Made it Ma, Top of the World!
A favorite movie of mine is “White Heat” (1949) with James Cagney playing Cody Jarrett, one-time gangster and all-time mama’s boy. In the famous ending to the movie, Cody finally makes it to the “top of the world,” in this case a refinery that explodes around him in a fireball that looks something like a nuclear mushroom cloud.
America’s foreign policy leaders remind me of Cody Jarrett. They want to dominate. They want to be top dog. They want to play king-of-the-hill, like so many bully-boys, and all that matters is making it to the top.
All this came to mind as I read Tom Engelhardt’s latest article at TomDispatch.com. His article reminded me that we as Americans simply don’t like dissent, no matter how well informed, no matter how well intended. In World War I, you weren’t supposed to question a war that President Woodrow Wilson had promised Americans we wouldn’t get involved in. In the 1950s, you weren’t supposed to question virulent anti-communism; you were supposed to salute smartly and demonize all communists everywhere. Today, you’re supposed to hate Putin, distrust the Chinese, and accept fully the idea that the Pentagon is wise to wage a new Cold War that may well end much like the ending of “White Heat.”
Engelhardt’s article salutes dissenters like I.F. “Izzy” Stone, people who are willing to challenge established narratives, to work against demonizing other peoples, to work toward mutual understanding and peace. Indeed, we need more Izzy Stones in America.
These are dangerous times. We’re supposed to go along with wars, with demonizing enemies, with high military spending. Bully-boy rhetoric and tactics are touted as the American way. Our politics is retrograde, our attitude toward the world almost childish, again in a king-of-the-hill way. (America must be king, of course.)
So I fear we may well end up like Cagney at the end of “White Heat.” Our gangster-leaders will shout: “Made it Ma, top of the world!” as the nuclear warheads explode around us.