Toward the end of 2006, we woke up to the glad news that Chile’s former strongman Augusto Pinochet had saved everyone the trouble of hanging his sickly carcass for war crimes and atrocities by dying of a heart attack. Mr. Now-You-See-Him-Now-You-Don’t himself has been permanently disappeared! The papers weren’t shy about describing the awful tactics by which this bloodthirsty old fart secured capitalist democracy (while stockpiling a personal fortune) in his country, but they stopped short of noting that Pinochet’s regime was a direct product of US foreign policy. Let’s hope that it’s remembered that way anyway.
Of course, this wicked puppet-dictator wasn’t the only casualty of 2006. A quick survey of the Internet yields a roll call of the departed that includes Robert Altman, Jack Palance, Shelley Winters, Steve Irwin, Lou Rawls, Glenn Ford (who, we have on good authority — i.e., a yellowed late-’60s edition of the National Inquirer — believed in reincarnation anyway), Al Lewis, Wilson Pickett, Buck Owens, Ed Bradley, Mickey Spillane, Syd Barrett, Mike Douglas, William Styron, Gene Pitney, the underrated Billy Preston, Don Knotts, the incomparable Red Buttons, Chris Penn, Betty Friedan, Coretta Scott King, the overrated William Cowsill, Louis Rukeyser, Floyd Patterson, and the unforgettable Georgia Gibbs.
Most of these folks, we’re sad to see go. But for the most part, their passings were, as they say, “not unexpected.” Jack Palance, for example, was born (as Volodymyr Palahnyuk) in 1919, the year Woodrow Wilson signed the Treaty of Versailles.
PFC Peter D. Wagler, of Partridge, Kansas, on the other hand, was born in 1987, the year Ronald Reagan, still smarting from Iran-Contra, signed the IMF Treaty. Like Pinochet, Wagler was a tool of US foreign policy — his job: to impose capitalist democracy on a country never likely to embrace it willingly. A major difference between these two fatalities of third-millennium/year-six being that Wagler didn’t amass a fortune before he was, as reported by the Washington Post, “killed when a makeshift bomb exploded near his M1A2 Abrams tank during patrol operations in Baghdad.” Another dissimilarity being that the considerably younger Wagler had almost no part in setting his agenda.
Peter Wagler was the first 18-year-old American to die in 2006 amid the remote, sandy glamour of Operation Iraqi Freedom. There’s really no other reason to single him out — and we hope the family that survives him doesn’t mind if we do — except that he was the year’s first, youngest-possible, US military casualty of the war America spent the past year losing. (If you want to feel really sad, visit peterwagler.com)
In all, according to figures published by the Washington Post, 852 US service personnel had fallen victim to Operation Iraqi Freedom and its Afghani doppelgänger, Operation Enduring Euphemism . . . er, Freedom, from January 1 through mid December 2006. (You can catch the entire up-to-date breakdown online at projects.washingtonpost.com/fallen)
One year, one lost cause (two, if you count the Iraq and Afghanistan fiascos separately), 800+ American human losses, and many more Iraqi and Afghani deaths. This part of the 2006 year-end wrap-up isn’t so funny. It is, however, the signature punch line of a coterie of greedy rich men who must be stopped and, therefore, it should be mentioned first.
Falls from grace
Fortunately, things we can laugh at also died in 2006 — the previously unchecked power of the conservative wing of the GOP, for example. And the blind faith America’s Christian hard-liners once had in the Bush administration. Could this year also mark the death of ignorance?
Well, let’s not hope for too much. The born-againsters aren’t about to abandon their allegiance to superstition over sense. But at least, in their own slow-witted way, they’ve recognized that G.W. and his moneyed string-pullers played them for suckers. Yes, out of earshot of the overly faithful, it’s been reliably reported, even the Bushies refer to the cap-C Christian constituency as “nuts,” making it almost unanimous.
Given that federal regs on abortion haven’t budged and American public education (with or without an “intelligent design” curriculum) now ranks among the lowest in the solar system, and poor folks are still allowed to collect welfare just before they starve, about the only thing the Bush administration has done for the Jesus loonies is make it harder for them to commute to faith-healing rallies by plane.
The fact that these (almost universally acknowledged) fruitcakes finally realized the clown they helped vote into office has never done a damn thing for them, combined with the toxicity emanating from the Oval Office after the midterm elections, constitutes the death of an alliance of earth-shaking scope. Whatever happens in 2007, one thing is for sure: it’s to the advantage of every Republican to distance him- or herself from the current presidency — and the phony war that comes with it and the phony claims to religiosity that have sheltered it. Since moving further right is impossible — short of applying some method of governance borrowed from the Tonton Macoutes — this can only be a good thing.