Originally published March 19, 2003
Over 15 years ago, in March 2003 as Iraq War II was cranking up, Justin wrote a column so crystalline and poignant in its cry of the heart – and mind – entitled "Shine, Perishing Republic" that we are running it again today. It is chilling to read and a bit heart-wrenching. Justin saw so clearly what the war on terror, war(s) in Iraq, and other future conflicts would inevitably portend. Sadly, America had fully morphed from Republic to monstrous Empire.
Justin is still with us but it is tough going. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers.
As the sand in the hourglass runs down, and the Grim Reaper gets ready for harvest time in Iraq, I think of the poetry of Robinson Jeffers, and of the poet himself: a difficult man, serenely alienated from the world of his time, whose poems echo down through the years like the voice of some forgotten prophet who got it all right. Too right. Bitterly opposed to World War II – in describing his President, he wrote of "the cripple's power need of Roosevelt" – Jeffers' bitterness was turned into a thing of beauty when he put pen to paper:
"While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the mass hardens…"
That's from "Shine, Perishing Republic," which we posted in its entirety yesterday because its author seems to have captured this moment in history as if in a dream. Our old Republic, once the enemy of kings and contemptuous of empires, is now donning the imperial purple, and soon the accolades for Caesar will fill the air, drowning out all protests in a roar of approval. Americans and Iraqis both will line the bombed out boulevards of Baghdad, shouting "Hail Caesar!"
The America we loved is lost, perhaps forever. That is the meaning of this war. The republic that bound its rulers with the chains of the Constitution and freed the rest of us to live in peace is no more. In its place arises … what? For answers I turn to books: Jeffers and Garet Garrett, to start with, the poet and the polemicist. Each were a bit of both, and it was the latter who predicted this day, this hour, half a century ago:
"We have crossed the boundary that lies between Republic and Empire. If you ask when, the answer is that you cannot make a single stroke between day and night; the precise moment does not matter. There was no painted sign to say: 'You now are entering Imperium.' Yet it was a very old road and the voice of history was saying: 'Whether you know it or not, the act of crossing may be irreversible.' And now, not far ahead, is a sign that reads: 'No U-turns.'"
Garrett thought we had crossed the Rubicon back in 1950, when Truman went to war without the consent of Congress, setting a precedent that would strip the peoples' representatives of their constitutional prerogative. But the precise moment did not come for another fifty-three years, when day turned to night and the bombs fell on Baghdad. That moment, as I write, is a matter of hours in the future, and I am glad for Garrett that he did not live to see it, for I find that its arrival does matter a great deal, like the arrival of an arrow in one's breast. But I shall try to take the Olympian attitude of Jeffers –
"I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots to make earth.
Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness and decadence; and home to the mother."
– although I can hardly hope to attain the heights of his unique detachment, or the clarity of the poetic vision that let him look down on what was happening to his country: