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Radical History Review 85 (2003) 9-11
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A Letter to George Bush:
A Talk Presented at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago Teach-In on "Art and Grief," September 21, 2001
I am happy to be here. As many of the students who are currently taking a class with me know, I have been working on a letter to George Bush, ever since the events of a few days ago. I have spoken to them about this letter, but have not shared it until now. I would like to begin my discussion today by sharing a passage from my letter. And then I will conclude by linking this letter to my ideas on how artists might begin to deal with grief.
Dear George Bush,
It is indeed a horrible and very sad time in our world when thousands of regular people are killed by such an act of extreme and senseless violence. I have visited the World Trade Center and understand that it could have been me or my husband or my son or someone that I love, and my heart goes out to those who are grieving and feeling a sense of loss.
When I saw the scenes of destruction, I wondered if that is what Hiroshima, Vietnam, or Iraq looked like after the bombing by the United States—with that twisted steel, rolling smoke, and running, screaming masses. I wondered about the [End Page 9] Angola I visited in 1992, where hundreds of thousands had been killed and thousands of children had been made amputees by land mines, largely caused by a U.S. backing of armed thugs. I particularly remember a disabled veteran, who lived in a run down motel on the outskirts of Luanda, who upon my asking about his family simply stared at me. And when I stared back, deep pools of water up welled up in his bloodstained and tired eyes, and I knew that they were all dead. I wondered about Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, the Congo, and Chile, and the millions of folks who died through U.S.-sponsored armies, dictators, and death squads, many of whom were trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. I wondered about Shell Oil in Ogoniland in Nigeria, where children play on top of exposed and oozing pipelines running through their villages and huge flames of bright burning oil and gas spot the once lush but now devastated landscape, erasing nights into perpetual days. And I wondered about that moment of despair that Native Americans felt upon being forced at gunpoint to leave the lands of their ancestors.
And I always get that ache in my stomach when I think of the deep sadness that black mothers surely felt as they watched their lovely, precocious babies psychologically and physically terrorized into being slaves. And I remembered a story a Jewish woman told me, in tears, of her mother who had wrapped her as a baby in her skirt as she escaped from Nazi Germany. She almost died from suffocation because her mother had to make sure she did not move or make a sound. And then I thought of Jon Burge, who as a police detective here on the South Side of Chicago systematically tortured hundreds of poor blacks as he climbed through the ranks of the police department. I wondered about a lot, when I saw that destruction at the World Trade Center.
And then I heard you, George W., turn grief into war. Take what should be a clarion call towards reflection and study into a call for "hunting down" and "revenge" and "retaliation." Take what should be a time of questioning and nurturing into a time of maneuvering to destroy. Take what could be an opportunity for dialogue and debate about American positioning in the world into yet another attempt to lobotomize U.S.-American minds. You never mention the fact that you and your...