Harold Pinter’s War

Shock and Awe II

“I Accept full responsibility, without exception, without excuse… ” Tony Blair (regarding the Chilcot Inquiry).

Neither Mr. Blair nor Mr. Bush can  apologize for the mayhem and death of the modern  Levant dropping through the neocon-rabbit hole of a supposed rapid dominance that neither shocked,  awed or dominated . The pair is joined at the hip as malevolent Tweedle Dees and Tweedle Dums of an abject moral failure. Afghanistan and Iraq are our longest running theaters of war.

Redemption is only possible if the unforgiveable concludes–if the descent descends no more–if the full measure of the debacle is accessed and bitterly acknowledged.

Harold Pinter’s War was a response to the inaugural Iraqi Wars of the  21st century:


Harold Pinter’s War

M.C. Gardner

It is the dead of night.

The long dead look out towards

The new dead

Walking towards them

There is a soft heartbeat

As the dead embrace

Those who are long dead

Walking towards them

They cry and they kiss

As they meet again

For the first and last time

August 2002

Harold Pinter’s Meeting opens a slim volume comprising twelve of his poems.  The collection is called War. With the exception of one piece, the poems were published in a variety of periodicals, chronologically from August 2002 to March 2003. They are produced, along with a speech given at the University of Turin , by the publishing house of Faber and Faber.

War is a scream in the night that echoes down corridors of silence. Pinter rages with the futility of a latter day prophet who knows that God is not only dead, but more frightfully, that he is an American who is deaf, as well:

And all the dead air is alive

With the smell of  America ‘s God.

Several of the poems are obscene, as befits their subject:

The big pricks are out

They’ll fuck everything in sight.


Perhaps only Bertrand Russell, an English pacifist from early in the 20th century, has fulminated as furiously as the English Pinter does here, early in the 21st.

“… the U.S. administration is a bloodthirsty wild animal.”

One feels in the next breath that Pinter might apologize to bloodthirsty wild animals for making the unseemly comparison.

In the Meeting, half of the poem’s twelve lines contain the word “dead.” There are the long dead and the new dead. The “long dead” is history.  We are the “new dead” or, in the least, shall shortly be. Pinter’s anger is directed at a world that has no patience for that inevitability.

His recent brush with mortality has eroded his patience further. He won’t let the horror of 9/11 excuse a doctrine that exploits that tragedy to further its own ends. From his speech at the University of Turin :

“The hypocrisy behind its public declarations and its own actions is almost a joke. America believes that the 3,000 deaths in New York are the only deaths that count, the only deaths that matter. They are American deaths. Other deaths are unreal, abstract, of no consequence… The atrocity in New York was predictable and inevitable. It was an act of retaliation against constant and systematic manifestations of state terrorism on the part of America over many years, in all parts of the world. “

Camus famously said, “At any street corner the feeling of the absurd can strike any man in the face.” Pinter asserts such feeling is not restricted to America ‘s latest belligerence or the 9/11 disasters, which preceded it.  T.S. Eliot would agree:

Falling towers,

Jerusalem , Athens , Alexandria ,

Vienna , London


Playwright, Donald Freed extends the poet’s list:

“From his earliest writings until his latest plays and poetry, the theme — explicit or implied, verbal or suggested in silences — has never swerved: human beings are so utterly vulnerable, so contingent on powers without pity, so scandalously naked to the techno-chemical fury of the Twentieth Century, that those who have a voice and a language must use it to create the record — by word in combination with unspeakable silence — of Buchenwald, Nagasaki, Vietnam, Chile, and Nicaragua.”

The record of word, and the substance of silence is profoundly at work in his plays and so also here. Of silence Pinter once wrote:

“There are two silences — one when no word is spoken.  The other when perhaps a torrent of language is being employed.  This speech is speaking of a language locked beneath it.  That is its continual reference.  The speech we hear is an indication of that which we don’t hear… When true silence falls we are still left with the echo but are near nakedness. One way of looking at speech is to say that it is a constant stratagem to cover nakedness.”

Out of his anger flows a torrent of jeremiads.  America is the new Babylon . Invasions are word games disguised by the appellations Freedom and Shield.

From the end of American Football:

We blew them into fucking shit.

They are eating it.

Praise the Lord for all good things.

We blew their balls into shards of dust.

Into shards of fucking dust.

We did it.

Now I want you to come over here and kiss me on the mouth.

Harold Pinter

August 1991

The reader will note that the date of the poem corresponds with the end of the first Gulf War. It could just as easily be read to signify the end of the second. In either  it is clear the wining is a dubious endeavor. As William Faulkner observed,      “… victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.”

The war goes on whether under the oppression of a dictator or under the pale of the American occupation. In either instance Americans and Iraqis die during the passage of each succeeding week. If a bomb blows off your arms it matters little to which side the ordinance belonged. The liberators are now subject to the same depleted uranium they used in their own weaponry. The weapons of mass destruction are our own. How many of the thousands of remaining troops will add their names to the thousands whose blood we left pooling in the desert?

There is a poignant loneliness to death in Pinter’s poems. Faulkner was right “…Christ was not crucified, he was worn away by a minute clicking of little wheels.” George Bernard Shaw was right. Death is not cumulative. There is only one death and it is our own.

The final poem of the collection is the only one not dated. In it he shows us our future — a bureaucratic voice makes formal inquiries of a deceased’s remains. From the first and last stanzas of Death —

Where was the dead body found?

Who found the dead body?

Was the dead body dead when found?

How was the dead body found?

Did you wash the dead body?

Did you close both its eyes?

Did you bury the body?

Did you leave it abandoned?

Did you kiss the dead body?

The final silence of “Did you kiss the dead body?” is the heartbreaking obverse of the angered irony of the earlier “kiss,” quoted above. When we remember that the first poem of the collection, Meeting, closes with, “They cry and they kiss / As they meet again / For the first and last time,” we hear the faint echo of Rilke. We remember Elegies that sought language where languages end. We sense that Pinter’s rage is book-ended by his humanity.

Those who do not condemn the atrocities wrought in their name are condemned in turn. Pinter’s outrage was the most humane voice to arise from the Iraqi Wars.  These poems are an unsettling commentary on the American and British enterprise.  Jeremiah knew that Babylon was at the gate. He knew Jerusalem would fall and his people would call him traitor. Victory, defeat, and a prophet’s silence — Pinter wrote Weather Forecast as the first bombs fell:

 Weather Forecast

The day will get off to a cloudy start

It will be quite chilly

But as the day progresses

The sun will come out.

And the Afternoon will be dry and warm.

In the evening the moon will shine

And be quite bright.

There will be, it has to be said,

A brisk wind

But it will die out by midnight .

Nothing further will happen.

This is the last forecast.


Harold Pinter

19th March 2003

Continue reading Harold Pinter’s War

An Echo

Hubble 3

Echoes fall through time as well as space.                                                      Jon Ferguson wrote a collection of aphorisms he entitled:                     So Like Flowers…

This petal was called The History of Knowledge:

“How old are you?” a little girl asked the world. “I don’t know,” the world answered. Her older brother heard the conservation and butted in. “What do you mean you don’t know how old you are! You’re 13,000,000,000 years old!” “What makes you so sure?” the world said. “My science teacher told me.” “And do you believe him?” the world asked. “Of course I do. He’s my teacher.” “Before your teacher, other teachers had very different answers,” the world said calmly. “They were all wrong,” the boy said. “How can you be sure your teacher is right?” The boy became red in the face and angry. His little sister laughed. The boy hit her. She cried. The father came into the room and wanted to know what all the fuss was about.

It is perhaps an echo that falls upon our ears from  a 19th century poem by Walt Whitman:

Hubble 2

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,                                                        When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns, before me,  When I was shown the charts and diagrams , to add, divide, and measure them,                                                                                                           When I sitting heard the astromomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,                                                                             How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,                                     Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,                                       In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,                    Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars,

Bruno Mascolo

Bruno Bar Scene

Mayhaps,  Kirchner’s Artist’s Group is envisioned at a pub.  Mascolo’s gathering is enlivened with a model partially shielded by the right side of the man in blue’s coat.   The exposed buttocks seductively invites our gaze as well as the pat of the hand emerging from the left pocket.  Mascolo adds a complexity of geometrics that is contrasted with flatness of his tiled flooring. A marvelous 21st Century evocation of the 20th’s Die Brucke.

Kirchner Artist's Group

Ernst Ludwing Kirchner: Artist’s Group: Otto Mueller, Ernst Kirchner, Eric Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff

Australia Ends Mass Killings

How a Conservative-Led Australia Ended Mass Killings

Mick Roelandts, firearms reform project manager for the New South Wales Police, in July 1997, examining thousands of weapons in Sydney, Australia, that were handed over under the government’s buyback program.

President Obama has cited the country’s gun laws as a model for the United States, calling Australia a nation “like ours.” On the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton has said the Australian approach is “worth considering.” The National Rifle Association, meanwhile, has dismissed the policies, contending that they “robbed Australians of their right to self-defense and empowered criminals” without reducing violent crime.

The oft-cited statistic in Australia is a simple one: There have been no mass killings — defined by experts there as a gunman killing five or more people besides himself — since the nation significantly tightened its gun control laws almost 20 years ago.

Continue reading Australia Ends Mass Killings

So Like Flowers…

Image result for Church of no god

The weak believe in god; the less weak believe in man; the least weak believe in neither man nor god. Are these men strong? Is any man strong? What might strength really be? Might it be admitting man’s true place in Being? Might the strongest man be the one who says, “We are the weakest of all creatures because we cannot live without our causalities, our creationists, our evolutionists, our moralists, and our churches. We cannot just ‘live’. We must explain ‘why’ we are living. In this we are at the bottom of nature’s totem pole, not at the top.” Continue reading So Like Flowers…

Happiness Is a Warm Gun

American Gun



Change a few names and the story’s the same one–my rant was written after Sandy Hook–you will hug your children or your guns–the story’s the same one.

Brett Arends’ Article, which follows my rant, appeared on MSN’s Market Watch website the day after the Oregon Massacre.

M.C. G.


I am upset. I am likely to be indelicate.  I  might even appear insensitive to the feelings of  half of my fellow countrymen. This is likely a rant.  Nonetheless I shall proceed. Continue reading Happiness Is a Warm Gun

NRA & the Commerce of Death


*(Comment & Photo not part of Market Watch Article)

NRA Profits Soar Along with Deaths

Brett Arends

The Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut almost three years ago did nothing to restrict access to guns, as the students of Umpqua Community College in Oregon learned to their cost yesterday.

But it did a huge amount for the National Rifle Association. Continue reading NRA & the Commerce of Death

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