Heart of Darkness and the Fog of War

Heart of Darkness and the Fog of War

by Douglas Herman

Exclusive to STR We are surrounded by men who strangely resemble other historical figures, sinister, calculating, duplicitous. You've seen their faces on the History Channel, another cult who resemble Rove, Rumsfeld, Cheney. They stare back at us, savage grins glistening or serious brows furrowed. Tailored dark suits and uniforms and bodyguards and shock troops with chiseled faces surround them in old black and white newsreels. Years ago, I when I wrote Achtung! Are We The New Nazis? (and the sequel, Achtung, Nazi!--One Year Later), I hadn't foreseen an entire catalogue of war crimes and atrocities still to be committed. But anyone could have imagined them; they were perfectly predictable. Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, and a thousand other lesser atrocities that have no record because no one ever gave them a name. In Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Kurtz was a colonial administrator who became a sadistic torturer. A good man once, we're told, long ago in another land. Now transformed, Kurtz had become sinister, savage, more savage than any animal, the colonial conqueror who had come long ago with good intentions only. The good intentions soon putrefied, surrounded by hostile natives. The pure mission, if one ever existed, became poisonous. Toxic. Corrosive. Pestilent. 'There was a touch of insanity in the proceeding,' narrates Conrad's protagonist, moving upriver, looking for Kurtz. '. . . somebody on board assuring me earnestly there was a camp of natives--he called them enemies!--hidden out of sight somewhere.' Heart of Darkness became Apocalypse Now, the short novel inspiring the film. Kurtz became Colonel Kurtz in the movie, but he might as well be named Boykin or Bremer now. Conrad wrote of the subjugated land: 'Nowhere did we stop long enough to get a particularized impression, but the general sense of vague and oppressive wonder grew upon me. It was like a weary pilgrimage amongst hints for nightmares.' Probably any small town US soldier could describe the Middle East in similar terms: 'sense of vague and oppressive wonder . . . a weary pilgrimage amongst hints for nightmares.' Uneasy dreams of IEDs and their DU deformed offspring and wailing mothers and hostile glares. And of the doomed Kurtz, the colonizer, Conrad almost describes the mercurial moods of the neo-colonizer Bush. 'I saw on that ivory face the expression of strange pride, of mental power, of avarice, of blood-thirstiness, of cunning, of excessive terror, of an intense and hopeless despair.' Good intentions gone bad. Or bad intentions gone worse. Torture turned on torturers and tortured alike, a sleepwalking step toward greater totalitarianism, auctioned off to suckers as democracy. Former Army interrogator Anthony Lagouranis said, "Now it's all over Iraq . . . infantry units are torturing people in their homes. They were using things like burns. They would smash people's feet with the back of an ax head. They would break bones, ribs, you know.' Hearts grown dark; hints for nightmares. Highly paid torturers (American? Israeli? South African?) in civilian garb directed lowly paid, disposable US recruits in the task of desecrating and dehumanizing the recently democratized. Granted, democracy no longer existed here at home'black box voting saw to that--so how could it be exported overseas? The heart of darkness within the new American colonizer ensured henchmen occupied every seat of power and underlings did the dirty work, while contractors made a fat profit. Henchmen all. Not a single worthy soul among them. Fight a war for them? Toxic. Arrest and torture for them; lie under oath? Pestilent. Poisonous. Fatal. Where had we seen this rogues gallery before, you wondered? Then you knew. On the History Channel. Rove resembled a piggish Goering without the war medals; Cheney a brooding Martin Bormann; Rumsfeld an obliging Admiral Doenitz; Wolfowitz an owlish Himmler. Ledeen a sniggering Goebbels. Torturers all but restrained by the teetering Bill of Rights Reichstag building. They only lack'God be merciful'a fiery demagogue, an engaging orator, a demonic yet mesmerizing presence. They only lack Hitler. For the moment the neocons are a dangerous cabal of Colonel Kurtzes. ________________________ The Fog of War Clarified You may have already seen the documentary film, The Fog of War. If not, rent it. We're living in the sequel. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is Robert McNamara with a squint. In a true democracy, or a nation of laws, (neither of which we have), Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara would have been tried and convicted for war crimes. Instead, he's an elder statesman. Indeed, McNamara has become almost a voice of moderation. Here was a guy responsible for genocide, chemical warfare, saturation bombing. And justifying it all on a daily basis. And yet you cannot help but like the guy. Even when he utters a remark like, 'In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil.' McNamara sounds almost like the voice of wisdom now, 30 years after the war and now that two million Vietnamese and 55,000 US troops slumber in their graves. 'We failed then--and have since--to recognize the limitations of modern, high-technology military equipment, forces and doctrine,' said the former Defense Secretary. 'We failed to draw Congress and the American people into a full and frank discussion and debate of the pros and cons of a large-scale military involvement . . . before we initiated the action.' The heart of darkness in the fog of war. Every soldier, even McNamara and Rumsfeld, begins his life as a civilian, in a society where arson, illegal entry, wanton destruction and murder are not only felonies but heinous crimes. Suddenly in uniform, wandering around in his own personal fog of war, a soldier realizes that all those felonies'arson, arbitrary killing, demolition and torture--are company policy. And he works for that company! Na've once, a million years ago, the fog of war clarifies for each soldier. Armed with a rifle and a constantly changing outlook each day, every soldier chooses a heart of darkness or sudden enlightenment. To become a Kurtz or hold fast to former beliefs while surrounded by men who, more and more, resemble the war criminals on the History Channel.
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Columns on STR: 136

Award winning artist, photographer and freelance journalist, Douglas Herman enjoys exploring the occasional ghost town or spooky conspiracy and can be found wandering the back roads of America. Recently Doug finished writing, directing and producing an independent feature film, naturally a "road movie," and credits STR for giving him the impetus to write well, both provocatively and entertainingly. A longtime gypsy, Doug completed a 10,000 mile circumnavigation of North America, by bicycle, at the age of 35, and still wanders between Bullhead City, Arizona and Kodiak, Alaska with forays frequently into the so-called civilized world of Greater LA.