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This is America’s Twenty-Fifth Hour

Bradley ManningAs I was reading Chris Hedges’ Truthout piece on “Bradley Manning and the Gangster State” some phrases from Norman Corwin’s 1943 radio play “On a Note of Triumph” kept running through my head:

”Whose terrible sword has laid open the serpent
So it withers in the sun for the just to see,”

And

“The soul of man is surely a Sevastopol which goes down hard and leaps from ruin quickly.”

And

“Post proofs that brotherhood is not so wild a dream as those who profit by postponing it pretend.”

Like so much of Auden and Yeats, whose words came to apply so strongly and appropriately even to times other than those in which they had been written, so Corwin’s words penned in celebration of the end of the European hostilities near the end of WWII seemed to take on a renewed significance today in light of this watershed moment—the sentencing of an acclaimed war hero to 35 years in prison. Unlike Auden and Yeats, whose poems can be moved to the present without much editing, Corwin’s prayer must be stood on its head to appropriately apply to today’s America.

Blind Justice peeked

Her sword is double edged. While ostensibly employed to defend our absurd idea of security from enemies foreign and domestic, her blade slipped and laid open the evil serpent we have become—laid it open for the just to see.  The draconian sentence rendered by a corrupt military justice system is more a sentence on itself than on Bradley Manning. Although it is the Private not the judge or the Commander in Chief who must do the time.

I urge you to read The Prayer from “On a Note of Triumph” all the way through. It exudes the positive optimism that was to emerge in America as the dark clouds of war cleared over Europe. After all our cities had not been decimated. The New Deal and the peaceful retooling of our economy promised to permit the American who had endured the deprivations of war “to pick of the tree and the flock, that he may eat today without fear of tomorrow and clothe himself with dignity in December.”

As these very words of hope were broadcast, preparations were being made by our government to commit one of the most infamous crimes in history—crimes committed not so much to “save American boys” as to kick-start the Cold War. Three months to the day after Corwin’s hopeful broadcast, the city of Hiroshima was vaporized by an atomic bomb. This Cold War would mean that fear, not hope, would once again come to dominate the world and post proofs to the war profiteers that brotherhood was and always will remain a wild dream.

“He who laughs has not yet heard the terrible news” Bertolt Brecht

This Prayer of Norman Corwin seems naïve next to the realities of contemporary American life. What amazes me is that some Liberals today find these words inspiring not colossally depressing. Who can still believe that “the soul of man is surely a Sevastopol which goes down hard and leaps from ruin quickly”?

In recent history we have bounced from horrific revelation to horrific revelation. Our country, far from containing any possibility for a change we can believe in, is as morally dead as the God of the fundamentalists. Hedges declares we have become a nation run by gangsters. The trial of Chelsea Manning aka Bradley Manning certainly bears this out even more than the revelations of Edward Snowden. We are now faced with a President who murders with impunity, prosecutes those brave enough to reveal his crimes more adamantly than homicides, spies on us all and has just, finally presided over the death of the 4th Estate.

In the words of C. Virgil Gheorghiu’s 1949 novel, this is America’s “25th Hour,” when we, and indeed all mankind, are beyond salvation.

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The Prayer from "On a Note Of Triumph"

Lord God of trajectory and blast
Whose terrible sword has laid open the serpent
So it withers in the sun for the just to see,
Sheathe now the swift avenging blade with the names of nations writ on it,
And assist in the preparation of the ploughshare.

Lord God of fresh bread and tranquil mornings,
Who walks in the circuit of heaven among the worthy,
Deliver notice to the fallen young men
That tokens of orange juice and a whole egg appear now before the hungry children;

That night again falls cooling on the earth as quietly as when it leaves your hand;

That Freedom has withstood the tyrant like a Malta in a hostile sea,
And that the soul of man is surely a Sevastopol which goes down hard and leaps from ruin quickly.

Lord God of the topcoat and the living wage
Who has furred the fox against the time of winter
And stored provender of bees in summer's brightest places,
Do bring sweet influences to bear upon the assembly line:
Accept the smoke of the milltown among the accredited clouds of the sky:
Fend from the wind with a house and hedge, him whom you made in your image,
And permit him to pick of the tree and the flock
That he may eat today without fear of tomorrow
And clothe himself with dignity in December.

Lord God of test-tube and blueprint
Who jointed molecules of dust and shook them till their name was Adam,
Who taught worms and stars how they could live together,
Appear now among the parliaments of conquerors and give instruction to their schemes:
Measure out new liberties so none shall suffer for his father's color or the credo of his choice:
Post proofs that brotherhood is not so wild a dream as those who profit by postponing it pretend:
Sit at the treaty table and convoy the hopes of the little peoples through expected straits,
And press into the final seal a sign that peace will come for longer than posterities can see ahead,
That man unto his fellow man shall be a friend forever.


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