US Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning turns 27 in prison today, serving 35 years for leaking proof of torture and other US war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. On the eve of her show trial in summer 2013, I wrote this poem for Chelsea (then known as Bradley).
As I explained in that post, I’d been reading a lot of Adorno: The title is a reference to his infamous dictum that “to write a poem after Auschwitz would be barbaric”, while the epigraph is a quote from a poignant passage in Dialectic of Enlightenment about the knowing resignation with which Americans accept their powerlessness in the capitalist economy.
We’ve let Chelsea down, and we’ll let her down every day of our lives until we honor her actions by our own courage to seek justice.
“No poems after Auschwitz”
It’s a free country
But freedom has rules:
You can say what you want about the Market
but if you don’t play ball
you’re not one of us.
We don’t leak the wrong footage
of the wrong Apache helicopters
swarming over Baghdad
picking off civilians like flies.
And on a rainy Tuesday in November
every four years
we pick Dear Leader
like free people do.
You’ll never change the world.
But to those who will try –
The risk you bear is
I am a failure, sagt der Amerikaner. – And that is that.