KILLING THE POISONED
“The Wrath of Ron”
By the fall of 1983, the American economy was surging back to life. Fueled by the record borrowings of Reaganomics and by a 14 percent growth rate in the money supply, our Gross National Product was expanding at a brisk 8 percent rate, corporate profits were up 20 percent and the stock market was setting new records almost daily. “The euphoria just keeps building and building,” said one stock broker. It was, he said, just like “a scene at a wild New Year’s party “(1)
Yet – like the euphoria experienced at so many parties – the more the economy recovered, the worse we felt. Rather than being able to enjoy the fruits of our work, our Laser Eyes superego poisoned our pleasures as soon as we began to feel them. As a character in a current novel put it, “I can lose myself in work, but when it’s over, there’s that same hole inside. The problem is, we’ve seen that you come down from every high-sexual passion, drugs, meditation, political causes, money, work, achievement. Everything. It passes through you so quickly, like Chinese food.”(2)
What could we do with our poisoned pleasures? We could dump them into sacrificial victims . . . then kill those who were full of our poison. Our delusional solution was identical to that of the Aztecs. They had ripped the poisoned heart out of their victims to cleanse their society of evil pleasures. Like the Aztecs, we believed that our soldiers could be containers for our poison. The more the economy boomed – the more sinful we felt-the more we imagined that we were pumping our soldiers full of our poison. The media that fall was dominated by two themes: the soaring economy and our military might. The two were linked in the unconscious. The message was: Now is the time to kill the poisoned.
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So powerful was our need for a blood sacrifice, The Washington Post ran a full-page article on an exhibition featuring the art of Aztec human sacrifice which was being held by The National Gallery of Art. The article was dominated by a picture of a poisoned heart being ripped out from the victim’s chest. Like a psychoanalytic patient’s “free associations,” the picture was an accurate glimpse into the depths of our unconscious group-fantasy. It was time for our sacrifice, too.
A human sacrifice was pictured three weeks before the Beirut massacre.
For the past year, American marines in Beirut had been sitting behind the signs saying “Unload weapons before entering compound.” Only a few had been killed so far. The problem was that the Syrians and others
had trusted Reagan’s statement that our troops would be fairly neutral and would be removed rather soon. To disabuse the Moslems of such a notion, President Reagan, on September 13, ordered that the Marines would for the first time use naval and air power against them, and we began bombarding Druse positions. “PREZ TAKES OFF GLOVES IN LEBANON,” exulted the New York Post.(3) “We want to convince the Syrians that we will slap the shit out of them if they keep on trying to take over Lebanon,” said a White House official.(4)
The Marines themselves felt relieved to be in real battle after waiting so long. As The Miami Herald reporter saw their response to their new role:
SOUND AND FURY
MARINES RELISH TASTE OF BATTLE
The Marines may be in Lebanon as peacekeepers, but it’s the fighting that gets their adrenalin going.
They loved it.
”At first, when we started taking rounds, it was a shock,” said Lance Cpl. Jeff Becerril, 20, “but after two seconds we got in gear. It felt great.”
“I hated to leave. It felt . . . good just to fire . . . We got off on it.”(5)
Now Congress had to meet under the War Powers Act and approve of the military action. Reagan asked for faith in him. Congress gave it to him. It was their first official approval of the war trance. As one Washington Post columnist reported it, House Speaker Tip O’Neill, nor-mally an opponent of Reagan’s military policies, had inexplicably “passionately thrown himself behind Reagan on Lebanon in a way that left a number of representatives saddened. The speaker, highly emotional, repeatedly invoked the majesty of ‘the president of the United States’ [instead of saying ‘Reagan’ or ‘the president,’ as is usually the case.]”(6) The Congress approved 18 months for the sacrifice. It took only one month.
Congress approved the sacrifice.
|The details had been carefully planned months in advance. According to the Department of Defense Commission Report which reconstructed the events leading up to the massacre, the Marines at the airport were given completely different instructions from those given to other Marines in Beirut on defending themselves. All the others were issued a “Blue Card” telling them to protect themselves from enemy|
|HE COULD CARRY OUT OUR SACRIFICE||151|
fire according to usual Marine rules of engagement. The Marines at the airport, however, were given a “White Card” which told them that their weapons must be “not loaded” and instructed them that they were not authorized to fire . . on vehicles attempting unauthorized access” to their compound.(8) According to the Commission Report, this “White Card-Blue Card” system-which was explicitly approved several times by the entire chain of command, right up to the White House-was primarily responsible for the massacre. The Commission said there was a “mind-set” [their word for a group-fantasy] that irrationally led everyone to agree that the Marines at the airport should be more defenseless than the others. “The ‘White Card-Blue Card’ dichotomy,” said the Commission, “tended to formalize that view. Interviews of individual Marines who performed duty at the two locations confirm this mind-set. In short, the Commission believes the Marines at BIA [Beirut International Airport] were conditioned by their ROE [White Cardi to respond less aggressively to usual vehicular or pedestrian activity at their perimeter than were those Marines posted at the Embassy locations . . . Every Marine interviewed expressed concern over the restrictions against inserting magazines in weapons . . “(9)
|Thus everything that could be done to set up the sacrifice was now complete: [I] all 300 Marines at the airport were told to sleep in the same building,  signs were posted at the gates announcing that all weapons inside were unloaded,  gates were left open and without adequate bar-riers,  the sentries were forbidden to load their weapons,  the sentries were forbidden to open fire at unauthorized vehicles which tried to force their way in and  the Moslems were bombarded to let them know the Marines were now their enemy. In the week preceding the massacre, American intelligence received “strong and explicit warnings” that because of our stepped-up bombings of the Moslems there would be a spectacular terrorist attack” on the Marines, but when this report was transmitted to Washington no action was taken to change the “White Card” rules of non-defense.(10) Although some National Security Council members urged Reagan “to pull back the U.S. Marines from Beirut to the U.S. fleet” because “the Lebanese Moslems viewed the U.S. Marines as an ally of the Christian militia which could be targeted,” Reagan overruled them.(11) We had delegated to him the grim task of sacrificing those Marines, and he had promised us he would carry out our sacrifice. Five days before the massacre, Reagan phoned Thomas Dine, executive director of the||
We all knew before the massacre that the Marines were “sitting ducks.”
American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, to thank him for his help in getting the 18 – month War Powers bill passed in Congress. Reagan told Dine that he had just talked to the parents of a Marine who had earlier been killed in Beirut. He then went on to say:
You know, I turn back to your ancient prophets in the Old Testament and the signs foretelling Armageddon [the final conflict between good and evil], and I find myself wondering if – if we’re the generation that is going to see that come about. I don’t know if you’ve noted any of those prophecies lately, but, believe me, they certainly describe the times we’re going through.(12)
Five days later, on October 23, 1983, a truck circled the Marine compound with its lights off, pulled up to the compound and the driver began taking pictures – which the guard thought “kind of strange.” The driver cruised around again, then drove the truck through an iron gate left “invitingly” open and past two sentries with unloaded rifles.(13) By the time the sentries had loaded their weapons, the truck had run into the main building, detonating 12,000 pounds of explosives and killing 241 Marines. The second Reagan sacrifice was accomplished.
Reagan’s response to the massacre was that it was “a horrifying reminder of the type of enemy that we face in many critical areas of the world today” – that is, it confirmed his paranoid conspiracy theories. The Marines, he said, “must stay there until the situation is under control.” Most newspapers in America agreed with him.(14) Marine commandant General Paul Kelly said, “Thank God that this country of ours can still produce young Americans who are willing to lay down their life “(15) Hordes of reporters invaded the homes of the Marines who had died, taking TV pictures of the delivery of death notices to the parents. “How did you feel when you heard your son was killed?” asked one.(16) Most parents said they felt proud; only a few said, “I feel my son was sacrificed,” or, “I want someone to tell me why my son had to die.”(17)
Two days later, more Marines were to die in Grenada. The invasion of the tiny island had been planned for six months, since right after President Reagan proclaimed that Grenada was the bearer of “the Communist virus” and showed us that fuzzy photo of their airfield on TV.(18) As The Economist summarized the advance planning:
The CIA had long contemplated the overthrow of [Grenadan leader] Maurice Bishop but drew back after plans were leaked to congress. American marines even staged a mock invasion of “Amber and the Amerdines” near Puerto Rico in 1981. Bishop’s fall on October 14th and the character of his successors naturally revived this enthusiasm. American officials in neighboring Barbados immediately discussed the question of “rescuing” Bishop . . . (19)
What happened after Bishop’s fall on the 14th was widely reported to be that the murderous new leaders lined him up along with others before a wall at Fort Rupert and shot them. Only one reporter, Jeff Nesmith of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, bothered to check this story out. What he found was that there was no blood at the spot of the supposed murders, that those who said they saw it, when re-questioned by him, admitted that they only had heard rumors of the shooting, that in fact the new leaders were “so anxious to avoid harming Bishop and a large crowd of his supporters that they had acceded to his demand that they disarm their men,” and that Bishop most probably was “killed in a fluke in which an anti-tank grenade exploded in a room where they happened to be standing.”(20)
The next ten days on what was to become known as “Terror Island” were similarly quiet. There was no fighting on the island, the beaches were crowded with sunbathers and the American medical students “were jogging as usual – curfew or no curfew.”(21) On Sunday the 23rd, while a four-day curfew was still in effect, the American students held a meeting, and found that only 10 percent-mainly first semester students who had been there only six weeks – thought they might want to leave the island (22) Although General Hudson Austin, the head of the new council, had promised to guarantee the students’ safety, he said that when the curfew ended the next day those who wished to leave could do so. U.S. Embassy officials met on Sunday with Austin, the medical students and the University Chancellor, Dr. Geoffrey Bourne, who then told Washington that the “Americans in Grenada were not in danger. “(23) According to Bourne’s son, “I received a call from a member of the board of trustees of the medical school . . . who said that the State Department was pressuring school officials in New York to say publicly that the students on Grenada were in danger so that Washington would have a pretext to invade the island.”(24) The students’ parents were so fearful that Reagan would use the students as “pretext hostages” that they sent a telegram, signed by over 500 parents, to the President asking him politely “not to move too quickly or to take any precipitous and provocative actions at this time.”(25) The Chancellor even made a tape saying that the students were completely safe, and it was broadcast over Grenadan radio every 15 minutes to assure that the students’ safety would not be used as a pretext for invasion.(26)
On Monday, the four-day curfew was lifted as promised, and the airport opened. Hedrick Smith of The New York Times later confirmed that there was “no difficulty leaving” and that “normal airport routines” were in operation, with “no armed guards” present-several flights, including his own, leaving peacefully.(27) The only flights which were cancelled were those of LIAT Airlines, and these had been cancelled not by the Grenadan government but by the U.S. and other Caribbean nations.(28) Representative Ronald Dellums, one of the Congressional delegates sent to Grenada on a fact-finding mission after the invasion, put the case succinctly:
. . The question of the students’ safety was never the primary concern of either the policy-makers or the commanders of the U.S. forces in their planning for this mission . . . In a 2½-hour meeting that the congressional delegation had with the prime ministers from the eastern Caribbean states, the question of the students’ safety was never once raised. Furthermore, our delega-tion could not find one confirmed instance in which an American was threatened or endangered before the invasion. In fact, the Grand Anse campus was a mere 20 meters from an un-protected beach. If the safety of the students was the primary goal, why did it take the U.S forces three days to reach it? (29)
We invaded a silent Terror Island.
|On Tuesday morning, operation Urgent Fury – what one American diplomat called “the most thoroughly planned crisis I’ve ever participated in”-was unleashed.(30) Citing our “overriding concern” for “the safety of U.S. citizens,”(31) America invaded the smallest nation in the Western Hemisphere with 7,000 troops, 11 warships and dozens of planes. Although it was initially claimed that there were “over 1,100 Cubans fighting to the death,” the number was later of-ficially revised to ”100 combatants.”(32) Sunbathers and joggers alike “watched in awe as wave after wave of A-7 Corsair fighters came out of the bright blue sky, strafing with 2Omm. cannons. They were followed by slow-flying AC-130s that unleashed deep death-rattle groans as their electronic Gatling guns lay down blankets of lead.”(33)|
The hospital for the mentally handicapped and children was bombed to rubble, killing at least 46 (35) unarmed Cuban construction workers, according to one eyewitness, were “viciously gunned down in their dormitories.”(35) Seven thousand American troops pounded the island for four days to eliminate one hundred Cuban combatants. It was “one of the United States’ finest hours,” said one Senator. “We blew them away,” said the commander of the operation.(36) Over 8,000 medals were given out. We had successfully “snapped the tentacle of the Russian octopus that threatened us.”(37)
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“We blew them away.”
Official reasons for the invasion multiplied during the following week. The most effective with the American people was that the action was needed to save the students. Watching returning students kiss the ground and say they were “frightened to death by all the shooting” allowed us the illusion that it was shooting before the invasion, not after it, that they were talking about.(38) The second official reason was that “a Cuban occupation of the island had been planned” and that “we got there just in time” to prevent it.(39) The evidence for this was said to be based on “documents, some of which the officials said would be made pubic after they had been translated and analyzed [which] shows that Cuba planned to send hundreds of troops to Grenada within the next several weeks” and that “serious consideration was being given to seizing Americans as hostages…”(41) The Pentagon later had to sheepishly admit that this was a mistranslation of the captured documents, and that there was no mention of any Cuban troops arriving.(42) The third official reason – “to
restore democracy” – was made dubious two weeks later when the new leader whom we installed, Paul Scoon, banned public meetings, authorized arrests without warrants, set up press censorship and in-definitely postponed elections.(43)
The actual motives behind the invasion lay in the unconscious dynamics of the war trance. Grenada was a “hot spot,” a place to dump our poisoned sexuality and vitality, a place to rape-and-kill. Just as we went into Vietnam “to prevent Moscow from having an orgasm,” so, too, we invaded Grenada “to prevent Moscow from feeling potent.” As a Reagan aide who was present at the meetings in which the decision to invade was made recalled it:
The purpose was to deny the Russians/Cubans a feeling of potency in grabbing small vulnerable states in the region.(44)
Much of the imagery used during the invasion paralleled this “deny the Russians a feeling of potency” theme of preventing forbidden excitement – from press secretary Larry Speakes’ statement that Grenada was “a floating crap game” which we had to end to the more open language of the Marine who, when asked why he had to invade, said: “I want to fuck communism out of this little island, and fuck it right back to Moscow.”(45)
That our rape-and-kill fantasy required several hundred real dead bodies was not just an unfortunate byproduct of the invasion but the most important part of the cleansing power of the sacrifice.(46) The whole nation watched on TV as the caskets paraded by the reviewing stand. While everyone stood stiff, President Reagan assured us that the dead need not be prayed for “because they are safe in God’s loving arms.”(47)
We sent our Marines to “God’s loving arms,” carrying our sins.
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Only one person watching the parade did not enter into the war trance: the little boy of one of the dead Marines, who could be heard to ask his mother, “Where’s my daddy?”
|America was exultant over the invasion. It was called “Ronald Reagan’s ‘Falkland Islands’ victory’ ” and “the most popular invasion since E.T.”(48) Americans everywhere expressed their feelings of relief that Reagan had finally acted: “Thank God, we finally have a real man in the White House”;(49) “U.S. soldiers’ boot prints on Grenada’s soil have done more than the MX will do to make U.S. power credible”;(50) “Reagan is the first American President to recapture for the West a colony of the Soviet empire.”(51) The American people, Congress and the media were overwhelmingly in favor of the invasion.(52) When Congressman Ted Weiss said on “Night Line” that he was about to introduce a resolution impeaching Reagan for unconstitutionally unilaterally declaring war by invading, host Ted Koppel said, “But but. . . our polls show 9 to 1 in favor of it!”(53) After Reagan gave his Oc-tober 28th address to the nation praising the Marines who died in Beirut and Grenada for their “courageous sacrifice,” his polls went up 11 points and Marine recruiting officials were flooded with thousands of young men, many saying “I want to die for my country. “54 The third Reagan sacrifice was definitely a success, one we hoped to repeat. As one commentator put it, “Grenada was a lovely war, such a smash hit at the box office they’re talking about a sequel.”(55)||
We planned a sequel to Grenada.
For although the cleansing action of the Grenadan invasion would enable us to delay starting a larger war for a while, there was little doubt in anyone’s mind that it also both legitimated and authoriz-ed Reagan’s use of military force to make us feel good. As a Washington Post reporter wrote right after the invasion was over:
3 DAYS TURNED THE TALK OF 3 YEARS INTO ACTIONS
Suddenly, U.S. paratroopers were landing on a tiny Carib-bean island, and body bags were coming back from Lebanon and Grenada.
Enlistment rose at U.S. Marine Corps recruiting stations while a string of televised ceremonies observed the return of
almost 260 coffins. Patriotic rhetoric flowed from some while public-opinion polls showed fear of war increasing under President Reagan even as his popularity climbed.
In many ways, the contrasts mirrored the notion that something important, yet bewildering, was happening. Within three October days, three years of hard-line administration rhetoric seemed finally to have been transformed into action.
Almost a decade after the Vietnam war ended, the use of military power, and along with it a degree of risk and uncertainty, had been reintroduced into U.S. foreign policy …(56)
The first three Reagan sacrifices authorized more sacrifice even as they confirmed the conspiratorial view that the same people did them all. As one Reagan official put it, “Grenada, Beirut and the K.A.L. airliner all served to confirm in the President’s mind his own view of the world, that there was a common thread to all these events and it all led back to Moscow.”(57) That the common thread led inside us, not outside us, was clearly impossible to admit. Since so few Americans had been killed, we had to have – a fourth sacrifice to finally cleanse the world of our sins. As one senior administration official put it in the wake of the invasion, “If the question is ‘Could we again use military force responsibly as we did in Grenada?’ the clear answer would be ‘yes.’ “(58)
After the invasion, it felt wonderful to have completely externalized all our emotional problems. Pollsters were startled to discover in the following months that Reagan’s approval ratings stayed at all-time heights. As George Gallup put it, “Such a strong approval trend on the part of an incumbent president seeking reelection is without precedent in Gallup’s 50 years of polling experience.”(59) “America’s days of weakness are over,” Reagan promised us, praising the spirit of “sacrifice” on the part of our soldiers and telling us stories of airplane pilots who had chosen to go down with their planes rather than use their parachutes.(60) The whole country felt the excitement of the war trance. “There is something in the air, something vital and vibrant, strong,” said Vice President Bush.(61) Immediately following Reagan’s triumphant announcement of his re-election plans, WNBC-TV switched to a “man-in-the-street” for his reaction. He responded with a grin: “We’ve got to go out and fight someone.” “CLAMOR GROWS FOR REPLAY OF GRENADA IN NICARAGUA,” headlined The Chicago Tribune, while “Saturday Night Live” invited its listeners to send in their choice of nations to in-vade next.(62) Reagan’s promise to give us another Grenada would surely be enough to re-elect him for another four years of joyful triumph.
Reagan rejoiced over Grenada.
So powerful was the manic feeling of excitement after Grenada, all of America seemed to have acquired an erection as we awaited the next rape-and-kill invasion. ”Americans are now standing tall and firm,” Reagan told us, and columnists echoed his metaphor by praising him for “stiffening our foreign policy. “(63) Rape stories acquired new prominence in the news media, from specials discussing rape to fictional portrayals of rape victims. The media covered in great detail the career of Christopher Wilder, who raped and killed young women all across the country, and we watched night after night on TV the trial of six men in New Bedford, Massachusetts who had been accused of raping a woman on a barroom
We seemed to have an erection while we awaited the next exciting invasion.
|pool table while others cheered them on. No one was surprised when, after the conviction, crowds demonstrated in favor of the convicted men-it was all part of our new fascination and identification with rapists. As one addict of the trial told The Boston Globe, “We don’t get cable here, but that’s O.K. because this show has a rape victim too. Rape must be ‘in’ this year. “(64)Besides rape, cannibalistic fantasies multiplied in the media-representing our “biting” rage, just like the “Man -Eater” fantasies of primitive ritual. Usually we experienced our biting rage only in projected form. While our top song warned us|
We were so angry, we felt like biting someone.
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“Watch out boys, she’ll chew you up-She’s a Man Eater” and our Democratic candidates for president asked “Where’s the beef?”, our president told us that, “like a roving wolf, Castro’s Cuba looks to peace-loving neighbors with hungry eyes and sharp teeth.”(65) Sometimes our cannibalistic wishes came close to breaking through into consciousness in their most regressed form-that of eating babies-as we made jokes on national TV about how much fun it would be to hack up, boil and eat Cabbage Patch dolls, which children that Christmas had taken to “adop-ting” by the millions in an intuitive attempt to forestall our infanticidal wishes toward them. Like Frosch’s paranoid patient, we had come to see the whole world as full of our angry, biting teeth, and we needed a tough, angry leader who could “bite first” before we ourselves were devoured (67)
We wanted Reagan to be tough and fight a world full of our own biting teeth.
By the beginning of 1984, that world was so full of our own biting anger that Reagan’s America finally reached a totally delusional state of group-fantasy. Although actual terrorist activity in America was decreas-ing in frequency,(68) a wall of concrete antitank barricades and ground-to-air missiles was put around the White Rouse for the first time in our history. “The fear in Washington is as puzzling as it is palpable,” said Newsweek,(69) while Senator Moynihan predicted, “I think the prospect of 1984 being the year they bring the war to our shores is real.”(70)
Because we were threatened by our own anger everywhere, we had to take the offensive everywhere-at home, as our factories poured out deadly weapons at a rate far exceeding that of any former war; in Europe, as we deployed our new missiles; in Korea, with a 200,000 – troop “Team Spirit 84” exercise; around the world, with a l50,000 – man Strategic Air Command “Global Shield 84” exercise; in space with our new “Star Wars” program. Unless we kept on the attack, we would be “defeated,” and this would have a “poisonous impact” on the world.(71) As one columnist put it, “Yesterday it was Grenada that provided the
By 1984, Reagan’s America was an armed camp.
pretext for poison. Tomorrow it could be Nicaragua.”(72) We had to attack our sinful poisons abroad, or they would return to poison us at home. In the extremities of our psychotic thinking, mining Nicaraguan ports and bombing Salvadoran peasants and financing contra terrorists and conducting 30,000-man “exercises” in Central America were acts of a country which feels itself to be under siege, necessary to prevent us from being engulfed by the delusional poison around us. As Reagan had told us so often, mere defensive action was now no longer enough. America had to take the offensive. “We do not seek a military stalemate,” he said. “We seek victory.”(73)
The hardest part would be finding a casus belli for our final offensive against evil. Those who, like columnist William F. Buckley, Jr., sug-gested that Reagan should “ask Congress for a declaration of war against Nicaragua”(74) were not taking into account that this would make most of us feel too guilty. We would need to engineer some humiliating
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incident which would prove the inhumanity of “the enemy” and “leave us no choice” but to fight. We seemed confident we could find this incident.
We knew Reagan would soon use the guns we had given him.
As Secretary of State George Schultz said upon returning from Nicaragua, “They’d damn well better worry about the survival of their regime.”(75) The final cleansing sacrifice of Reagan’s America would not be long in coming.