“Ed,” I blurted out, “what happened to you?”
He swiveled his head, trying to hone in on my voice. I flinched when I saw his eyes straight on, soft milky tissue where the pupils had been. But his posture was stiffly erect, like a caricature of a soldier on parade.
“Chuck,” he said, “is that you?”
“Yeah, it’s me. But, my God, Ed, what happened to your eyes?”
“I became a patriot!” he announced, voice brimming with pride.
That seemed a non sequitur to me. “A patriot?” I asked, perplexed. “I always thought you were a patriot, Ed.”
He looked frustrated for a minute. “Let me see if I can explain it to you,” he said. “Do you remember when we were part of that home schooling group, and some of the members wanted to make it a Christian home schooling group?”
“And then it turned out that when they said ‘Christian,’ the term didn’t really include the Catholics and Methodists and what-not in the group. It only meant the fundamentalist kind of Christian?”
“Well, it’s the same thing with ‘patriot’ as it was with ‘Christian.’ When we say ‘patriot,’ we don’t mean some wishy-washy relativist who sees good in some other countries and some evil in the United States. For us, the President’s word is an article of faith, and our country is righteous by glory and by God.”
“But you’re blind,” I said, afraid I’d hurt his feelings by stating the obvious.
“That’s just the way it appears to you,” he said. “I’ve replaced my eyesight with a superior kind of vision. The President, the Vice President, Joe Lieberman, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter—they all kept telling me I needed to get this done, and I finally decided to stop putting it off.”
“Don’t your eyes hurt?” I asked, wincing at the very thought of losing my eyes.
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “That’s one of the best things about it. My vision is less painful than it was before. In fact, I don’t feel a thing.”
“But the operation must have hurt like the devil.”
“Nah,” he laughed. “It’s not like they poke a stick in your eyes. It’s all done through the power of suggestion, mass hypnosis, that kind of thing.”
“It just seems so… extreme,” I said hesitantly.
“You sound like some kind of terrorist,” he said, laughing again. “No offense meant, Chuck.”
“And how do you feel about the operation now …?”
“Just great,” he said. “Those people who say ‘My country, right or wrong’ have it all wrong. My country is always right.”
“So the terrible tortures in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay?”
“Invisible,” he said. “It’s like they never happened.”
“The tens of thousands of slaughtered Iraqis, including women and children? Just innocent civilians, killed by white phosphorus, or cluster bombs, or the massive illegal bombings carried out by the U.S. before the war even began?”
“What are you talking about?” he asked.
“The incredible corruption, the billions stolen in so-called Iraqi reconstruction funds?”
“Out of sight, out of mind,” he said dismissively.
“Prisoners held without charge for years, unable to see a lawyer, let alone family and friends?”
“I’m blind to it. Literally,” he said.
“The unmitigated gall of calling an unprovoked attack on another nation ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’?”
“I don’t understand those words,” he said.
“The sheer stupidity of imposing a phony democracy at gunpoint?”
“Don’t see it,” he said. “Can’t see it.”
“The buying, bullying, bribing, and browbeating of news media, until they’re gun-shy about anything that doesn’t toe the right-wing line?”
“It’s not there,” he said. “There’s no ‘there’ there.”
“Our own government organizing kidnappings, secretly transporting suspects to other countries, and brutally interrogating them at clandestine detention centers?”
“Why would you even ask a question like that?” he said with a note of concern. “Do you really hate this country that much? Let me tell you, Chuck, you ought to do what I did, and go and have your eyes checked. Before it’s too late, and they can’t do anything to help you.”
© Tony Russell, 2005