Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer
prize-winning journalist who has covered many wars around the world.
His column appears Mondays on Truthdig.
Tomorrow I will go to a polling
station in Princeton, N.J., and vote for Ralph Nader. I know the
tired arguments against a Nader vote. He can’t win. A vote for Nader
is a vote for McCain. He threw the election to George W. Bush in
2000. He is an egomaniac.
There is little disagreement among
liberals and progressives about the Nader and Obama campaign issues.
Nader would win among us in a landslide if this was based on issues.
Sen. Barack Obama’s vote to renew the Patriot Act, his votes to
continue to fund the Iraq war, his backing of the FISA Reform Act,
his craven courting of the Israeli lobby, his support of the death
penalty, his refusal to champion universal, single-payer
not-for-profit health care for all Americans, his call to increase
troop levels and expand the war in Afghanistan, his failure to call
for a reduction in the bloated and wasteful defense spending and his
lobbying for the huge taxpayer swindle known as the bailout are
repugnant to most of us on the left. Nader stands on the other side
of all those issues.
So if the argument is not about
issues what is it about?
Those on the left who back Obama,
although they disagree with much of what he promotes, believe they
are choosing the practical over the moral. They see themselves as
political realists. They fear John McCain and the Republicans. They
believe Obama is better for the country. They are right. Obama is
better. He is not John McCain. There will be under Obama marginal
improvements for some Americans although the corporate state, as
Obama knows, will remain our shadow government and the working class
will continue to descend into poverty. Democratic administrations
have, at least until Bill Clinton, been more receptive to social
programs that provide benefits, better working conditions and higher
wages. An Obama presidency, however, will make no difference to
those in the Middle East.
I can’t join the practical. I spent
two decades of my life witnessing the suffering of those on the
receiving end of American power. I have stood over the rows of
bodies, including women and children, butchered by Ronald Reagan’s
Contra forces in Nicaragua. I have inspected the mutilated corpses
dumped in pits outside San Salvador by the death squads. I have
crouched in a concrete hovel as American-made F-16 fighter jets,
piloted by Israelis, dropped 500- and 1,000-pound iron-fragmentation
bombs on Gaza City.
I can’t join the practical because I
do not see myself exclusively as an American. The narrow,
provincial and national lines that divide cultures and races blurred
and evaporated during the years I spent in Latin America, Africa,
the Middle East, Europe and the Balkans. I built friendships around
a shared morality, not a common language, religion, history or
tradition. I cannot support any candidate who does not call for
immediate withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and an end to Israeli
abuse of Palestinians. We have no moral or legal right to debate the
terms of the occupation. And we will recover our sanity as a nation
only when our troops have left Iraq and our president flies to
Baghdad, kneels before a monument to the hundreds of thousands of
Iraqi war dead and asks for forgiveness.
We dismiss the suffering of others
because it is not our suffering. There are between 600,000 and
perhaps a million dead in Iraq. They died because we invaded and
occupied their country. At least three Afghan civilians have died at
the hands of the occupation forces for every foreign soldier killed
this year. The dead Afghans include the 95 people, 60 of them
children, killed by an air assault in Azizabad in August and the 47
wedding guests butchered in July during a bombardment in Nangarhar.
The Palestinians are forgotten. Obama and McCain, courting the
Israeli lobby, do not mention them. The 1.5 million Palestinians in
Gaza live in a vast open-air prison. Supplies and food dribble
through the Israeli blockade. Ninety-five percent of local
industries have shut down. Unemployment is rampant. Childhood
malnutrition has skyrocketed. A staggering 80 percent of families in
Gaza are dependent on international food aid to survive.
It is bad enough that I pay taxes,
although I will stop paying taxes if we go to war with Iran. It is
bad enough that I have retreated into a safe, privileged corner of
the globe, a product of industrialized wealth and militarism. These
are enough moral concessions, indeed moral failings. I will not
accept that the unlawful use of American military power be politely
debated among us like the subtle pros and cons of tort law.
George Bush has shredded, violated or
absented America from its obligations under international law. He
has refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, backed out of the
Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, tried to kill the International
Criminal Court, walked out on negotiations on chemical and
biological weapons and defied the Geneva Conventions and human
rights law in the treatment of detainees in our offshore penal
colonies. Most egregiously, he launched an illegal war in Iraq based
on fabricated evidence we now know had been discredited even before
it was made public. The president is guilty, in short, of what in
legal circles is known as the “crime of aggression.”
The legacy of the Bush administration
may be the codification of a world without treaties, statutes and
laws. Bush may have bequeathed to us a world where any nation, from
a rogue nuclear state to a great imperial power, will be able to
invoke its domestic laws to annul its obligations to others. This
new order will undo five decades of international
cooperation—largely put in place by the United States—and thrust us
into a Hobbesian nightmare. The exercise of power without law is
If we demolish the fragile and
delicate international order, if we do not restore a world where
diplomacy, broad cooperation and the law are respected, we will see
our moral and political authority disintegrate. We will erode the
possibility of cooperation between nation-states, including our
closest allies, and see visited upon us the evils we visit on
others. Obama, like McCain, may tinker with this new world, but
neither says they will dismantle it. Nader would.
Practical men and women do not stand
up against injustice. The practical remain silent. A voice, even one
voice, which speaks the truth and denounces injustice is never
useless. It is not impractical. It reminds us of what we should
strive to become. It defies moral concession after moral concession
that leaves us chanting empty slogans.
When I sat on the summit of Mount
Igman in my armored jeep, the engine idling, before nervously
running the gantlet of Serb gunfire that raked the dirt road into
the besieged city of Sarajevo, I never asked myself if what I was
doing was practical. Forty-five foreign correspondents died in the
city along with some 12,000 Bosnians, including 2,000 children. Some
50,000 people were wounded. Of the dead and wounded 85 percent were
civilians. I drove down the slope into Sarajevo, which was being hit
by 2,000 shells a day and under constant sniper fire, because what
was happening there was a crime. I drove down because I had friends
in the city. I did not want them to be alone. Their stories had
War, with all its euphemisms about
surges and the escalation of troops and collateral damage, is not an
abstraction to me. I am haunted by hundreds of memories of violence
and trauma. I have abandoned, because I no longer cover these
conflicts, many I care about. They live in Gaza, Baghdad, Jerusalem,
Beirut, Kabul and Tehran. They cannot vote in our election. They
will, however, bear the consequences of our decision. Some, if the
wars continue, may be injured or killed. The quest for justice is
not about being practical. It is required by the bonds we share.
They would do no less for me.
AP photo / Jose Luis Magana:
Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader speaks
during a news conference outside of the Nuclear Energy Institute in