May 15, 2004

Death in Venice
Thomas Mann

Innocence, Lost and Never Found -- “Death in Venice” is the story of a mature man who yearns for fulfillment but is unable to see the very facts before him. But “Death in Venice” is also the story of our nation. For von Aschenbach, the longing is for Tadziu. For the United States, the longing is for innocence -- a warmly imagined (not remembered) innocence that will forever remain unattainable because it simply does not exist. Our nation’s massive ignorance and destructive arrogance has only further enmeshed us in the shocking immorality of torture and war. In short, we are less safe and more guilty. Who is responsible? The Bush Administration? The armchair warriors called neo-cons? The people who vote for them? The people who give them money? Yes … and who else? The people who don’t do enough to protest, perhaps? Those who draw fine distinctions between means and ends? Those who deem one war just, another not? Those who say that vengeance is sometimes permissible? Indeed. I am one of the many people who have made such distinctions from the comfort of my own armchair. Soon after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan but well before the invasion of Iraq, I hosted a salon at my apartment that included the writers Ed Underhill, Robert N. Georgalas, Jotham Burrello and Kevin Grandfield. Talk of writing soon turned to talk of war, with Ed basically sharing his sentiments against U.S. retaliatory efforts in Afghanistan while I vigorously voiced my gung-ho support. (In fact, Ed and I debated so fiercely that Kevin observed, “The way you two disagree, I can’t believe you’re such good friends.” Ed laughed and placed his glass of wine on the table between us. We’ve been friends for nearly 25 years. “Well,” he said, “I can’t imagine ending a friendship over something as stupid as politics.”) And so here I am: a mature man yearning for fulfillment and, in many ways, finally seeing the facts before me. I, like so many others, protested the Iraq invasion, but I see now that our actions were too little, too late. September 11th had clouded our thinking and whetted our primal appetites for revenge, the most hollow and empty of victories. I see now how our earlier support for the Afghanistan invasion -- for doing something post 9/11 -- only contributed to a worsening of conditions. Like von Aschenbach, I and my country are left feeling a terrible sense of loss and longing -- loss for that which we never possessed, longing for that which never existed.

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