Art and Freedom

September 12th, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

*** Apologies – NJ.Com took down the photos, which were originally published on my “NJ Voices” column at NJ.Com. I was able to save the text, but not the photos. What assholes.

“He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.”
Ben Franklin
As a poet, I would have to say that 9/11 changed the language itself … 9/11 is a big abstraction. … In the name of 9/11 and in the name of the war on terror, phrases like “weapons of mass destruction” and “enhanced interrogation” have entered our political vocabulary. These phrases, for me, divorce language from meaning, and thus divorce action from consequence. If you’re engaged in enhanced interrogation you’re not engaged in torture, and thus, we in society come to embrace torture in the name of security. I think we have to do whatever we can to combat this tendency in the language. The fact is that this language is used to foster a culture of fear so that in turn people will act against their own interests. And that’s why we’re now embroiled in two wars
Martin Espada. Poet and Professor, University of Massachusetts
PBS Newhour – 9/11/08 MP3
Espada’s website:
“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism., question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.”
George Orwell – “Politics and the English Language” 1946
On the shoulders of these giants, I share my pedestrian experience.
Yesterday, I went to US District Court in Newark to listen to oral argument in a case filed by Edison Wetlands Association seeking to force a toxic polluter to stop discharging toxic chemicals to the Raritan River. A long and disgraceful story.
But, as I approached the Federal Square complex, a beautiful piece of sculpture caught my eye. Of course – since a core part of my mission is amateur photojournalism – I moved to take a picture.

In response, US Federal marshall Gerald Mauriello aggressively swooped in, sternly advised that I was on “federal property”, and “taking pictures of federal buildings is prohibited”. He demanded personal identification. I asked on what legal basis he did so, under the impression that we have both Constitutional and inalienable rights, and there is no US citizen identification card (at least not yet).
To which he angrily replied: “Don’t you know what f-cking day it is!”

US Marshall Mauriello rushes to avert terrorism because – as the Leader and Decider has repeated – the terrorists hate our freedom.

Feel safer now?

Thomas Paine – patriot and truth teller
“Don’t tread on Me”

Hey Mr. US Marshall Mauriello – is it now illegal to photo these federal buildings? Just askin’.

US Supreme Court – note the couple kneeling in prayer on the steps
  1. isbjorn1
    September 12th, 2008 at 12:14 | #1

    Bill, you have hit on one of the most significant problems of our times–a problem perhaps only art can cure, but certainly attentivenes to the use of language by all citizens would be a start.
    As Steven Colbert said on the Colbert Report after the RNC, “”Yes, the Republicans are the party of change, they’ve changed our language, words like freedom, terrorism . . .”
    The party in power tries to change the meaning of words so that the USA is not bound to the Geneva Conventions, so that torture can proceed unabated, so that the administration can do whatever it wants.
    It is indeed a surreal situation–changing reality w/simple words–and it harkens back to Orwell’s 1984. When I was a child that book terrified me, and I was literally afraid of the year 1984. When it passed, foolishly I thought the danger was somehow over, but it’s not. It was just waiting in the wings to appear full-blown 18 years later.
    The best tribute to the tragedy of 9/11 is NOT to believe the administration’s rhetoric, to closely examine words, phrases, and syntax, and to remember that we still have a Constitution and Bill of Rights and that despite the Patriot Acts, we are stil bound by those and the only way the ‘terrorists’ (whoever they are) will win is if we continue to let our freedoms erode.

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