Floating in a Most Peculiar Way
Did I fall or was I pushed?
And where's the blood? - Harrowdown Hill
I've been thinking about Alexander Litvinenko's alleged last words: "The bastards got me, but they won't get everybody." Not that the bastards won't try. In a year in which the Texas Academy of Science gave a standing ovation to its most distinguished member for a paper advocating the eradication of 90% of the Earth's population by airborne Ebola, only the unguardedly naive would think some bastards with the means wouldn't dream of getting everybody, or near enough everybody.
But before we make his last words our first, we should consider who he meant by them. Litvinenko's bastards were Russian, specifically Putin loyalists, though his employers in exile have also been called bastards and worse. Notably Boris Berezovsky, formerly lawless oligarch and latterly investor in Neil Bush's scholastic software firm "Ignite" (to which was funneled Barbara Bush's donation to the "Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund.") It's reported that weeks before his death, Litvinenko delivered a dossier on the Kremlin's takeover of oil giant Yukos to its former second-in-command, Leonid Nevzlin, who had found asylum in Israel. And that reminds me of another suspicious death on British soil: the 2004 helicopter crash of wealthy lawyer Stephen Curtis, managing director of Yukos after the jailing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. To avoid Russian prosecution, and after weeks of anonymous death threats, Curtis approached Britain's National Criminal Intelligence Service "days before his death, offering information in return for protection." Two weeks prior to the crash, Curtis told his uncle that if "anything happened" to him, it would not be an accident.
Even as spectators, we want to choose sides. We want to know who are the good guys. For the past six years at least, that's often meant finding out which side the Bush family was on and then cheering on the other. But playing a single side would mean risking loss and so, by delivering his own son to crucifixion by James Baker, George HW Bush has won again. There have been other strange and uncomfortable and pathetic scenes, such as George Soros and Warren Buffet welcomed as white-knight plutocrats, and the uncritical embrace of a parade of self-described former Republicans, Bush insiders and CIA officials saying the darnedest things about 9/11.
I think of a passage in Litvinenko's Blowing Up Russia recounting the night in Ryazan when sacks of explosive hexogene rigged with a timing device were discovered in the basement of an apartment complex. The building was evacuated, except for an elderly woman who couldn't be moved and her daughter who refused to leave her. They remained within the emergency cordon, expecting their apartment to collapse upon them.
In the daughter's words:
I suddenly had this realization that my mother and I were probably the only two people in a house with a bomb in it. I felt quite unbearably afraid. But then suddenly there was ring at the door. Standing on the doorstep were two senior militia officers. They asked me sternly: "Have you decided you want to be buried alive, then, woman?" I was so scared my legs were giving way under me, but I stood my ground; I wouldn't go without my mother. And then they suddenly took pity on me: "All right then, stay here, your house has already been made safe." It turned out they'd removed the detonators from the charge even before they inspected the flats.
We stand our ground, we don't move, they can't kill us all. If there's an us, there can be many different thems, but whoever the bastards may be they don't always win. In Ryazan, a vigilant neighbour just happened to witness the planting of explosives and called local authorities. If he hadn't, the building would have been demolished like the apartments before it, full of sleeping casualties. If a Ryazan telephone operator hadn't recorded a suspicious call to Moscow the terrorists might have escaped and their FSB connections remained undisclosed. But because two of us acted, Russian security was obliged to peddle the egregious lie of an "exercise" after days of calling it a foiled terrorist plot.
The neo-fascist right tried to rig Italy's recent election and failed, and P2 cryptocrat Berlusconi can pass out during a speech just as surely as George HW Bush can vomit in the lap of his Japanese host.
September 11th, while a covert success story, saw many little blunders that contribute to making its cover story fly apart on examination. Think of the confusion of tongues amongst the alphabet agencies, with some elements acting in good faith and others, not. For instance, it was FBI agents who confirmed to Indian intelligence that Pakistan's General Mahmoud Ahmad had ordered ISI/al Qaeda double agent Omar Saeed Sheikh to wire funds to Mohamed Atta in Florida. How do you imagine they felt when Ahmad was allowed to retire, unquestioned, and the 9/11 commission declared the terrorist money trail of no consequence? Possibly like the DEA agents who see their high-profile collars quietly released on account of pressure by the State Department and the CIA.
But unless we do something with the information we've processed, and make something of our knowledge, then their defeats revert to their strengths. Thinking of Ryazan, of 9/11, of Brabant and David Kelly we revolt but in only the transitive sense, by being disgusted to the point of nausea. But sickness is debilitating, and dwelling on it is no substitute for a cure.
Bobby star William H Macy told The Globe and Mail last week that when he heard Robert Kennedy had been shot "I felt like I'd been punched in the gut.... We had thought we could change everything. We could end the war. We could bring down a president. The people had power. I remember after Bobby was assassinated, it felt hopeless." The bastards got him, and everybody else in the bargain, because their hope was invested in one man. Perhaps hope, if it means to be effectual, needs to be divested.
The bastards are not omnipotent, but they are omnivorous, which only appears to be a God-like quality in a world such as this.