Thursday, July 24, 2014

"IN TIMES LIKE THESE" AGAIN



Harry Targ

In times like these when night surrounds me
And I am weary and my heart is worn
When the songs they’re singing don’t mean nothing
Just cheap refrains play on and on
When leaders profit from deep divisions
When the tears of friends remain unsung
In times like these it’s good to remember
These times will go in times to come
 
I see the storm clouds rise above me
The sky is dark and the night has come
I walk alone along this highway
Where friends have gathered one by one

I know the storm will soon be over
The howling winds will cease to be
I walk with friends from every nation
On freedom’s highway in times like these.
(From Arlo Guthrie, “In Times Like These.”


In December, 2012, I wrote an essay drawing upon Arlo Guthrie’s powerful lyrics about tragic times. My thoughts have been coming back to this song over the last two weeks as dramatic events have occupied media attention.  Recent stories about the Ukraine, Gaza, and refugees at the U.S. border involve death, destruction, pain, and suffering. And to compound conflicts and human tragedy, media portraits of these latest calamities are framed by conscious lies and ignorance.

In Ukraine, events have unfolded since last fall involving public demonstrations against a corrupt but elected government, covert intervention by key United States officials to encourage the ultimate overthrow of that government, and the stimulation of domestic conflicts interconnecting legitimate demands for change in that country with fascist political organizations. Reactions to the newly created Ukraine government led to rebellion in the east of the country and increased outside involvement in the affairs of Ukraine by the United States and the European Union. Russia joined the fray on the side of rebels and residents of Crimea. And just last week, during a war between Ukraine and rebels in the country’s east, a commercial aircraft was shot down over rebel territory in southeast Ukraine killing 298 travelers. Since the air crash the United States and Great Britain have launched a crusade to blame Russia for the disaster while the Ukraine war continues in the area where the Malaysian airline crashed. 

And in occupied Gaza, Israel launched a brutal bombing campaign on July 7 and followed the bombing with an invasion of this tiny piece of territory densely housing over two million people. Since the war started, homes, schools, hospitals, and neighborhoods have been bombed. More than 700 residents of Gaza have died and thousands wounded. Water and electricity are scarce. Local residents are urged by Israeli leaflets to flee but there is no place to go (except the sea). 

Even though Israelis point to Hamas rocket attacks on targets in Israel, which have yielded minimal casualties, as the motivation for this latest war, the Israeli response has been of genocidal proportions. And the United States government, and politicians of both parties, support this Israeli policy that can only result in the extermination of the people of Gaza.

And on the southern border of the United States thousands of children who are refugees from Central America are desperately seeking relief from the poverty and violence in their home countries. But leaders of both political parties endorse policies to more efficiently return these young victims of United States policy in Central America to the countries from which they fled. The Governor of Texas has ordered the mobilization of 1,000 National Guard personnel to the Texas border to protect the state from this invasion of children.

All three of these stories are reported in the U.S. media in ways that minimize the United States role for the suffering and that identify Russia, Hamas, and Central American children as the  causes of the problems. These stories implicitly or explicitly support U.S. allies who are complicit in the crimes against people; for example, the governments of Ukraine, Israel, and Honduras. The corporate media, through biased reporting and interviews, suggest that the United States should prepare to use more force. Few stories are published or presented on television which encourage humanitarian policies.

The photo images of death and destruction in Gaza and children climbing hills and walking trails to the United States challenge the verbal messages of television commentators. As a result media consumers can get some sense of what is happening to people in these troubled places. The visual images being presented about the war in Ukraine, the downing of the civilian aircraft, and the demonic gaze of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, however, support the clear effort of the corporate media to create a Cold War climate of fear. Russia almost immediately was convicted of being behind the rebels who are assumed to have shot down the commercial aircraft. Putin is the devil. He is a wealthy oligarch. He is shifty. He has a master plan to reconquer Central Europe. His Russia is the embodiment of evil, just as was its predecessor regime in the Soviet Union.

Together, the public story of these past two weeks is about the Russian threat, the justified Israeli attacks on Palestinians, and the inevitability of war and the need to prepare for it. 

At the same time that I cry inside for the relatives of those who died in the plane crash, all Ukrainians embroiled in war, the people of Gaza, and the children walking to what they hope is a better life in the United States, I also remember history and Arlo’s last stanza:” I know the storm will soon be over, The howling winds will cease to be….”
I also experienced tears, this time of joy and hope, last Sunday watching the three hour Seegerfest concert honoring the lives and legacies of Pete and Toshi Seeger at Lincoln Center in New York. Songs and musicians captured the legacy of Pete and Toshi touching on labor, peace, and civil rights struggles and their efforts to revitalize the natural environment.  The performers representing different age and demographic groups captured the essence of the Seeger vision, his love of humanity and nature, and the possibilities of saving the planet from destruction. And while the song selection could have highlighted more fully Seeger’s commitment to political struggle, viewers could not help but be reminded of Seeger’s politics: “keep your eyes on the prize,” know “which side are you on,” “waste deep in the big muddy and the big fool says to push on,” and “bring em home.”  Arlo’s admonition still stands: “I walk with friends from every nation, On freedom’s highway in times like these.”