Singing the Bite Me Song


Orwell


February 27, 2007

Utter Fucking Insanity... the idea of attacking Iran

Could somebody please give Vice President Dick Cheney a REAL psychiatric evaluation?! I mean, one that can actually determine WHY this man is so utterly out of touch with reality and so completely delusional?

And the bigger question is why we are letting this administration take the entire country down with their idiotic dick-waving and war-mongering for oil.

In my darker moments, I suspect Bush and Cheney think Iraq was Czechoslavakia, and Iran is Poland. Except unlike the Nazis they are trance-channeling from beyond the grave, we are (and will continue to, if these plans go through) get our asses kicked.

Meanwhile, Seymour Hersh strikes again. Go Sy! Meanwhile, we all need to go read the New Yorker.

Link: The New Yorker : THE REDIRECTION: Is the Administration’s new policy benefitting our enemies in the war on terrorism? by SEYMOUR M. HERSH

Here's just a little summary from the Guardian. BTW, the last paragraph below is just mind-boggling.

Link: US accused of drawing up plan to bomb Iran | Iran | Guardian Unlimited.

US accused of drawing up plan to bomb Iran

Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington
Monday    February  26, 2007
The Guardian

  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad raises his fist during a public rally. Photograph: Mehdi Ghasemi/Getty

 
President George Bush has charged the Pentagon with devising an expanded bombing plan for Iran that can be carried out at 24 hours' notice, it was reported yesterday.

An extensive article in the New Yorker magazine by the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh describes the contingency bombing plan as part of a general overhaul by the Bush administration of its policy towards Iran.

It said a special planning group at the highest levels of the US military had expanded its mission from selecting potential targets connected to Iranian nuclear facilities, and had been directed to add sites that may be involved in aiding Shia militant forces in Iraq to its list.

That new strategy, intended to reverse the rise in Iranian power that has been an unintended consequence of the war in Iraq, could bring the countries much closer to open confrontation and risks igniting a regional sectarian war between Shia and Sunni Muslims, the New Yorker says.

Elements of the tough new approach towards Tehran outlined by Hersh include:

  • Clandestine operations against Iran and Syria, as well as the Hizbullah movement in Lebanon - even to the extent of bolstering Sunni extremist groups that are sympathetic to al-Qaida
  • Sending US special forces into Iranian territory in pursuit of Iranian operatives, as well as to gather intelligence
  • Secret operations are being funded by Saudi Arabia to avoid scrutiny by
    Congress. "There are many, many pots of black money, scattered in many
    places and used all over the world on a variety of missions," Hersh
    quotes a Pentagon consultant as saying.

As in the run-up to the Iraq war, the vice-president, Dick Cheney, has bypassed other administration officials to take charge of the aggressive new policy, working along with the deputy national security adviser, Elliott Abrams, and the former ambassador to Kabul and Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad.

Mr Cheney is also relying heavily on Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national security adviser, who spent 22 years as ambassador to the US, and who has been offering his advice on foreign policy to Mr Bush since he first contemplated running for president.

The New Yorker revelations, arriving soon after Mr Cheney reaffirmed that war with Iran remained an option if it did not dismantle its nuclear programme, further ratcheted up fears of a military confrontation between Washington and Tehran.

[...]

His assertion that the Bush administration was actively preparing for an attack on Iran was denied by the Pentagon. "The United States is not planning to go to war with Iran. To suggest anything to the contrary is simply wrong, misleading and mischievous," the Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman, told reporters.

Hersh was just as adamant. "This president is not going to leave office without doing something about Iran," he told CNN. Hersh claims that the former director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, resigned his post to take a parallel job as the deputy director of the state department because of his discomfort with an approach that so closely echoed the Iran-contra scandal of the 1980s.

[...]

One prime arena for the new strategy is Lebanon where the administration has been trying to prop up the government of Fouad Siniora, which faces a resurgent Hizbullah movement in the aftermath of last summer's war with Israel.

Some of the billions of aid to the Beirut government has ended up in the hands of radical Sunnis in the Beka'a valley, Hersh writes. Syrian extremist groups have also benefited from the new policy. "These groups, though small, are seen as a buffer to Hizbullah; at the same time, their ideological ties are with al-Qaida," Hersh writes.


February 27, 2007 at 11:42 PM in Democracy, Favorite Links, Orwell, Politics, Rhetoric, War/Terrorism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 19, 2006

Just pause to consider what this new habeas corpus-suspending military tribunal law really means

I only have one comment to add:

"Fascist fucks!"

Link: A Dangerous New Order - New York Times.

Editorial

A Dangerous New Order

Published: October 19, 2006 

Once President Bush signed the new law on military tribunals, administration officials and Republican leaders in Congress wasted no time giving Americans a taste of the new order created by this unconstitutional act.

Within hours, Justice Department lawyers notified the federal courts that they no longer had the authority to hear pending lawsuits filed by attorneys on behalf of
inmates of the penal camp at Guantánamo Bay. They cited passages in the bill that suspend the fundamental principle of habeas corpus, making Mr. Bush the first president since the Civil War to take that undemocratic step.

Not satisfied with having won the vote, Dennis Hastert, the speaker of the House, quickly issued a statement accusing Democrats who opposed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 of putting “their liberal agenda ahead of the security of America.” He said the Democrats “would gingerly pamper the terrorists who plan to destroy innocent Americans’ lives” and create “new rights for terrorists.”

This nonsense is part of the Republicans’ scare-America-first strategy for the elections. No Democrat advocated pampering terrorists — gingerly or otherwise — or giving them new rights. Democratic amendments to the bill sought to protect everyone’s right to a fair trial while providing a legal way to convict terrorists.

Americans will hear more of this ahead of the election. They also will hear Mr. Bush say that he finally has the power to bring to justice a handful of men behind the 9/11 attacks. The truth is that Mr. Bush could have done that long ago, but chose to detain them illegally at hidden C.I.A. camps to extract information. He sent them to Guantánamo only to stampede Congress into passing the new law.

[...]

October 19, 2006 at 09:30 PM in Democracy, Favorite Links, News to Note, Orwell, Politics, War/Terrorism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 11, 2006

Response to Part 1 of the ABC fictionalized "docu-drama" "The Path to 9/11"

I wrote this yesterday, and just now, on listening to the President's speech tonight, I decided to post my thoughts from last night here as well. I have to think and process more on Part 2 and the president's speech, but my immediate thought, upon listening to the ridiculous editorializing of the ABC program, is that the president's handlers coordinated and scripted his address, probably from an advance DVD of the film, or visa versa. But I'll talk more about the ham-handedness of it all in another post. Dear lord, I just watched the film gloss over the delivery of the NIE warning to the president on August 6. And there was just some odd editing with garbled audio over a discussion about how the press disclosed a surveillance system and that has hurt the terrorism fight. (I mean, can you get more ham-handed?)

But first, I need to post this essay below.

I started writing this on an impulse to send it as a tip for media accuracy, at the site MediaMatters. But after I got sorta long-winded, I realized it really isn't the type of thing MediaMatters can pin down and expose.

What this really needs, what I really need it to be, is a visual and aural rhetorical study, a scholarly approach that can reach and persuade a lay audience while holding to the standards of proof and reasoning that good scholarship demands. It shouldn't just be an academic article that rots in an exclusive and unread academic journal.

In other words, I think a grad student somewhere should do this study I propose in general terms below as a seminar paper in a Rhetorical Criticism course or a Visual Rhetoric course, and then, of course, she should post it to her blog, where it can find a real audience.

I dunno. Maybe at some point in the future, I'll have more time to devote to the ideas below. But right now, I offer it here as a heuristic, a rambling starting point of sorts. You go gettum!

Miasma

An Open Letter to Media Matters (mediamatters.org):

Story TIP: The REAL dangers and inaccuracies in ABC's "Path to 9/11"

I had to watch it this evening, to see what made it in the final edit, what was toned down (very little was toned down, that I can see). Good god, this film is awful.

So you MediaMatters guys will run down the inaccuracies, and I count on you for that. But I wanted to alert you to the greater damage this film is doing, very subtle stuff.

I am deeply concerned over a kind of unthinking racism that this film not only reinforces, it also FEEDS it.

I'm referring specifically to the depictions of Muslims and terrorists outside the U.S., what ABC would probably call "cultural depictions," or "realism." It is the deepest propaganda of this film, because it flattens out Muslim cultures, makes them so "other" that the most important audience for this film, the racists and borderline racist people IN the U.S. could even be motivated to commit violences like those shown in the global hunt for terrorists in their extreme fervor and anger and quest for vengeance.

I would not be surprised to see events similar to lynchings, to what happened to Matthew Shepherd, in response to this film, if we were closer to the events of 9/11. Six years of Republicans in power have emboldened the closet racists in our culture to claim hegemony and to thump their chests more openly, by wearing their cultural prejudices and bigotry in public, by preaching them as cultural norms to increase the greater unthinking cultural bigotry in our society with a kind of critical mass (I get the same freaky feeling watching this film as I get from looking at old TV cigarette commercials where doctors tout their favorite ciggies).

I have not traveled much, but I've been to a mixed Muslim/Hindu nation, and around many scenes similar to those setting portrayed in the film in Muslim cultures. I am also an avid watcher of all types of news channels.

I understand that shooting guns in the air is a documented part of of many Middle East and Asian cultures, even at weddings.

I understand there's a different kind of background noise in markets, in cultures where people move around on foot and actually interact with each other outside of the exoskeletons Americans call cars.

But listen to the SOUNDTRACK of this film. Listen to where the background noise loops.

Yes, drumbeats and such are used to dramatic effects in the more even-handed film, "United 93." Calls to prayer are part of the sounds of the culture. Women singing, someone patting hypnotically on small skin drums. Yet ALWAYS, ABC depicts these terrorist camps and bases as utterly chaotic, noisy, almost incomprehensible, sort of like that choreographed "golden calf" idolatry orgy scene in DeMille's "Ten Commandments."

I'm struck in some ways by the caricatures of US military bases in "boot camp/drill sergeant" movies. The bases always have a busy background on camera, with a group doing calisthenics at all times, or jogging and chanting military chants.

And here, "terrorist training camps" always have to have chaotic scenes where Toyota trucks full of turbaned people careen around wildly while the turbaned people yell at the top of their lungs constantly and shoot guns in the air. Activity must always be at a constant fevered pitch. I'm amazed ABC left out a "mad gleam" in every terrorists' eyes, or why they didn't add flecks of spittle at the corners of their mouths, the Muslim equivalent of U.S. early media "black face" films, or perhaps even "Reefer Madness."

Against this backdrop, Americans' racist buttons are being pushed. The Muslims portrayed are consistently shown as "Other." We rarely see scenes from any other point of view than the US soldiers or intelligence operative's POV (apart from the occasional informants' POV, or that of the Northern Alliance leader Massoud).

It's sort of like how stories of British colonial arrogance appear to us now, as in Kipling, Burroughs, or even in Orwell (Shooting an Elephant, a masterpiece): unthinking, unconscious. Not deliberate racism so much as the unthinking arrogance of power and white ascendancy as an unquestioned entitlement.

This is a military recruitment film. It is designed to whip up unthinking gut-level anti-Muslim, anti-brown people racism (see also Macaca incident in VA), and make people who already have those inclinations desire to go overseas and take out their rage on some brown people who chant incomprehensible things in loud and chaotic, incomprehensible cultural spaces.

Yes, it is also designed to whip up fear, make you wonder what bomb-making equipment the brown person in the next apartment is keeping behind drawn shades. But I think anger and violence with racist triggers are an even bigger boogie man in this film than simple fear-mongering.

And I believe the most insidious effect of the film can be found in the background soundtrack in overseas Muslim cultural scenes. The "noise" loop.

I'm reminded of how the Valkyrie scene of the anti-war film "Apocalypse Now" is played to whip up soldier rage before shipping out in the movie "Jarhead." I believe many scenes from this film will have similar motivational uses within the US military as well.

We never see what triggers the Muslim anti-American rage. American soldiers just walk into it and can't comprehend why they are so hated and spit upon.

The answer the film provides is that Muslim rage is incomprehensible and can only be met by trying to humiliate and beat down Muslims.

Instead of fighting terrorism, what we are getting is a religious/cultural race war, with a demonized enemy created by a propaganda machine.

Leni Riefenstahl knew that it was the cultural depictions that mattered most, not just the content of Hitler's rousing speeches. This film does what WWII propaganda did to the depiction of "Japs" as evil, more so than Germans, which were more widely sympathetic in US culture, as was that unthinking gut-level right-wing fascist tilt at that time, in ordinary folks, not just Ford and IBM.

The racism of the film also reminds me of conversations I've had with my neighbors, a family who moved here from an Israeli kibbutz, very nice people. Like many Israelis in the US, they are left speechless at what they call the incomprehensible anti-Israel bias in US media. From talking with them, I can tell their objections exist because the Palestinian (and now, Lebanese) POV is presented AT ALL. They can't figure it out. According to them, the media must be anti-Israeli, because it is such a sharp contrast to the myopic groupthink of Israeli media.

I like and respect my neighbors, and have eaten at their home for Sabbath. But on this issue, there is simply NO other viewpoint that they can hold.

Journalists often say that if two polarized groups complain that you're biased to the other side, then you must be doing something right, as an equal opportunity offender.

But the US media is SO embarrassingly pro-Israel that I've watched repeatedly and counted casualties from news stories on both sides. Yet I've watched television coverage report ONLY the casualties on one side, Israeli casualties, and if reporting Arab casualties, downplaying them heavily in comparison.

Palestinian deaths are as invisible in US media as Iraqi casualties before the Iraqis started killing each other, back when most of the Iraqi civilian deaths were caused by U.S. acts of aggression and war.

So it appears many of the Israeli people, good people, are so steeped in their deep cultural racism against their hostile neighbors, can't even see that what they call bias in the U.S. media doesn't even come close to being bias.

People steeped in Israeli-style racism see their Arab neighbors as subhuman, perhaps made subhuman by their anti-Semitism, but subhuman nonetheless. Any depiction of Arabs as anything but hate-filled and incomprehensibly subhuman is a bias against Israel.

And this film also applies the beginnings of that same subhuman bias to the Muslims in the story. They are portrayed as incomprehensibly evil, incomprehensibly violent.

(Oh, except ABC's ubiquitous heroic correspondent (is John Miller a composite or a real person? Oh, he's on ABC right now, works PR for the FBI. Go figure.), who almost speaks admiringly from his visit with bin Laden, of his religious purity and his charismatic hold over his followers.)

The result seems to virtually guarantee that we will never understand the cultures that spawn Muslim jihad terrorism, and it essentially sets up fascist-style ethnic cleansing (crushing the culture totally, as if that could be done) or some other "final solution" as the only option in a FALSE DILEMMA FALLACY.

Appeasement or violent annihilation are NOT the only two options. In the black and white world of this film, that is the way they're presented.

just something to think about.

Sincerely,

Miasma

p.s. you wanna know how crazy/paranoid the repression inside this country has gotten? I'm actually apprehensive about posting this publicly without some kind of disclaimer, noting that I'm NOT a sympathizer to ANY violent terrorist causes.

WHY? Because so few of the people in power right now, people who make blacklists, budding fascists that they are, actually UNDERSTAND reasoning and rhetoric enough to know what a False Dilemma Fallacy IS, at least enough to actually be able to literally read and understand the point I'm trying to make above.

The biggest problem is that logic and reasoning, uniquely Western cultural constructs, are amazingly absent (or deliberately absent) in the education of the class of people who currently hold (and grab) so much power for themselves and over others. They just aren't very well-read, even of the dead white men conservative literary critics tout as cultural literacy. They seem badly unable to understand any form of thought that doesn't involve blind-trust authoritarianism or fear-driven bigotry.

September 11, 2006 at 10:31 PM in Best Essays, Media & Journalism, News to Note, Orwell, Politics, Religion, Rhetoric, Television, War/Terrorism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"Shooting an Elephant," by George Orwell

Shooting An Elephant

In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people, the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me. I was sub-divisional police officer of the town, and in an aimless, petty kind of way anti-European feeling was very bitter. No one had the guts to raise a riot, but if a European woman went through the bazaars alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress. As a police officer I was an obvious target and was baited whenever it seemed safe to do so. When a nimble Burman tripped me up on the football field and the referee (another Burman) looked the other way, the crowd yelled with hideous laughter. This happened more than once. In the end the sneering yellow faces of young men that met me everywhere, the insults hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on my nerves. The young Buddhist priests were the worst of all. There were several thousands of them in the town and none of them seemed to have anything to do except stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans.

All this was perplexing and upsetting. For at that time I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner I chucked up my job and got out of it the better. Theoretically, and secretly, of course, I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British. As for the job I was doing, I hated it more bitterly than I can perhaps make clear. In a job like that you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters. The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been Bogged with bamboos � all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt. But I could get nothing into perspective. I was young and ill-educated and I had had to think out my problems in the utter silence that is imposed on every Englishman in the East. I did not even know that the British Empire is dying, still less did I know that it is a great deal better than the younger empires that are going to supplant it. All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible. With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, in saecula saeculorum, upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest's guts. Feelings like these are the normal by-products of imperialism; ask any Anglo-Indian official, if you can catch him off duty.

One day something happened which in a roundabout way was enlightening. It was a tiny incident in itself, but it gave me a better glimpse than I had had before of the real nature of imperialism � the real motives for which despotic governments act. Early one morning the sub-inspector at a police station the other end of the town rang me up on the phone and said that an elephant was ravaging the bazaar. Would I please come and do something about it? I did not know what I could do, but I wanted to see what was happening and I got on to a pony and started out. I took my rifle, an old 44 Winchester and much too small to kill an elephant, but I thought the noise might be useful in terrorem. Various Burmans stopped me on the way and told me about the elephant's doings. It was not, of course, a wild elephant, but a tame one which had gone "must." It had been chained up, as tame elephants always are when their attack of "must" is due, but on the previous night it had broken its chain and escaped. Its mahout, the only person who could manage it when it was in that state, had set out in pursuit, but had taken the wrong direction and was now twelve hours' journey away, and in the morning the elephant had suddenly reappeared in the town. The Burmese population had no weapons and were quite helpless against it. It had already destroyed somebody's bamboo hut, killed a cow and raided some fruit-stalls and devoured the stock; also it had met the municipal rubbish van and, when the driver jumped out and took to his heels, had turned the van over and inflicted violences upon it.

The Burmese sub-inspector and some Indian constables were waiting for me in the quarter where the elephant had been seen. It was a very poor quarter, a labyrinth of squalid bamboo huts, thatched with palmleaf, winding all over a steep hillside. I remember that it was a cloudy, stuffy morning at the beginning of the rains. We began questioning the people as to where the elephant had gone and, as usual, failed to get any definite information. That is invariably the case in the East; a story always sounds clear enough at a distance, but the nearer you get to the scene of events the vaguer it becomes. Some of the people said that the elephant had gone in one direction, some said that he had gone in another, some professed not even to have heard of any elephant. I had almost made up my mind that the whole story was a pack of lies, when we heard yells a little distance away. There was a loud, scandalized cry of "Go away, child! Go away this instant!" and an old woman with a switch in her hand came round the corner of a hut, violently shooing away a crowd of naked children. Some more women followed, clicking their tongues and exclaiming; evidently there was something that the children ought not to have seen. I rounded the hut and saw a man's dead body sprawling in the mud. He was an Indian, a black Dravidian coolie, almost naked, and he could not have been dead many minutes. The people said that the elephant had come suddenly upon him round the corner of the hut, caught him with its trunk, put its foot on his back and ground him into the earth. This was the rainy season and the ground was soft, and his face had scored a trench a foot deep and a couple of yards long. He was lying on his belly with arms crucified and head sharply twisted to one side. His face was coated with mud, the eyes wide open, the teeth bared and grinning with an expression of unendurable agony. (Never tell me, by the way, that the dead look peaceful. Most of the corpses I have seen looked devilish.) The friction of the great beast's foot had stripped the skin from his back as neatly as one skins a rabbit. As soon as I saw the dead man I sent an orderly to a friend's house nearby to borrow an elephant rifle. I had already sent back the pony, not wanting it to go mad with fright and throw me if it smelt the elephant.

The orderly came back in a few minutes with a rifle and five cartridges, and meanwhile some Burmans had arrived and told us that the elephant was in the paddy fields below, only a few hundred yards away. As I started forward practically the whole population of the quarter flocked out of the houses and followed me. They had seen the rifle and were all shouting excitedly that I was going to shoot the elephant. They had not shown much interest in the elephant when he was merely ravaging their homes, but it was different now that he was going to be shot. It was a bit of fun to them, as it would be to an English crowd; besides they wanted the meat. It made me vaguely uneasy. I had no intention of shooting the elephant � I had merely sent for the rifle to defend myself if necessary � and it is always unnerving to have a crowd following you. I marched down the hill, looking and feeling a fool, with the rifle over my shoulder and an ever-growing army of people jostling at my heels. At the bottom, when you got away from the huts, there was a metalled road and beyond that a miry waste of paddy fields a thousand yards across, not yet ploughed but soggy from the first rains and dotted with coarse grass. The elephant was standing eight yards from the road, his left side towards us. He took not the slightest notice of the crowd's approach. He was tearing up bunches of grass, beating them against his knees to clean them and stuffing them into his mouth.

I had halted on the road. As soon as I saw the elephant I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him. It is a serious matter to shoot a working elephant � it is comparable to destroying a huge and costly piece of machinery � and obviously one ought not to do it if it can possibly be avoided. And at that distance, peacefully eating, the elephant looked no more dangerous than a cow. I thought then and I think now that his attack of "must" was already passing off; in which case he would merely wander harmlessly about until the mahout came back and caught him. Moreover, I did not in the least want to shoot him. I decided that I would watch him for a little while to make sure that he did not turn savage again, and then go home.

But at that moment I glanced round at the crowd that had followed me. It was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute. It blocked the road for a long distance on either side. I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot. They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man's dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd � seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the "natives," and so in every crisis he has got to do what the "natives" expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing � no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man's life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.

But I did not want to shoot the elephant. I watched him beating his bunch of grass against his knees, with that preoccupied grandmotherly air that elephants have. It seemed to me that it would be murder to shoot him. At that age I was not squeamish about killing animals, but I had never shot an elephant and never wanted to. (Somehow it always seems worse to kill a large animal.) Besides, there was the beast's owner to be considered. Alive, the elephant was worth at least a hundred pounds; dead, he would only be worth the value of his tusks, five pounds, possibly. But I had got to act quickly. I turned to some experienced-looking Burmans who had been there when we arrived, and asked them how the elephant had been behaving. They all said the same thing: he took no notice of you if you left him alone, but he might charge if you went too close to him.

It was perfectly clear to me what I ought to do. I ought to walk up to within, say, twenty-five yards of the elephant and test his behavior. If he charged, I could shoot; if he took no notice of me, it would be safe to leave him until the mahout came back. But also I knew that I was going to do no such thing. I was a poor shot with a rifle and the ground was soft mud into which one would sink at every step. If the elephant charged and I missed him, I should have about as much chance as a toad under a steam-roller. But even then I was not thinking particularly of my own skin, only of the watchful yellow faces behind. For at that moment, with the crowd watching me, I was not afraid in the ordinary sense, as I would have been if I had been alone. A white man mustn't be frightened in front of "natives"; and so, in general, he isn't frightened. The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill. And if that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh. That would never do.

There was only one alternative. I shoved the cartridges into the magazine and lay down on the road to get a better aim. The crowd grew very still, and a deep, low, happy sigh, as of people who see the theatre curtain go up at last, breathed from innumerable throats. They were going to have their bit of fun after all. The rifle was a beautiful German thing with cross-hair sights. I did not then know that in shooting an elephant one would shoot to cut an imaginary bar running from ear-hole to ear-hole. I ought, therefore, as the elephant was sideways on, to have aimed straight at his ear-hole, actually I aimed several inches in front of this, thinking the brain would be further forward.

When I pulled the trigger I did not hear the bang or feel the kick � one never does when a shot goes home � but I heard the devilish roar of glee that went up from the crowd. In that instant, in too short a time, one would have thought, even for the bullet to get there, a mysterious, terrible change had come over the elephant. He neither stirred nor fell, but every line of his body had altered. He looked suddenly stricken, shrunken, immensely old, as though the frightful impact of the bullet had paralysed him without knocking him down. At last, after what seemed a long time � it might have been five seconds, I dare say � he sagged flabbily to his knees. His mouth slobbered. An enormous senility seemed to have settled upon him. One could have imagined him thousands of years old. I fired again into the same spot. At the second shot he did not collapse but climbed with desperate slowness to his feet and stood weakly upright, with legs sagging and head drooping. I fired a third time. That was the shot that did for him. You could see the agony of it jolt his whole body and knock the last remnant of strength from his legs. But in falling he seemed for a moment to rise, for as his hind legs collapsed beneath him he seemed to tower upward like a huge rock toppling, his trunk reaching skyward like a tree. He trumpeted, for the first and only time. And then down he came, his belly towards me, with a crash that seemed to shake the ground even where I lay.

I got up. The Burmans were already racing past me across the mud. It was obvious that the elephant would never rise again, but he was not dead. He was breathing very rhythmically with long rattling gasps, his great mound of a side painfully rising and falling. His mouth was wide open � I could see far down into caverns of pale pink throat. I waited a long time for him to die, but his breathing did not weaken. Finally I fired my two remaining shots into the spot where I thought his heart must be. The thick blood welled out of him like red velvet, but still he did not die. His body did not even jerk when the shots hit him, the tortured breathing continued without a pause. He was dying, very slowly and in great agony, but in some world remote from me where not even a bullet could damage him further. I felt that I had got to put an end to that dreadful noise. It seemed dreadful to see the great beast Lying there, powerless to move and yet powerless to die, and not even to be able to finish him. I sent back for my small rifle and poured shot after shot into his heart and down his throat. They seemed to make no impression. The tortured gasps continued as steadily as the ticking of a clock.

In the end I could not stand it any longer and went away. I heard later that it took him half an hour to die. Burmans were bringing dash and baskets even before I left, and I was told they had stripped his body almost to the bones by the afternoon.

Afterwards, of course, there were endless discussions about the shooting of the elephant. The owner was furious, but he was only an Indian and could do nothing. Besides, legally I had done the right thing, for a mad elephant has to be killed, like a mad dog, if its owner fails to control it. Among the Europeans opinion was divided. The older men said I was right, the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more than any damn Coringhee coolie. And afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.

Autumn, 1936

September 11, 2006 at 09:49 PM in Best Essays, Books, Favorite Links, Orwell | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack