the burden to secure this nation, or that they stood up for the values that live in the hearts of all free peoples.  For they persevered despite their better judgement, and often against their will.  They paid the price and bore the burden to secure nothing more than our business interests.  They turned against the values that live in the hearts of all peoples — peace, freedom, justice.

Instead, as we say goodbye to those who now belong to eternity, let us set aside this mindless pursuit of war.  In their names, let us call home all our troops.  In the name of honor and justice, let us disband and disarm.  In the name of peace and friendship, let us turn away from violence.  In the name of God, let us stand down.  And may God bless us all.

Comments

  1. I know that you have been receiving some pretty mean-spirited emails about this post, so I wanted to say something publicly, for the record, even though I could just as easily tell you in person.

    Is this post representative of Druidry? I would hope readers of this blog would know enough about Druidry from your writings by now to know that it is an incredibly diverse community spanning a whole continuum of political and social perspectives. But one thing that I think remains true is that Druidry places truth, as well as peace, at the center of its worldview, and that speaking your truth as articulately and passionately as you can is never “wrong.” It may sometimes be factually incorrect or misinformed, but therein lies the value–the vital importance and relevance–of dialogue, conversation.

    But several times now, you have received letters from people who have let their anger provoke them into silence and disconnection, instead of responding with patience and a willingness to seek understanding through respectful exchange. Some contain veiled threats that wish upon you “the consequences” of your willingness to speak honestly about what you believe, while crediting your ability to do so to the very people who “died to protect” what is supposedly an inalienable right, something that cannot be taken away, nor won by force. Others attempt to guilt-trip you, trying to lay on you the whole responsibility of whether or not they hold a high opinion of Druidry (as though you alone define that spiritual tradition), and blaming you for their refusal to rise to this occasion of disagreement with gentleness and respect. But that isn’t your responsibility, and you are not to blame for the way others choose to respond. You cannot control them. All you can do is the best you can.

    Indeed, what you have done is prove a very good point about the rhetoric of political speech. I know you, and I love you, and I know that you are a loving, kind, gentle man who values life, and freedom, and peace. That anyone could mistake what you have written as condoning violence of any kind lays bare the power and danger at the heart of the kind of rhetoric that Obama, and other people in power, use on a regular basis. Because, by reversing and redirecting Obama’s own words, you have illustrated their implications in a less than flattering light. At the heart of his speech is a message of isolation and callous disregard for non-American lives, a glorification and justification of tragedy by placing it into the larger context of on-going violence, for the sake of our own security at the expense of the Other, the Enemy. Obama never needs to say a literal word to this effect, because the implication is everywhere and well understood even by those who would deny it. Just as people read the opposite implication (sympathy with and justification of the violence of the Enemy) in your post although you never said anything of the kind. They are angry, and rightly so. They are angry for the same reasons that you are angry: because the speech itself is one that draws a distinction between Us and Them, Freedom-Lovers and Evil-Doers, and when you find yourself on the wrong side of that distinction, it hurts.

    It is powerful rhetoric, but even my own heart aches a little to see you adopt it. Even though I agree with your passionate commitment to nonviolence, even though I grieve with you not only for the loss of life, but for the loss of dignity that these people must suffer in death, as their lives and deaths are fed back into the machine of State-organized violence like fuel thrown on a fire. Even though I know and love you, the rhetoric makes me feel uncomfortable. Because the world is not divided into good people and bad people; because it is never wrong to speak the truth of our hearts, as long as we speak it with love and gentleness, in a way that reaches out to others instead of pushing them away.

    And so, maybe it is right to say there will be consequences for having written this post. There will be people who feel alienated or betrayed by the language you use, in the same way you and I both feel betrayed and rejected by Obama’s speech, though we are as American as any other citizen, though we are as well-intentioned and kind-hearted as the rest, though we grieve just as deeply. We crave the creative peace of life and freedom with an ache that cannot accept the false peace of silence and death in its place, and that is not for one second fooled or assuaged by pretty words and waving flags. We can only hope that people will remember this post, the next time they hear a well-rehearsed eulogy over the graves of the sacrificed, and some part of them will stir in recognition. That maybe, somehow, these words and your courage to write them will shed just a little more light….

  2. Well, I can see why you would want these things to be said–including the bit about the possible reasons the gunman did what he did–but it really kind of comes off as excusing what he did. That’s probably not your intent, but there are so many people who would take it that way.
    While you do have good points, it seems like you come from a different set of beliefs than I do. And that’s fine, and you probably have good reasons for believing what you do. Am I right in guessing that you are a pacifist? I am not entirely a pacifist, but pacifism is definitely something I can understand…war horrifies me, and if used at all (in my belief) it should only be as a last resort. You are probably at least partly right when you say, “It is the military, the empire, which needs defending.”
    I have to go now, but I have more to say, and may come back later to say more.
    By the way, thank you for posting your thoughts on this.

  3. I’ve been thinking about this post a lot since I read it on my lunch break. My first reaction was a mixture of embarassment and a queasy sense of something rotten with it.

    I took some time to figure out why I responded with embarassment. It’s because I recognize in this a style that I have indulged in, a kind of righteous sounding but false form of discourse that just stages and confirms my own, admittedly Left, biases.

    I really find the way you talk about the individuals involved in this tragedy to be just, well, wrong. You talk about them in ways that deny them any sort of moral agency, making them nothing more than dupes and pawns.

    You distort the truth to do that. Staff Sgt. DeCrow and is wife weren’t making plans to ‘retire’ from the army an start teaching kids to ride horses. His wife *is* teaching kids to ride horses. He *was* making plans to move into a civilian job that would allow him to continue his association with the army.

    He made choices, he deepened them through his actions, not just because he was ‘forced’ to do so by poverty or simple ignorance, but because he discovered moral value in the life he lived, in the mentoring, for example, which you callously disregard as unimportant to his life.

    You criticize using the dead to speak when they cannot speak for themselves, but what else are you doing here?

    (Do we even know if he came from a poor background? Or is it so hard for you to understand that a man might choose, with sincerity, the life he led that you have to strip him of moral agency?)

    Notice, all those past tense verbs when I’m talking about DeCrow, please. Counting the shooter amongst the dead while he still lives suggests a disturbing lack of appreciation for that death.

    And this while you treat the violent killing of war as the most irredeemably immoral act. In doing so, you merely invert the usual understanding, with the murdered being villainized for turning against basic human values while the killer is forgiven because of the strain of working with those people.

    That inversion does nothing to undermine or alter the underlying rationality of violence, though. It is empty in that way.

    That feels detached to me, like you aren’t looking at death or these people but just your preconceptions of them.

    The references to the Civil War are just peculiar, eliding the Confederacy’s foundation in the (violent, oppressive) institution of slavery and its own imperial ambitions. The foundation for Obama’s presidency can be found in the Civil War and the migration of liberated Southern African Americans afterward. While that is a complicated legacy, it isn’t one I would ever want to disavow like you seem to do here.

  4. I actually liked this post, up to a point. There is something rotten in it, as another reader pointed out, and it is a bit difficult to single out what, precisely, is. After consideration, I’ve realized that this post presents the political realities of our nation and world in a very one-sided, over-simplistic, and sinister light, which I don’t think is representative of the complexity and subtlety of this issue.

    You make Nidal Hasan look like the poor victim here, when he most certainly wasn’t. Was he harmed, in ways, by the chain of events that led up to his insane actions? Of course. But this harm doesn’t justify what he did, not by a long shot. Even if it goes a long way towards explaining some portions of his rage and hate, it doesn’t excuse it. The people he murdered were not his enemies. They were daughters and sons and mothers and fathers, and one infant in the womb.

    You never praise him for what he did, nor say directly that he wasn’t at fault, but the implication is there that he is the real victim here. He is a perpetrator and destroyer of innocence by his own choice. Many people have had to suffer, and even suffer terribly, in the midst of less-than-ideal systems, and they have not resorted to murder. It is a grave dishonor of the memories of those murdered to make the sorts of statements you’ve made in this piece.

    That being said, you make some good points. Now, your points have been made, over and over again, in the rhetoric of many other radical liberals- that we are all living in a wicked corporate and materialistic oligarchy, that our military personnel are blind servants of the wicked system, helping through their very presence to maintain evil in the world, even if they don’t realize this directly themselves. But you clearly have never been in the military nor had friends or relatives who were, or you’d have known that they don’t sign up out of ignorance or evil, and they don’t serve hoping to kill or butcher or serve greed. They DO show a side to human responsibility that I have found to be heroic at times. They simply aren’t doing it under the same conditions or motivations that people like you find positive. You have a right to say so, of course- but I think you move into an immoral space of expression when you blatantly ignore the complexity of the situation in favor of your own agenda.

    Military people are people just like you or me, doing a job that truly can be of benefit to others, just as quickly as it can be manipulated in the service of forces that are not so positive for the world. It is a truly complicated issue. Warriors have always existed, and have always worked to enforce the political will of nations and their people. This will always be a part of human life. Attacking them in their perceived ignorance ignores so much of the picture, and again seems to insinuate that they deserved what they got. What they “deserve” is the same reason and compassion you apply so liberally to others that you approve of, for the fact of their basic humanity.

    I notice that very liberal writers tend to praise the virtues of reason and compassion in abstract, or when it suits their purposes, but they have little to hand out when it equally well suits their purposes.

    One more thing. We are a “nation of laws”. The greedy forces that you point out, the ones that don’t get called to task for their greed, are normally not breaking the law in the way a killer is. “Law” doesn’t imply “fairness” or even “justice”. We have many “laws” that protect the powerful and the greedy. That’s that. Your letter didn’t address this. Those laws need to be changed. “Law” in and of itself doesn’t imply the utopian condition of fairness that we automatically try to associate with it. Laws merely maximize the predictability of human behavior, and our capitalist society has many laws that maximize the power of people and organizations to acquire and keep wealth.

    You may disagree with that. I certainly do. But pointing out that we convict murderers but let the corporations go IS an example of our lawfulness. The corporations aren’t usually breaking laws. When they do, like Enron, for example, they, too, are pursued by lawyers and judges. Sure, many get away with breaking laws, but then, so do many killers. That’s a side-effect of the fact that human legal systems are less than ideal, a fact well known since Roman times or before.

    I deplore murder, war, rapine, and slaughter in all forms. But the situation surrounding them on many levels is not so simple as to be wiped away by a single speech, and especially not a speech surrounding a time of mourning. It is manipulative and deplorable to use the grief of others to push or emphasize a radical agenda- liberal or conservative. The justice you clearly seek is found in another sort of discourse.

  5. I’m pretty surprised that the other folks leaving comments here have apparently completely missed the point that this is an almost line-by-line parody and reversal of Obama’s speech, and that the “rottenness” in it is precisely the same kind of rottenness in the original: language that is inherently over-simplistic and therefore dehumanizing (even if we rarely think of flattery as dehumanizing, and we’re used to dehumanizing “evil-doers” and killers), and intentionally divisive in its rhetoric.

    I think this post is akin to Douglas Hofstadter’s famous essay “A Person Paper on Purity in Language, by ‘William Satire'” By substituting racist language for sexist language, Hofstadter very effectively demonstrates how deeply rooted our sexist language is. It is at times almost unbearable to read his essay because of the overtly racist remarks, and yet this acute discomfort forces us to question why we don’t similarly shudder at inherently sexist terms that we take for granted every day.

    As Robin points out, “It is manipulative and deplorable to use the grief of others to push or emphasize a radical agenda- liberal or conservative.” Yes, this is very true! Why, then, is Jeff’s post so uncomfortable to read, so obviously flawed, and yet Obama’s speech is met with praise and approval? Why is the “radical agenda” of pacifism and anti-militarism so much more difficult to handle than a “radical agenda” which glorifies war and military might? Why? For the same reasons that Hofstadter’s racist language is so much more obvious than William Safire’s sexist language: because we take some forms of prejudice for granted more than others. In this country, I think it’s clear that we take militarism and the promotion of State-organized violence for granted as part of ordinary political speech. This is why most of us don’t feel uncomfortable when Obama, or any president, claims the dead as promoting this agenda. We’re used to it, so used to it that we’re able to read into it the praise and comfort that we hope to find.

  6. Ali: I really intended that criticism, of people using grief to push agendas, to be applied equally to all, not just the author of this piece. And I did get the point of this exercise- to reverse things and demonstrate by clever satire and parody the problems inherent in our way of living and thinking. I got that.

    But there’s an issue here at play which isn’t being taken into account. Even if the author of this piece left out all of their personal issues and agendas, and merely reversed Obama’s speech to make a point, the forum here (a liberal Druid blog) makes everyone wonder if the author doesn’t really believe some of these things.

    In fact, while reading this, I got the strong feeling that our author did agree in essence with some of these “reversals”. Perhaps the author didn’t do enough to distance himself from the inescapable harm that these words- said “forward” or “reversed”- are going to do, the misinformation and unbalanced perspectives they will spread. I’m not saying he’s a bad person if he does happen to believe some of these things, but I guess I fail to see the value in reversing evil to make a new kind of evil, to make a point about evil. At the very least, it seems geared to cause controversy, while leaving the author’s own stances and views in an uncertain area. If I was geared up to dislike Obama for his version of this speech, I won’t be loving this author much more.

    The author here may have intended for his own opinions to be irrelevant. But I have found, after years of writing, that in the eye of the public, the author’s own opinions and agendas are never irrelevant. All writing covers an agenda, no matter how far out of it the author wants to remain.

  7. Helen/Hawk says:

    When I read the two speeches……I found myself thinking about “living in the middle”.

    In a sense, each speech is on the end of a spectrum. Obama, finding himself as Commander-In-Chief (as well as President), is speaking to the Military and to the Nation-At-Large as well as to the folks there at the funeral (the ones that either knew/loved the deceased & their larger Fort Hood Community). As such, he’s got the responsibility to comfort and help-make-meaning of these deaths.

    Jeff’s speech takes an opposing view……stressing the importance of Peace. And looking at these deaths as The Last. And honoring them in that way.

    Both objectify & use the tragedy to attempt to shape the world.

    And there’s Truth in Each (and each equally ignores the Truth spoken in the other).

    Hence, my statement about Living In The Middle.

    The site that hosted Obama’s acutal remarks stated that his speech was one for Rhetoric Classes to study. I’d say…..these 2 (the acutal speech and the parody) should be studied together. Both in Rhetoric Classes……and in History Classes. Because together, they articulate some of the dilemma of this time period.

  8. I pretty much agree with Robin.

    I would add that if it is meant to be nothing but parody, then it is no less problematic.

    You have to be detached from death and mourning to think that satire or parody is a good way to respond to this sort of tragedy. It’s hard to take seriously moral criticism that comes from such a disengaged place.

    I would hope the responses given here might be taken as a gentle call for him to re-examine himself and seek out a better way to address this situation, rather than lead to an entrenchment around this post and its methods.

  9. First, I want to thank each of you sincerely for commenting. You clearly write with conviction and feeling, and I am so grateful for that. These matters are ones that deserve engagement of our whole hearts.

    Let me say this next. Do not dismiss my opinion as one who is ignorant, biased, naive, hurtful, etc. I am a software engineer and linguist with four children. I have many close relatives who have served, or are serving, in the military, including my own father, grandfather, and grandmother. My three closest male friends, and one of my brothers, all tried to join the military, and one actually got in and served in the Air Force. I myself worked in the defense industry for years, and knew and worked closely with many people who were career soldiers. I know them, and I love them.

    Now, this article is not my words. The basic worldview is mine, but the words, the tone, and the rhetoric is Obama’s. An example:

    OBAMA: “But here is what you must also know: your loved ones endure through the life of our nation… Their life’s work is our security, and the freedom that we too often take for granted. Every evening that the sun sets on a tranquil town; every dawn that a flag is unfurled; every moment that an American enjoys life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – that is their legacy.”

    Obama claims that their legacy, their life’s work, is “the life of our nation”, “security”, “freedom”, tranquility, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. He has no right to make such claims in their name, to further his agenda.

    BIZARRO OBAMA: “But what is their true legacy? Here is what you must also know: their life’s work is the freedom that America’s rich and powerful too often take for granted. Every evening that the sun sets on a tranquil town far from the field of battle; every night that predator drones rain fire on innocent marriage parties; every dawn that a flag is unfurled over a conquered land; every moment that a rich, powerful American enjoys life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – that is their legacy.”

    I changed his words to bring them more in line with what I feel is the truth. In doing so, I am, of course, still making claims about the legacy and life’s work of these murdered Americans, and it is wrong to do so. I even said so in the speech itself. Obama’s rhetoric was toxic.

    But that does not change the underlying truth of the statement, in my view. I know that these soldiers and caregivers made their own moral choices, and did what they felt was right, as we all try to do. And I am not claiming any kind of moral superiority, or to have all the answers, or anything like that. But I honestly feel that their legacy — as soldiers — is the propogation of the American empire, and the death of innocents. They were not JUST soldiers, of course; and they have other legacies — legacies as fathers, sisters, brothers, musicians, teachers, mentors, and on and on. These legacies are what I, personally, would most honor. But I have no right to enlist them to my cause, or try to tell their story for them, any more than Obama did.

    If you’d like to read my own words on these topics, in tones and rhetoric that I created, please look at these articles:
    “How I’m Voting”
    “We The People”
    “On Physical Violence”

    Now I will address some specific points brought up by commenters.

    Am I excusing what the gunman did? Of course not. I’m a pacifist! And I told his story in the way I did to make a rhetorical point: it is WRONG to tell someone else’s story to further an agenda. But regardless, my feeling is that compassion is something to be cultivated toward everyone. We are all flawed human beings, and we all make the best choices we can. We don’t really know why Hasan did this terrible thing, so it may be easy to imagine that he’s simply a monstrous person, insane, or what have you. If we simply tack a “MONSTER” label on him, as so many are doing, that excuses us from looking for his reasons, it excuses us from looking within ourselves for the common humanity we share with him. Who knows? Any of us might have been driven to the same extreme violence, in the wrong circumstances.

    Do I speak of the soldiers here as nothing more than dupes or pawns? I do, for two reasons. One is that Obama speaks of these people as if they were called to a great “service”, that they made a mighty moral choice and stepped up to volunteer. This is a cartoonish caricature, of course, but it serves his rhetorical purposes. So I flipped it around, and talked of them as if they were pawns of the mighty American Empire, their minds and hearts enslaved by propoganda. This is also, of course, a cartoonish cariacature. The goal here was to cast a light on what Obama was doing. The second reason, though, is that I honestly believe that murder is wrong; that what soldiers do is murder; and that people know this deep in their hearts. I honestly believe — and remember, I have known many soldiers of, literally, many stripes — that making the moral choice to murder as a soldier is one that people cannot make without turning away from their deepest hearts, without turning away from compassion, without turning away from love. I do not blame them for this; I do not cast judgment upon them. I am in no way a perfect being, I know this. Also, it’s a fact that American culture practically worships violence, and much of the history that we are taught lionizes our military. In a way, the whole culture is saturated with messages that this kind of murder is ok, is laudable. In that sense, yes, we are “duped” into military service. So I don’t blame people for making these choices. But these choices have consequences — terrible consequences — and that needs to be recognized, if it’s ever going to change.

    As for Staff Sgt. DeCrow in particular: I contrasted Obama’s version of DeCrow’s story with a different way it might be told. All the details I give come from newspaper reports. It is true that I do not know whether DeCrow was rich or poor, but the vast, vast majority of people who join the military right out of high school are folks who cannot afford college, so it was a good bet. Compared to what Obama left out of his story — especially the fact that he was only on base because his paperwork was taking so long — it’s God’s truth.

    In hindsight, the mention of Lincoln was indeed probably out of place, and distracted from my main point. I did it partly because Obama invokes Lincoln so often, and partly because Obama is stealing a page directly from Lincoln’s book here, as so many presidents have done. The problem, though, is that people automatically think of the equation “Lincoln = anti-slavery” and then their brains shut off. 🙂 Slavery is horrible, but war was the absolute worst way to go about ending it. If Lincoln had wanted to free the slaves, he could have simply used federal funds to buy them all and set them free, as was done in most other nations at the time. That would have been a fraction of the cost of the Civil War, and saved 650,000 conscripted lives. Is this simple option ever mentioned in our history books? Why not? So no, Lincoln isn’t one of my favorite guys.

    Considering whether we are a nation of laws: it is true, of course, that corporations do usually follow the letter of the law. We are a nation of “laws” indeed. Of course, under King George III, the king’s will was law, so England in 1776 was also a “nation of laws”. 🙂 But the ideal legal system would be that the same laws would apply to individuals, corporations, and governments. In that sense, the corporations and government in the US have privilege — literally “private law” — that we do not.

    Finally: is satire / parody a good response to horrible circumstances? Absolutely. It is, in fact, in the finest druidic and bardic tradition. For more modern examples, I point to Swift, Twain, and Vonnegut. I am not claiming to be anything like as artful and effective as they were, but I will gladly grab their coattails and hide in their shadows. 🙂

    So, again, thank you to everyone who commented so thoughtfully, and a special thank-you to the half-dozen of you who did not unsubscribe. 😉

  10. Thanks for your clarifications, but out of all the things you said, something still sticks with me as unbalanced. You seem to think that the “empire” of America results in nothing but evil and the death of innocents. I think it’s more complex than that, that there are many good things about America, too. At least enough good to be mentioned in a basic, charitable way. I’m not asking you to ignore or gloss over the corruption or problems. Obama’s poetry about flags unfurling is just the sort of half-baked glowing prose I would expect at a solemn occasion like this. I don’t think anyone of intelligence takes it as anything else. Personally, I took it as an endorsement of the value of service, which these people had dedicated some of their lives and time to. A society- any society- requires service like theirs, selfless service and the possibility of danger to oneself. It’s this “service” notion that I think is commendable.

    Once again, while you’re correct about the abuses that “service” can support, I can’t imagine a better alternative. We need civil servants, and military is a needful part of “deep civil service.” Bear in mind that I believe that people who volunteer to go out on the streets and help homeless people or just clean up garbage are also warriors of a type, too- selfless servants who also maintain our society in a crucial way, through a sacrifice of time and effort.

    I was in the military, and while I didn’t especially like what I did, and goodness knows I was far from the best son of the military, I learned a lot about the psychology of the military, and a lot about other ways that people sacrifice and express nobility. I also am proud of relatives who served in the military with honor and sacrifice- especially my grandfather who was a decorated hero of the Second World War.

    If we’re going to make things “better”- we’re always pursuing the “better”, without questioning the subtle realities behind even that largely unquestioned goal- maybe pushing away entire segments of society isn’t the way to go. The military is just another mass of humanity, expressing service and honor in their own way, perhaps even a highly manipulable sort of way. We need to use that force, not scorn it. It can be rehabilitated and used in pursuit of our visions of a better world. This is why the satirical piece you wrote here also gave me concern- while it makes a lot of clever points, and some seemingly atrocious, uncharitable points, it seems to be so idealistic in its implications as to have no value as a manifesto for possible social change.

    We can’t just re-write reality. We have to work with the deep pylons of reality, bringing a new logic to them. I prefer to see what resources we DO have, and focus on those, rather than to make a list of what we don’t have.

  11. I think that while considering the subliminal implications of the undertones in Obama’s speech is an illuminating exercise to which your satire/parody served effectively, but I would also like to question the intended theme of Obama’s speech – in its original – to be one aimed more at consolation at a time when many are in mourning rather than a tool of pure propaganda.

    Like many others who have left comments, my initial sentiments in regards to “What the President Should Have Said” was an amorphous sense of queasiness. Much thanks to Ali’s response, though, I have come to see the challenge of the language utilized as a valid one (though I agree with Ian that it takes a certain detachment to consider that perspective with any objectivity). There is a very real case to the argument of our society’s conventional acceptance to hearing one form of propaganda as opposed to another and the effects of enculturation upon any natural cognitive dissonance.

    Nonetheless, aside from any consideration of rhetorical underpinnings, there is still the matter of the effect of said rhetoric. At a time of tragedy, a nation was looking to its figurehead to be consoled and – even if it’s derived from a disturbing familiarization – such words generally achieve those ends for the mass. More importantly, the rhetoric provides a sense of meaning behind the loss of life and reaffirms the sense of purpose to those whose lives will continue to be at risk.

    Note, I have not mentioned nor am I here trying to debate the reality or value of that stated meaning, just it’s effectiveness in providing consolation to the mass (hoping not to have the point washed over by individual’s sentiments regarding the stated/real purpose in our present war effort).

  12. Joy Langtry says:

    I appreciated your version of the speech.

    My son is a soldier stationed at Ft. Hood. He has finished one deployment in Iraq and will return there again next year.

    I also consider myself a pacifist.

    I didn’t listen to Obama’s speech. While I send my loving energy to the family and friends mourning the dead, I also send the same to Maj. Hasan and his family. And while I am sad that this has occurred, I don’t see that these 14 deaths are of any greater or lesser importance than any other 14 untimely deaths, in and of themselves.

    I asked my son how he felt about this happening there at Ft. Hood. He said it was terrible, but not actually as terrible as some of the things he had seen in Iraq. That is one unique perspective, and maybe his alone.

    As I write this, an email arrived in my inbox stating “Sixteen workers are killed a day in America because of reckless negligence by employers. Companies that kill their workers get a slap on the wrist, or walk away scot-free.” Video Link

    I would take this as an example of corporate lawlessness. Yet there is no presidential speech given, and these people didn’t sign up for hazardous duty.

    Those uncomfortable with your parody might benefit from contemplating who the Other really is. I believe that we are all one, so the Other is really just another – another human just like me. And we Americans are Other to our brothers and sisters overseas, no matter how little we like to consider that.

    Thank you for posting your truth, and please know that there are people in agreement.

  13. Considering that so much has been said about this whole “Fort Hood” incident, which is quickly gaining ranks among such trendy references as “9/11” and “The Cold War”, I think people need to take a moment and ask themselves, “Why are events like Fort Hood occurring?” Sure, it is very easy to blame an individual for being “crazy” or “misled” or whatever other name you wish to call them, but undeniably something led helped create that person. Whether it be the environment putting pressure on them in ways that the human psyche cannot and was never meant to handle, or even asking that person to participate in actions that, again, are incredibly difficult for human beings to accept or cope with, or perhaps even by denying certain individuals what was told would be coming their way if such and such actions were performed. In any event, something created an unhealthy situation, and not just an isolated situation, but a string of situations very similar to this one (consider even for a moment that this is not much different than how a “terrorist” carries out certain actions). Members of the military are continuously killing themselves and others in higher numbers, and for as long as I am aware have had psychologically difficult times dealing with their situations as members of that military. So perhaps at the end of the day we should not be focusing so much on “honoring” these “fallen heroes,” which is incredibly dependent on your view of the situation, but asking ourselves, “What is causing all of this? How do we prevent things like this from happening?”

    I think for starters, people need to consider that our way of life in the US has become incredibly unhealthy with respect to how people are treated and the pressures that those individuals must face. Couple that to a person asked to participate in actions that require them to commit crime after crime, dehumanized act after dehumanized act, mistreatment after mistreatment from their own employer (the government in this case), and you get a person who is absolutely lucky if they don’t pop in some way or form. Without getting into complicated arguments, there is absolutely no need for a standing military force. There is also no need to support that force with billions of dollars because the only thing that really threatens our own personal freedom are the very few who are in control of those military like forces (police, government, military, etc.). Many of the current problems in this particular society are a direct result of the hierarchy set up by the obnoxiously large government, and people of that society just go with it and never question anything associated with the design of the system. They simply respond to the system in small ways and try to avoid having that very system negatively affect them. But that only perpetuates the problem for everyone else.

    So to me, it’s a little absurd to call an event like this a “tragedy,” not only because I disagree with the use of the word in accordance with its general “definition,” but also because things like this will happen and will continue to happen as long as a system like the one we have in place exists. People can sit around and complain about how “sad” things like this are, but if you are doing absolutely nothing to fix the problem, if you continue to be spoon-fed with the illusion that events like these are a necessary part of being “free,” then as far as I am concerned you have lost all credibility. And just for those who think that I have not been callous enough, I think it is high time that the “citizens” of the US get a close-up glimpse of what they contribute to in every country occupied by their own (the US’s) soldiers, in every war that has been brought to some other country’s door, in every invasion, torture session, violation of international rights, etc. that has been carried on by the iron fists of the US. It’s very easy to talk about death and support it when it is at a large distance, but its not so easy to deal with when death has been forced upon you as a result of your own participation in a corrupt system of compliance. And keep in mind that the shootings at Fort Hood were absolutely and positively humane in comparison to the treatment of “civilians” in other countries, ordinary men, women, and children who are stripped of their right to life by our country’s desire to own and control.

  14. i wonder, and this is truly just curiosity no offense meant…but would this world survive without politics and would it if said something happen become a better or worse world?

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