I use the word “appall” too much. I’ve been appalled at government and corporate corruption; I’ve been appalled at cavalier war making and its awful consequences. Exhaustingly appalled at the depth of U.S. racism. Appalled at environmental degradation and the failure of governments to base policy on the reality of climate change. I’ve been appalled at the cruelty of people who want to punish youth for their non-conforming gender choices. I’ve been appalled at politicians who insist teachers teach false history so our children will be unaware of systemic white supremacy–and unaware of the courage of activists. I’ve been appalled by gun violence and the willingness of the gun lobby to sacrifice children to keep their military weapons. (Last night there was a mass shooting in my state of Maine!) I’ve been appalled by the rich, that they want to be so much richer, that they embrace greed even when it’s clear greed destroys democracy, the environment, the common good, and undermines any chance of a sustainable future. The rich call this Freedom.
I’ve been appalled by those who sport flag lapel pins while subverting voting rights for the poor and people of color.
I’m appalled at President Biden for pleading with the Israelis to adhere to the Laws of War. The laws of war? Who is he kidding? Does he mean like the U.S. carpet bombing and fire bombing of civilian populations in Germany and Japan in WWII? Dropping nuclear bombs on civilians? The atrocities in Vietnam? The Shock & Awe bombing of infrastructure and civilians in Iraq? The justifications for torture? War is terrorism. So what we are really talking about are the Laws of Terrorism. And what exactly are those? That’s a trick question. There aren’t any. And if there are, they’re too appalling to imagine. The Laws of War are similar to the Rule of Law–a notion trotted out at the convenience of the powerful. A kind of greenwashing to make the appalling sound reasonable and ethical.
Often it seems that being appalled has little effect, like energetically waving an invisible flag. Those powers intent on doing the things that appall me could care less what I feel. And, of course, I’m simply one of millions of people who feel the same way–both being appalled and feeling invisible. Perhaps we should form a third political party: The Appalled. Enough people being appalled, like they were by George Floyd’s murder, can make a difference. The Appalled Party could run on that: Make the Appalling Visible!
Interestingly, the word “appall” derives from the Old French word apalir, to grow pale, i.e., to blanche with horror. Sometimes I feel I’ve spent so much time growing pale that I might be more ghost than man. I should use synonyms. I’m nauseated…. I’m shocked … scandalized … outraged … disgusted … revolted … mortified …. My blood has run cold…. I’ve gone beyond the pale to having no hope for humans, that we get what we deserve. It’s horrifying how pale I’ve become. I didn’t think it could get any worse.
But then I heard the Leader of the Senate Republicans, Mitch McConnell, on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, October 22. Backing Biden’s call for more military aid to Ukraine and Israel, McConnell said:
“No Americans are getting killed in Ukraine. We’re rebuilding our industrial base. The Ukrainians are destroying the army of one of our biggest rivals. I have a hard time finding anything wrong with that. I think it’s wonderful that they’re defending themselves—and also the notion that the Europeans are not doing enough….”
Do you understand the callous cynicism of that? The unrestrained glee of reaping the profits of the military/industrial complex from mass murder. Thousands of people are dying, hundreds of thousands, but it’s not us. So, who cares? Their infrastructure and landscape destroyed. Our ideological and economic rival’s army is being degraded. More dead. Good. A boon for our geopolitical goals. Let’s be honest. Peace is bad for business. Bring it on! If Europeans don’t pull their weight, that’s OK–more money for us. Who could find anything wrong with that?
Reading that, you should be disgusted, outraged, sickened. You should also be aware that you are in the presence of the truth of imperialist thinking. Sometimes the truth is appalling. Back in 1961 President Eisenhower warned us we were in danger of losing our democracy to the overriding power of the military industrial complex. He neglected to warn us that we would also lose our souls