…Will Anyone Come To Our Funeral?

Before I left for Afghanistan, the producer for my talk radio show asked me to return with a souvenir. “Bring me back an MRE [“Meal Ready to Eat”],” he requested. It was the fall of 2001, a few months into the U.S. invasion, and news accounts said Afghan skies were dark with millions of MREs dropped by U.S. warplanes to the starving masses.

I never saw an MRE. Neither did any of the Afghans I talked to. As far as we could tell, the only stuff that American planes dropped on Afghanistan were bombs. Scattered in the rubble one could find the shards of said explosives, the well-known names of the defense contractors visible in black-stenciled English. Bombs: America’s biggest export. Food: not so much.

I’m torn over what The Washington Post has so cavalierly dubbed “the economic apocalypse.” When I was 21, I prayed for this. The United States of America was the world’s biggest arms manufacturer and distributor, its filthiest polluter, the number-one defender of dictators and enemy of democracy, and earth’s most insidious purveyor of laissez faire, to-hell-with-you capitalism. It still is. But now I’m 45. I’m vested.

I have equity, a retirement plan, a car. CDs and DVDs and gadgets to play them on. Lots of books. I have jobs–several of them, irony of ironies, that involve criticizing this rotten, corrupt and broken system. Events my younger self would have welcomed–multinational corporations laid low, billionaires reduced to penury, business-sucking Republicans forced by the failure of capitalism to pay lip service to the need for government regulation, the U.S. bankrupted into slashing its aggressive military–now scare the hell out of me. What if I can’t make my mortgage? What if we disintegrate like the Soviet Union? What if I turn the valve and water doesn’t come out? Middle-Aged Ted doesn’t want to lose his stuff.

Or his friends. Some of them would die if they couldn’t get their meds anymore.

Young Ted pipes up.

“What about the Afghans those Made-in-USA bombs blew up?” Young Ted asks. “Wouldn’t they have been better off if Thomas Jefferson and his drinking buddies had never thought up the United States of America?”

“I’m middle-aged,” snaps Middle-Aged Ted, “not senile. I know my Howard Zinn.”

If the U.S. vanished from history, a couple million Vietnamese (and their kids and grandkids) would still be around. As would a million Iraqis and maybe a hundred thousand Afghans. The polar ice cap, melting so fast that nothing can save it, might still have stood a chance if the U.S., which produces 22 percent of greenhouse gases (440 percent more than its fair share) had never been.

Americans aren’t just cruel and inconsiderate to the rest of the world. They treat each other like crap, too.

As New York Times columnist and Princeton economist Paul Krugman points out, the last three decades have seen a “narrow oligarchy” arise in the Land of the Free to Die on the Street. “Income at the 99.9th percentile [over $400,000 a year] rose 181 percent; and income at the 99.99th percentile [over $6 million a year] rose 497 percent,” wrote Krugman. Most people saw their income shrink.

This is the rancid economic model–no unions, no safety net, no healthcare–the U.S. wants other countries to copy.

It’s too late to save Bangladesh, polar bears, Moammar Khaddafi’s young daughter, the 290 people on Iran Air Flight 655, or the men we tortured to death at Gitmo. But there’s still the future to consider. If the U.S. government collapses and the markets implode and our consumer culture crashes, and Americans become too poor to invade other countries and drop bombs and impose murderous trade embargos, and we can’t overconsume and pollute like we used to–well, there’s no telling how many species might be saved from extinction. Thousands, probably more like millions, of people who otherwise would have been killed in some pointless future U.S. war of aggression will live instead of die.

Young Ted has a point. “You’re worried about your new LG flat screen,” he sneers, “but you should be thinking about all those Iranians Bush or McCain or Obama is gonna blow up to keep the electricity on and that HDTV picture crisp and clear.”

Middle-Aged Ted looks at Young Ted. “Make sure you hang on to that Dead Kennedys concert T,” he advises him. “It’ll be worth some serious coin on eBay someday. And how come you’re so skinny? All you eat is pizza.”

“Don’t change the subject, old man,” he shoots back. “The glory of Rome relies on the screams of the crucified in Judea. Oppression and injustice aren’t hypocritical deviations from American principles. They fuel the entire system.”

“Easy for you to say,” I–um, Middle-Aged Ted–replies. “I remember being 21. I didn’t have anything to lose. I was a college dropout, drowning in debt. Our apartment got robbed so often that, by the end, they were coming back for the lightbulbs. You made $620 a month and paid $425 in rent. Of course economic collapse didn’t scare you. ‘Mad Max’ would have been an improvement.”

For the first time, a look of sympathy crosses my svelte doppelganger’s face. “Admit it, Middle-Aged Ted,” he says. “You’re scared you’ll end up like those Afghans–dirty and poor and, sooner rather than later, dead from a bomb dropped by one of the many countries we worked so hard to piss off. You’re so scared that you’re afraid to cheer when the biggest force for evil in the world is teetering on the edge of oblivion.”

You got me, kid. I admit it.



35 Responses to “”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Your column today is really really good.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    wow Ted; Talk about self-revealing…

    Allow a Pakistani who is being attacked by your country to chip in that your country did one thing right.

    You know how obesity can lead to impotence, right?

    Well you Americans made the Japanese and Western Europeans so soft and fat and happy, that these f__kers lost their hard-on for full on imperial power. We’re talking the end of colonial enslavement circa pre -1945; and the freedom of all of Asia and Africa.

    Thank you for turning the worst murderers in human history (Western Europe, Japan, et. al) into the laziest tubs of lard in the history of human empire.


  3. Anonymous Says:

    Rall proves what America knows about all liberals. Inside, they secretly hope for the destruction of America.

  4. Aggie Dude Says:

    This is an excellent column, Ted. And you’re right. I learned after I got out of undergraduate that what everyone in my family (I’m the youngest) meant when they said “some day you’ll understand” was really “some day you’ll have something to protect, and it will allow you to rationalize the atrocities you support.”

    Fear, greed, selfishness. It used to be that the older one got, the more revered and admired they were. Age was a symbol of wisdom. How cancerous our materialistic culture of greed is that it turns people cold and defensive as they get older. We are barbaric, the fact that we have lots of technology doesn’t make us less so.

    The most depressing aspect of it is that there is no alternative. Your last sentence is dead on; at the end of they day, the best of us can do nothing but admit it and say ‘so what?’

    I can’t figure out if I’ve achieved Zen or if I’m just insane now.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Ted, I often wonder what it would have been like, being one of few who saw through Hitler and his pals in the months before he took power. It drives me mad to see blind ignorance celebrated these days. I hope you understood my comparison of “An American Carol” to “The Eternal Jew”. I’ve felt the way you felt as you described in your article, and I feel that it’s a generational thing. Those born within the last 20 years don’t get the importance of keeping Nazis at bay, or the living with the fear of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, or why I get so pissed off when my favorite song gets used in a Hemherroid commercial. Or urge to weep when I remember the naked girl burned by napalm in that photo from Vietnam. Is it possible that John McCain dropped that bomb? Maybe. McCain is no hero. He’s a representation of the worst traits of man. Bearing the Mark of Cain, forever. The war in Vietnam was wrong. The First Gulf War was wrong. The Second Gulf War was and is wrong. This nations abillity to swallow lies like candy is what will bring aout it’s demise. “Memory is a stranger, history is for fools…” Dorme bene..

  6. Eric Xodik Says:

    Yer last 20 or so columns have been kinda crappy…I like this one.

  7. Eric Xodik Says:

    Most of your columns this year have been screechy and irrational…this one is actually pretty good. I like it.

  8. Anders Says:

    Not having much to lose but my massive study loan and assorted computer hardware, I’m ready to go beyond Thunderdome!

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Great piece Ted. I’m right in the middle. I’m happy to see it all crashing down, but I’m a little miffed that my mutual funds have lost about $5,000 this week. I wished shit had hit the fan when I was 25, not 35…


  10. Anonymous Says:

    If we’ve learned anything from the last few years, its how the United States is not special. Narrow mindedness and corruption has sent us into decay, like every other empire in history.

    Another power, just as callous if not more, will take our place on the world stage. Its inevitable. Then in a century or so, someone else will take their place.

    We can worry about losing our cool cars and nice homes with a clear conscience. Geopolitics will always be a brutal business.

  11. Anonymous Says:

    A declining world economy makes war cheaper because of the devaluation of its biggest cost, human suffering and death. The US currently uses an expensive volunteer army but if the economy really tanks it has masses of desperate people who will be willing to fight for low pay.
    I realize it’s Ted’s duty to exaggerate as part of his art but The US is a part of the world both good and bad. Ted tends to mention American sins and not virtues as is appropriate for a preacher like Jerimiah Wright or Jerry Fallwell. Any preacher with a political perspective has a duty to preach against his country’s sins as he perceives them to be. This week Ted rails against economic exploitation. Reverand Wright rails against racism and Jerry would rail about sexual issues.
    The world is a beautifully ugly place, friends. Let’s enjoy ourselves while remembering to keep some left over for later.

  12. orvillethird Says:

    The only reason I’m hoping the US won’t fall is that what’s after it could be worse…

  13. Incitatus Says:

    What would be so bad if the USofA was broken up in half dozen countries about as populous as Canada?

    And what makes you think “consumer culture”, which is altogether preferable to “voter/lobbyist culture”, is a singular American phenomenon? After all, that HDTV screen was made by an East Asian corporation that sells as many of those in East Asia and Western Europe as it does in the US.

    I’m with Jim Rogers on this. The US is in for a long and painful recession, which Bernanke and Paulson are actively working at making worse. But the world, even if shook up at first, will go on. After all, the Chinese don’t give a rat’s ass about the polar bears…

  14. Angelo Says:

    a dumb ass will say:
    “You only blame the US.”

    We live here, dumb ass.

    great article Ted. Isn’t everyoone overjoyed that our first non-white president will preside over the collapse?


  15. G. M. Palmer Says:

    Not so secretly do they hope of course.

    But anyway, Ted — this is why you shouldn’t live in NYC. That place will become a flooded death-hell about 48 hours after the power goes off. You should live somewhere where you can affix solar panels to your house, put down a well, and see home invaders coming from far enough away to shoot. If you’ve got real equity in NYC, you can probably still sell and get out of there. Come to Florida — everyone else from New York does.


  16. Sean C. Ledig Says:

    Damn! Another column hits one out of the park.

    I’ve gone through the same conflicts between my teenage self and my middle-age self.

    When I was a teenager, I used to have some major survivalist fantasies. My dream was a remote cabin in the woods. I’d only need enough electricity for my stereo and a fridge.

    Now, I’m an adult with a house, two cars, wife (who has some health problems), son and assorted pets. I’m not afraid to admit, I’m scared shitless, mainly for them.

    It’s amazing how I’m seeing people go into survival mode. Many of my fellow liberals who chided me for my support for gun owners’ rights are now stocking up on guns and ammo.

    It’s one time I hate to be right.

    Even my sister, who lives and works for the entertainment industry in Hollywood, is wondering if she and her husband will have to high-tail it to the hills. They’ve got a vacation home in the Sierras that she’s seriously wondering if she’ll have to retreat there if the shit hits the fan in L.A.

    She’s even wondering about the possibility of hunting and fishing for her food in the mountains. She probably hasn’t done either since she was a girl almost 40 years ago.

    As for me and my wife, I’m stocking up on food. My next step is to purchase a year’s supply of pet food.

    On the other hand, while I do agree the U.S. empire is in decline, while the U.S. will probably shrink due to states secceeding from the union, I still think it will be a power in the world.

    Look at Russia. Though the Soviets have gone the way of the Romans, Mongols, Spaniards and British, they still have considerable economic and military might.

    I only hope that whatever springs from the ruins of the late, great, United States learns from the lessons of history.

  17. Sergio Says:

    I’m 45( like Ted), and when I was 21 I was an ascetic college dropout with a crappy job and struggling to pay the rent while yuppies used cocaine and praised Ronald Reagan’s spouted bullshit on the airwaves. Now I’m middle and have a a baby on the way, job, a mac, a retirement plan, etc.


    the 21 year old kid is right.

    Bring on the death of the US Empire.

    I’ll make sure to duck when thw bombs come flying down.

  18. Edward Says:

    sometimes the overwhelming, over the top evil outshines the good. but YT has to learn that if U.S. were bombed back to the stone age, we’re all the same, and some other power would enact the same basic atrocities.

    Until we can change inherent behaviors, nothing will change.

  19. Aggie Dude Says:

    Angelo, it’s really sad that Obama may very well be scapegoated in the coming years for the decline of the US, leading perhaps to a resurgence of xenophobic hostility that may create an even worse political movement than the neo-conservatives. I hope that doesn’t happen, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the long run if it did.

    Is it better to suffer through an epic piece of history or live the good life in complete obscurity? I dunno, I think I’m about to find out.

    Berlin won’t save you, but it will be ironic.

  20. Aggie Dude Says:

    I don’t see secessions, utter chaos, power even going out, or the tap not running. I see a decline like Britain. We will be forced back to our island and become a nation among nations, able to defend ourselves but never as much a force as we once were…..remember, the British thumped the Argentines in the Falklands! We can still beat up the little guys

  21. Joe Says:

    Please. Today's world would not have been possible without the contributions of ancient Greece, Rome, etc. But no country has taken this forward and done more good for mankind than the United States, despite the despicable things that have happened. Even simply looking at WW2, just consider that without the US & UK, Europe and beyond would have been completely dominated by either Nazi Germany or the Soviets. Japan would have continued its dominance and genocide in Asia.

    The reason the US is so great is that despite what everyone on this blog seems to think, people still have the freedom to do whatever they like with their lives. Never before been has so much innovation and potential been realized. Think about all the advances in medicine, science, education that have happened and how much quality of life and lifespan has improved.

    That's not to say we can't be better. We can. But never before have things been so good for so many people and this is largely the result of the US. These comments are disgraceful.

  22. Anonymous Says:

    Hear Hear Joe!


    Now lets hope the USAF doesn’t hit one of my countries major cities….


  23. Anonymous Says:

    Thank you, Joe.


  24. Anonymous Says:

    I think there are a lot of people in the world that would be very relieved if we stopped bombing them and arming their despots. A good friend who is very familiar with some of these regions claims that 1) resolving the Palestinian crisis would remove the number one issue that can be used by extremists and 2) that spending very modest amounts in countries, e.g., $100 million a year in Afghanistan, is all that is needed. His mother once said that very modest amounts of foreign aid would cause people to tattoo the word America on their chests.

    They really, really, really don’t like burying members of their family and having their countries destroyed. We are lucky that we don’t to close to these countries. In Egypt, members of clans will track down members of government forces and settle the score. They take this as a personal responsibility. The urban people take a more historical perspective. Hanging around for a decade barely counts as a visit. Invaders come and go. Occupations involve centuries. These people are not going anywhere. It’s their land and their home.

    Beyond that, I think the reset button has been hit for quite a few people. It’s time to starting thinking about plan B. Plan A doesn’t look like it will work. That is a bummer. I know. It didn’t work for me.

  25. Incitatus Says:

    joe said:
    Even simply looking at WW2, just consider that without the US & UK, Europe and beyond would have been completely dominated by either Nazi Germany or the Soviets.

    With the American and British help, the Soviets dominated half of Europe. Without it, Hitler and Stalin might have gone at each others throats until both Germans and Russians, having nothing to lose, got fed up and hung those pigs up high.

    On the rest, I concur. The Americans, the individuals, have done and still do, great things for mankind. It’s just that pesky D.C. behemoth that I wouldn’t miss much if it were to disappear.

  26. Anders Says:

    @ Aggie (“We can still beat up the little guys”): Every war/armed conflict/”policing action” the US has beein involved in since the Korean war has been against countries significantly smaller and weaker than the US.

  27. Anonymous Says:

    The problem is human nature and not
    specific country or race. All the
    things that currently afflicts U.S.
    from consumerism to cruelty and
    indifference to suffering of others
    are shared across the globe.
    Americans are humans too and are
    not “exceptional” like that broad from Alaska is declaring.
    So hopefully humans will rise to
    the occasion and look inside and
    try to change and find a solution
    to their inherent nature. It can
    be done. Evolution happend in sudden changes since life started
    on this beautiful ugly planet.

  28. Aggie Dude Says:

    Anders – yep, and we have not achieved our objectives in any of them. Name me a country since 1945 that the United States has bombed, which has become a thriving liberal democracy.

  29. nobody in particular Says:

    Lots of people Rall’s age are not “vested” in the way he describes. I’m 41, I live on less than $1000 a month, I pay less than $300 a month rent.

    So as far as I can tell this is not an argument between “young Ted” and “middle-aged Ted,” if anything it’s an argument between “working-class Ted” and “middle-class Ted.”

    Of course they want every little drone “owning” a “home” (i.e. gambling in real estate) if it makes them all think “what’s good for the empire is good for me.”

  30. Anonymous Says:

    Ted, why do you live in the United States if you dislike it so much? Consider taking some of the ca$h you made here criticizing my country and move to somewhere with people who share your views….like Iran. See if you like it there : )

  31. Anonymous Says:

    Though it must strain your powers of analysis and comprehension, “anonymous,” public policy is not a football game. There are more than two teams, and many of them were born here and aren’t going anywhere. If your position is that Ted Rall talks just like a Shiite fundamentalist, you are, as the saying goes, either “LYING? OR STUPID?” Maybe you better figure out which one.

  32. Anonymous Says:

    wait…my dead kennedys shirt is worth money? Do you think it’ll cover the gas bill next month?

  33. Anonymous Says:

    Your column today is really really good.

    I agree with that. I am in my mid-forties too, so I can relate.


  34. Anonymous Says:

    in the natural world when an organism becomes extinct another organism takes its Ecological niche so if the United States never existed or becomes “extinct” another country (probobly the UK) would take its place in the world wheather that country does a better or worse job than the USA is up to speculation

  35. The Promiscuous Reader Says:

    anonymous wrote, “Rall proves what America knows about all liberals. Inside, they secretly hope for the destruction of America.”

    Perhaps. But then look at our conservatives, who regardless of what they may secretly hope, have (with the collaboration of liberals, bien sur) brought about the destruction of America.

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