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Vietnam Generation Journal

Nobody Gets Off the Bus:
The Viet Nam Generation Big Book
Volume 5 Number 1-4

March 1994

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A Bad Year for Angels

A. Carey Zesiger

Angels have not been kindly treated by the 20th Century. Technology, science and philosophy have largely overtaken them. Even in the realm of theology times seem to have passed them by. The idea of angels seems somehow too close to spirits, ghosts and other occult beings for the pragmatic modern thinker. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin, theologians used to ponder. Now we wonder why they bothered.

But this year, call it coincidence or providence, there are rumblings in the roosts of the angels, perhaps someone is trying to tell us something? This year, only half over, has seen two revolutions (or should I say revelations) in Cities of Angels, worlds apart and yet perhaps they hold some clue, some portent or prophesy that we can discern.

First came the conflict in Los Angeles, resulting from a surprising court verdict and a host of other factors: part racial, social and economic. It is not that the residents of Los Angeles expect their lives to be angelic, far from it, but this decision, handed down by the court and its jury seemed to go too far. It violated a testimony that millions of people had seen with their own eyes. It touched some nerve so deep the politicians are still groping to put their finger on exactly what it was and how it may influence upcoming elections.

Elections were also intimately involved in the other angelic happening this year. Bangkok, also named City of Angels, recently erupted in election-related violence when the unelected, military-supported Prime Minister faced down crowds of angry democracy protesters. The military, as most of the world has seen, callously opened fire. Disparate though they may be, there may be something underlying both these incidents that goes deeper than the mere coincidence of names.

Underpinning both events seems to be a profound disillusion that gripped both societies, a sense of outrage at the disparity between what should be and what is. In Bangkok, the Thais, not normally known for their political activism, stood up to a military machine that had ruled them both overtly and covertly for the better part of sixty years. They stood up to say that the votes they had cast and the frail democracy they represented were not to be so easily trampled upon. The military failed to recognize the ground swell of disenchantment for what it was, a movement that ran beyond a few student radicals to encompass a good portion of Bangkok's rising middle class. Now as videotapes of the killings circulate throughout the city taped from the foreign news media, again there is a sense of betrayal over the lies and the censorship that blanketed media coverage of the events as they happened.

In Los Angeles, it was not the middle class that was out looting, but the sense of outrage at the verdict was felt on all levels. In fact the President himself, whatever his political motives, professed to a certain amount of dismay and disbelief at the decision. Everyone who had seen the video was faced with an emotional conundrum, how to place trust in a justice system that could hand down such a seemingly incongruous decision. Perhaps as the jurors maintained there was more to the tape than the segments shown on TV, but in the eyes of many, those segments seemed damning enough. A verdict that went so strongly against the testimony of popular perception could not help but stir controversy and in the moment it was handed down the very ideal of justice in America took a beating, a beating that was not helped by the ineffectiveness of the LAPD in the crisis. The gap between the real and the ideal in this case had grown too large to be bridged, provoking an outcry. An abyss was revealed between the ideal of justice as something pure and impartial and the flawed and earthbound verdict that lay before the public.

Perhaps most telling of how far the situation had deviated from the ideal and the angelic were the responses of the government handlers charged with the job of putting the proper "spin" on the events. It was disturbing to watch as the respective governments reached reflexively for old, pat answers that had no bearing on the crisis at hand. In Thailand, apparently unaware that the Cold War was over, the Prime Minister attempted to label the protesters as communist insurgents and anarchists in the hire of some insidious but unnamed power. Strange communists, these, some dressed in business suits! In the U.S., the Bush administration in the a remarkable feat of partisan gymnastics tried to blame the events on the deleterious effects of Democratic New Deal programs. Both these ill-conceived and cynical attempts at popular manipulation were ridiculed by the public and the press, as well they should have been, but beneath the laughter was the frightening revelation of how terribly out of touch with the times the respective governments really were.

Perhaps the moral of the story is that angels and elections do not mix. Some principle of the angelic which demands truth, sincerity, and purity of motive is sadly out of step with current political reality. The only angelic thing about the electoral process these days seems to be the death-defying manner in which campaign promises defy gravity, rising like helium balloons to the thin reaches of the now ozoneless upper atmosphere, there to burst with their own self-importance. Of course one may say it is naive to expect otherwise. Perhaps, though, with the end of the Cold War and the dawn of the New World Order that we have all heard so much about, people have grown to expect just a little bit more. Perhaps we have been naive enough to believe some of the hyperbole that has been sent our way, only to be disillusioned once again by the backslide into dirty reality.

Candidates and politicians take heed, perhaps you should dust off your haloes and rise above the mudslinging. Try a little dose of the truth for a change, we all might find it refreshing. This campaign trail of cynical politicking and partisan manipulation ill suits both you and the times.

Beware. If the portents of angels are to be believed, a failure to mend your ways might entail more than just a fall from grace with the opinion polls.

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