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The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner – Randall Jarrell

From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

Of course among polite company I make no claim to Marxist thought. I can image the scene that would ensue: We, the politer company and I, sit around a dinner table; between the chinks of silverware on glass and the passes of wineglasses to lips, you’re not joking? They really can turn peoples minds in school. Don’t you know what they did to their people in Russia? To lay such a claim would be to support the mass suppression of dissidents, endorse the Gulag, apologize for the beastly, monstrous acts of all self-professed marxocommunists throughout the world. Clearly, as we can see from its implementation, Marxist theory is flawed flawed flawed. Quite contrary to liberty, and justice, for all.

So goes the imagined response during the imagined meal. My imagined retort would pop out over a course of imaginary, dry-cooked chicken, going something like this, “if the things you say invalidate Marx’s observations about the dehumanizing forces of capital, then the goings-on going on right now ought to invalidate whatever claims you can make for our own, very liberal, republic.” And in the ensuing exchange about beastly, monstrous acts committed by US agents in the name of US interests over the last century, we come to an impasse. Or, we happen upon the impasse that will necessarily exist in such conversations until those having them become aware of the difference between state-myth and state-action, between what a state claims about itself and what a state does with itself.

This difference is so blazingly obvious that it shames me that I couldn’t have put it as succinctly as David Graeber did in Fragments of an Anarchistic Anthropology. He writes,

States have a peculiar dual character. They are at the same time forms of institutionalized raiding or extortion, and utopian projects. The first certainly reflects the way states are actually experienced, by any communities that retain some degree of autonomy; the second however is how they tend to appear in the written record. . .

An adequate theory of states would then have to begin by distinguishing in each case between the relevant ideal of rulership… …and the mechanics of rule, without assuming that there is necessarily all that much correspondence between them.

A disjuncture between promise and practice that nearly always has to do with violence. Such is the nature of the state. We can see this nowadays in the US: we struggle to preserve our freedoms by curtailing them; to promote democracy throughout the world by spreading chaos and removing democratically elected leaders; to solidify our ideology by marrying ‘profit’ to ‘pursuit of happiness’ and ‘liberty’ to ‘consumer choice’. It seems that the more desirous the state’s myth, the more willing its people are to let it’s actions fall short. Hence, the trend in geopolitics. Security. Safety. Freedom. The Market. Torture. Surveillance. Carnage.

If we are to judge the USSR by the metric of its beastly, monstrous acts, then we must do the same for the USA; the US fares poorly. Quite contrarily to liberty, and justice, for all. Where then does that leave the apologist of the state, the patriot fierce believing in an entity that possesses only fictive existence? Considering the state in the manner that Graeber proposes, the people who fiercely believe in the myth of the state perpetuate an imaginary system that serves as cover for villainy. When they refuse to acknowledge state-violence but instead sound the horn of its mythology, they engage in the machine of that violence. They are responsible, if not culpable. Because these people are not incapable of calling a spade a spade. They can right well point out the horrors of the Gulag and snort at the idea of a communist society. They are perfectly capable of seeing the horrors committed daily in the name of the USA and snorting as well. But there lies the double standard: confronted with evidence of this, they spout Support the Troops and the High Price of Freedom.

The distance between the state’s myth and its practice is elastic; it seems that as the latter becomes more atrocious, the former attains higher rhetorical flights. This distance may be hard to identify it in times of relative similarity; but now the rift is as wide as the Grand Canyon. Grand fucking Canyon.

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