Rhythm is the fundamental element of music; without its pulsing drive, a melody seems aimless, and harmony irrelevant. The beat of a drum awakens the primal within us, calling back ancestral memories and basic instincts. It can lead us to dance and to joy, but also, too often, to war. The war drums beat loudly in cycles throughout history. Many would argue they first became audible to our generation immediately following September 11 th, 2001, and grew deafening with the buildup to our invasion of Iraq. Few would deny that with America's massive global economic and military influence, we have become an empire. Many would argue that we have been an imperial power for some time now. Even so, it is only recently that that recognition has entered the popular consciousness, and so only recently could we begin interpreting artistic analyses and criticisms of imperialism as they relate to our own nation. J.M. Coetzee?s Waiting for the Barbarians paints a disturbing picture of what it means to be a citizen and a proponent of empire, one as applicable to modern America as it was to apartheid South Africa at the time it was written. Coetzee has created a story of Justice versus Empire that applies to us all not just as imperial citizens, but as human beings as well.
The Magistrate is the novel?s intellectual and its narrator, so the reader identifies with his position best of all; he acts as a countervailing moral force to the all-consuming drive of Empire. He has a strong commitment to the idea of "decency", a concept we can roughly equate with basic human rights. He shudders at the mistreatment of Colonel Joll's first round of prisoners, and completely loses his...
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...hem away from the United States mainland and their own homes and families. They have no rights, and journalistic reporting from the area is minimal if it occurs at all. There is frequent talk of what unspeakable acts may be going on there behind closed doors, and there has been no denial from the United States government. Coetzee?s ability to universalize a tale is disturbing in this modern light. Our leaders would do best to heed the lessons of literature; even now, our own population grows skeptical and is unwilling to accept mere nationalistic bluster as justification. Will Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz flee Washington under cover of night someday soon as the people pelt them with stones? It?s a comforting image for some, but even then, the damage may be irreparable.
Coetzee, J.M. 1980 Waiting for the Barbarians Harmondsworth, Penguin.
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