Artists & War

"To criticize the government is the highest act of patriotism. The role of the artist in times like ours is to help facilitate a skepticism, to transcend conventional wisdom . . . the word of the establishment . . . to go beyond and escape what is handed down by government and what is said in the media."*
—Howard Zinn in his book Artists in Times of War

Many generations have been fortunate in America not to have the scourge of war in our cities and towns, ravaging historical buildings, uprooting families and destroying the infrastructure of our communities. We watch war in the comfort of our living rooms on TV. War is destructive; the antithesis of artistic creativity. In 1937 France, Hitler selected a small hamlet in Spain for target practice; highly explosive, incendiary bombs were dropped for over three hours. The village burned for three days and 1600 people were victimized. Pablo Picasso was so horrified by the B&W photos he saw in French newspapers where he lived, he filled one wall of the pavillion at the World’s Fair in Paris with his anguish. It was a commission he had for some time without inspiration; and the subject matter was probably not what his sponsors expected. Guernica was the name of the village, and through his heart-rending canvas, you can experience his anguish long after the man himself has passed. THAT is the power of art, not the gibberish you see on TV.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she thinks the American public is losing faith in Congress because of the war. She’s right, we are tired of the war. But more importantly, we are tired of Congress taking care of itself before it takes care of more pressing concerns like the homeless, the hungry, the high costs of education, the rising price of energy, the nearly impossible costs of healthcare in addition to thesoldier.jpg burden of sending their future—their sons and daughters—to face sudden death in a foreign land. Congress quietly gave itself another $3000 raise; I still haven’t recovered from hearing Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) justify his $140,000 salary (plus a myriad of manicures, haircuts, healthcare benefits, and a pension that would make a working man blush) by saying his job was the same as the Chief Executive Officer of a corporation; and we all know how most Americans view the exorbitant salaries of CEOs. Looking down from such a lofty perch, the rift is growing between the working class and Washington D.C.’s ruling class.

I am a patriot, and firmly believe in our democracy. But lately, I wonder if the people entrusted to fulfill our Founding Father’s intentions are more concerned with lining their own pockets than working on our behalf ( a close look at the delay involving the Net Neutrality legislation tells an interesting story about lobbyists filling politician's coffers). More often than I care to count, Senators and Representatives appear on the news saying, “I’m grateful for the votes of my constituents and promise to do what I think is right when I get to Washington.” Unfortunately, that’s not their prime directive. Our representatives are elected and sent to Washington to represent the views and opinions of the people in their constituency; not to do what he or she thinks is right. When congressmen and women forget this very important duty, they forget the fiber of the country’s weave. They forget the founders fled an overburdening tax in the presence of under representation in Great Britain’s government. Representation is key and without it, government becomes parasitic.

The recent widespread Tribal Casino & lobbyist scandal, the Representative from Lousiana filmed taking cash bribes who was found with $80,000 in his freezer, the quiet, almost secretive raises for Congress, the stories of fighting men without proper gear, the piss-poor healthcare facilities and services for returning vets, the lack of follow-through after Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, an Attorney General with a short term memory problem rivaling a pothead, and the fact that only millionaires can run for President are all reasons the American public has had it with the ruling class. So, no, Nancy Pelosi, it’s not just the war. It’s bigger than that.

The sad thing is whether it’s Democratic, Republican, Independent or Libertarian—inserting a new set of elected officials into a corrupt and complacent system probably won’t create change. Just like in painting, we all need to step back and get a good look at the big picture. Like they say in painting class, everything can change.

*Quotation courtesy of Douglas Eby and his excellent site,
Talent Development Resources, that nurtures creatives.

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