Thursday, February 09, 2006

Pajarito: Leaving the Enchanted Mesa

In Los Alamos last night, during the discussion following the film, on the media’s treatment of the Iraqi war, we discussed how social activists such as we could respond to the disturbing events we had just witnessed. Just before the film began, I had had a brief conversation with a beautiful woman, just a bit younger than I, I hope, because she looked far younger, more aristocratic, as though life’s cares had barely glanced her. Had she read The Children of Los Alamos I asked. Parts she said. I told her I wanted to write a less hygienic version, and she replied that she had a very protected, almost idyllic childhood and would like to write another about the funny things in her childhood that could have only happened in a protected environment like that of Los Alamos. I was reminded of a book that came out of postwar Germany called Visiting the Swans.

The discussion after the movie seemed to pick up where we left off. One person observed that the film series was preaching to the choir. Another said we need to be doing something in light of the disturbing events we had just witnessed. What could we do, here, now?

With a deftness that even now stills me, the discussion turned from a heap of military, administrative and media lies stacked higher than the naked male prisoners at Abu Ghraib to what should we do when the Monitor does not publish our letters to the editor and how can we effectively fight the guard posts that will once again obstruct free coming to and going from Los Alamos.

My earlier conversation with the serenely beautiful woman had included mention of the woods around Los Alamos and how the family’s ability to retreat to them at every possible moment had been their salvation in what might otherwise have been an intolerably stressful life for the parents.

Having had no such retreat as a child, we lived on a dirt farm near Alamogordo, and the White Sands Missile Range, and kept it out of the clutches of a harsh and dry nature by virtue of constant attention and sometimes back breaking work. My own experience had been grim by comparison, much as our society is becoming as more and more resources are funneled into the military industrial pipeline.

How quickly the conversation turned from the horrific consequences of our living in the world our media has drawn for us rather than in the light of a reality where we project onto others the gross violation of treaties we signed but never intended to keep to the inconvenience and economic threat of putting guard stations between Los Alamos residents and their beloved woods was stunning.

I thought of a recent meeting of Tewa Women United in the dusty outskirts of Los Alamos, San Ildefonso and Espanola. We worshiped the often ignored sacred amidst the tumbleweeds, praying for a cleansing of the land that gave birth to the bomb. Our discussion last night was on the site of sacred land that the U.S. government had taken from the people of San Ildefonso with the promise of its return as soon as the war was over. What no one here seems to have noticed is that has not happened. Either the war is not over or the U.S. has failed to keep its promise to a subset of its people, the previously conquered. I propose that both are true, a pair of lies in a long, well-established line.

I had spent the day at the Los Alamos Disarmament Center, sponsored by the Los Alamos Study Group, so disarmament was on my mind. Surrounded by pictures of the devastation we visited on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I had a dull headache as though someone had hit me with a sharp, blunt object and left it imbedded in my head. Hearing of the imbedded press in Iraq only deepened the pain, a combination of physical and psychological that need not have surprised me.

I watched a movie about the nuclear colonies in Russia about a year ago. I could resonate with how protected and privileged the families were because my family shared in that privileged status as members of a German rocket scientist’s family after the war. Where others went hungry we were fed. While others were the vanquished, we moved seamlessly to the camp of the victorious. As has often been observed, the rocket scientists moved from a fascist, genocidal society to the American oasis: freedom, material privilege and a limitless future. At least that is what my father got. I was the fifth of seven children and the trickle down effect of all that largesse was nigh invisible. Perhaps that is why I cannot quite shake my underdog status or the lines that tell of a less than idyllic life.

Perhaps it is time to share what the people of Los Alamos are not being told. Maybe we are promise keepers after all but have simply not been let in on the promise that those guiding our ship of state onto the shoals have been clandestinely sharing among themselves in the hallowed halls of nuclear science. We have not been able to return the land to San Ildefonso because the real war is not yet over. The dogs of war that Churchill and Roosevelt unleashed are still snarling and straining, bared teeth waiting for another group of poor indigenous people with dark skin to tear apart and seize their assets. It has never been different, nor will it as long as we can sit in a comfortable church, see and hear of the egregious sins our military and corporations are committing against our poor fellow beings in less favorable circumstances and worry that our letters of complaint and our free, unrestricted passage are being threatened.

Did no one notice all the bloody and missing limbs of those Iraqi children? Did no one hear that there were no weapons of mass destruction in that tiny, bereft country that we are turning into a DU parking lot, that 50% of the people there are mere children and that we are destroying anything that smacks of a normal life while taking their future in the form of oil that no one can account for? Perhaps I am the only one in on the secret because I have been there before. I was one of the conquered, the one from the evil nation that lost the war because I was a German citizen before I moved here and became American. I can recognize the change from freedom to oppression because it happened the first time I sat down in my father’s house once the mom and kids rejoined him on this side of the ocean.

The form is different but the intent is the same. Those with wealth and weapons will take from those without. The intent is the same even if the dividing line is moving ever so imperceptibly to some of us. New Orleaners know. They have been in the bread lines. Their skins are dark and they have been cut off from the golden promise of America. The people of Los Alamos should be writing letters to the editor and far more. They have been living on a military base all along, one whose mission was thinly veiled. The veil is off but few have caught up with the knowledge because life has been so good. Welcome to the New America. The New Management has a few New Rules in store for you.

Astrid Webster


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