An Absolute Disgrace

Outraged New Times readers and a Fort Lauderdale office skirmish are only part of the equation

The voice seethed:

"You need to get a life, man. You are a sick individual. All this shit you are spewing all here all over the paper and this frickin' front cover is an absolute disgrace," said the man, who didn't leave his name. "Why don't you just move to Iraq or some other frickin' country and get the hell out of this one? You are a piece of shit."

Then he hung up, ending another hate call on my New Times voice mail. Another one promised to throw our newspapers away, destroy the newsstands that hold them, and call all of our advertisers. One said he'd complained about it to Sean Hannity, one of the right-wing hecklers on Fox News. And another rather morosely said he would pray for my lost soul. The final angry call came from a woman who wanted to debate me.

Pro-war co-workers called Joseph K. Smith "The American Taliban"
Colby Katz
Pro-war co-workers called Joseph K. Smith "The American Taliban"

All came in reaction to a column I wrote two weeks ago called "Dirty Georage and the War Pigs." The cover photo illustration of George W. Bush with a hog snout and a soldier's helmet might have helped them along. In addition to the five negative messages, I received two calls of support. I expected response, but the difference here is that it was by phone rather than the less intimate Internet. It's personal now. If those hate callers were killers, they would have mutilated my corpse.

It is war. The nation is polarized. The horror and stress of this is becoming, to use the word of the year, embedded in our souls. As the war deepens, as we expend more energy, more blood, more billions of dollars, both sides will only harden. Our country is being ripped apart.

I don't regret the "War Pigs" column or the cover that accompanied it, but I'm sure it added to the divide. A Tony Roma's restaurant in Hallandale Beach banned New Times. Patrons complained to business owners about it. Protesters held it up at an antiwar rally at the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale. And I got several e-mails about it (example: "You suck" from someone who listed his web address as

So be it. But there is no joy in this. It feels more like heartbreak. Now is not the time to shrink from the truth, so here is a little: There can be no victory for us in Iraq. Any fool can sense that. Even if our bloody campaign leads to an occupation of the country, we will still lose. We will become Israelis in the occupied Palestinian territories, the British in Northern Ireland, and the Russians in Chechnya. Only much worse. We will cry terrorism when hate-filled martyr after hate-filled martyr attacks us. We will sow generations of insane conflict. World war, a global clash of Jesus versus Allah, likely won't be far behind.

Bush II is too small for peace. That's why we'll have a very big war. Some oil fields have already been secured, after all. Others are burning, but Cheney's Halliburton is coming to the rescue. While people perish, Perle will profit. The bombmakers will count their money, the oil men will dance in their offices, and our national treasury will be looted.

In other words, mission accomplished. And, yes, we'll liberate Iraqis, or failing that, we'll at least slaughter them.

We're embracing death. If life, as Freud said, is essentially a battle between Eros (love) and Thanatos (the death instinct), then Thanatos is winning these days. That's not my thought -- it comes from Chris Hedges, a former New York Times correspondent who has written a brilliant and singularly important book called War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. "It will, unfortunately, take that grim harvest of dead, that ultimately those that are intoxicated with war must always swallow, for us to wake up again," Hedges warned in a recent interview with the Internet journal "War is probably the supreme drug... you can easily become addicted to it."

Harvest day is here. Bush has called himself "a uniter," but he's divided us like no president in our history. The only thing he's uniting is the Arab world, Russia, China, and a substantial chunk of Europe against us. In the United States, you will see more and more images of protesters being clubbed and beaten and arrested by police. People will argue and snipe and fight with one another everywhere. On March 23, a Lake Worth bar manager named John Komyakevich was shot down after a patron disagreed with his antiwar stance. Komyakevich, 33, is the first war casualty here in South Florida.

Another ugly skirmish recently occurred in a Fort Lauderdale office building that involved a 24-year-old antiwar activist named Joseph K. Smith. A vegan with longish hair and a rather unkempt beard, Smith writes political verse and performs it -- in what sounds like a mix of Eminem and Noam Chomsky -- at poetry slams around South Florida. For the past five years, he's been working in a high-pressure, testosterone-fueled office, hawking electrical wire on the telephone with about 14 other salesmen for a company called Gehr Industries.

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