Commentary by Sam Hamill – 2006/2007

Sam Hamill, Writing for Peace AdviserCommemorating Ten Years of Poetic Resistance, PAW Post No. 9

During the month of February, Writing for Peace  commemorates the Tenth Anniversary of Poets Against the War with Daily PAW Posts from a host of contributors.

*Parental Guidance Warning –The poets featured during our February Daily PAW Posts write of war and its effect on the human heart. Writing for Peace has not censored these poems, and we encourage parents to review the content before sharing them with children.

To purchase a copy of POETS AGAINST THE WAR from Powell’s independent bookstore, click here.

Small Writing for Peace logo

Less than three months after Sam Hamill founded Poets Against the War, Bush gave his infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech on the USS Abraham Lincoln. Of course, the war was far from over, and evidence of rendition, torture, and other horrendous human rights abuses and war crimes have continued to surface ever since. At home, the greatest casualty has been the erosion of our Constitutional Rights. Sam Hamill saw the writing on the wall in 2006, and wrote this commentary:

Commentary by Sam Hamill – 2006/2007

Just as we all turned to a new calendar year, the 3000th U. S. citizen-warrior died in combat in Iraq. No one knows how many Iraqis have perished in Bush’s War; no one knows how many Iraqis have died needlessly; nobody knows how many tens of thousands of disenfranchised Iraqis have fled their homelands to live in exile. What we do know is that while Bush mouths the words freedom and democracy, they are, to him and Cheney and others of their ilk, empty words—empty because Bush & Co. has no meaningful concept of freedom or democracy; to Bush and Cheney and their allies, these are merely abstract ideas used to promote the concentration of power in the hands of the rich white males who would rule the world. How otherwise could this country continue to invest in murder, in the slaughter of innocents, while turning its back on the slaughter of innocents in Darfur and on the encroachment of our ally, the Israeli government, on Palestinian homelands? Without some sense of justice, liberty and democracy are impotent concepts.

In a talk given at the Labor Exchange of Saint-Etienne a half-century ago, Albert Camus said, “If we add up the examples of breach of faith and extortion that have just been pointed out to us, we can foresee a time when, in a Europe of concentration camps, the only people at liberty will be prison guards who will then have to lock up one another. When only one remains, he will be called the ‘supreme guard,’ and that will be the ideal society in which problems of opposition, the headache of all twentieth century government, will be settled once and for all.”

Remove the word Europe and replace it with America, and Camus might have been writing about George W. Bush. It takes little or no imagination to see Bush calling himself the “Supreme Guard.” He has spoken parallel lines a thousand times. Our grand “Decider” has decided for all of us that our Constitution simply doesn’t work in a “post 9-11 world,” that we need secret prisons in foreign lands where we can freely torture anyone the Decider decides needs torturing, that we can wage war upon an innocent nation in the name of freedom and democracy, and that we do not need the 1st, 4th, or 14th amendments to protect us from his supreme guardianship. But this particular fascist can’t even get the trains to run on time. He pursues his war despite all reasonable counsel to the contrary and in the face of unified opposition by the very American people he was (perhaps) elected to serve. Even the Republican Party has come to oppose his ambitions.

All war is extortion. And this particular war will extort its cost not only from us, but from our children, both morally and financially. What is far, far worse is the abridgement of our Constitutional rights and the collapse of congressional responsibility. The present administration has advanced the causes of freedom and democracy nowhere—neither at home nor abroad. It has operated exactly to the contrary of those noble ideals and principles set down by the authors of our Constitution. And our elected representatives, ever in the service of their own seats of power, have conceded again and again.

The Halliburton Corporation, the oil magnates, the arms manufacturers, multinational media conglomerates —in short, those who provide the money and legitimize the lies of Bush and company—profit handsomely from the death of innocents. The same companies that profit from the destruction of countries profit again from rebuilding them. American oil companies have enjoyed several years of record-breaking profits. This too is a form of extortion. And nearly every politician running for office feels the need to tap into the rich veins of corporate extortionists in order to be elected. Corporate money and corporate ethics, not ideals of liberty and democracy, define our electoral politics.

And what of poetry in the face of such circumstances? Camus reminds us that if art “adapts itself to what the majority of our society wants, art will be a meaningless recreation. If it blindly rejects that society, if the artist makes up his (sic) mind to take refuge in his dream, art will express nothing but a negation. In this way we shall have the production of entertainers or of formal grammarians, and in both cases this leads to an art cut off from living reality.”

Four years ago, founding Poets Against War, we were a minority opinion in our unified opposition to this war. We are now part of a vast mainstream majority. Nevertheless the wars grind on in living reality and therefore live on in our hearts and minds and in our poetry. The imagination fixes on the suffering of Darfur, the unabated mayhem of Baghdad, the village battles in Afganistan, the public bombings in Thailand or India, Indonesia, England or Spain, and poetry seems almost impotent. But it is not. Each of us has a tale-of-the-tribe; each of us must listen to the voices of the oppressed, the victimized. Each of us must draw a line and make a stand for something larger than ourselves if our art is to have usefulness. We poets do not and cannot stand apart from the suffering in this world. Each of us must embody and carry forward the very peace and justice we all seek.

In the name of justice and liberty, the war criminals should be impeached and put on trial for crimes against humanity and our elected representatives should be made to restore our Constitution. Peace, liberty, justice—these are concepts wrought in the individual heart-and-mind and made manifest in this world only through individual courage and commitment. Our art, born in the heart and polished through years of practice, is a part of the solution.

During World War II, during the terrible years of 1943 and ’44, Camus published several “Letters to a German Friend” (see Resistance, Rebellion and Death, Knopf, 1961) to explain his stance against nationalism. “I cannot believe that everything must be subordinated to a single end,” he said. “There are means that cannot be excused. And I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice. I don’t want greatness for it, particularly a greatness born of blood and falsehood. I want to keep it alive by keeping justice alive.” Of course his German friend “retorted, ‘Well, you don’t love your country.’” Camus says he felt “a choking sensation” as he thought of his friend’s remarks, then says, “No, I didn’t love my country, if pointing out what is unjust in what we love amounts to not loving, if insisting that what we love should measure up to the finest image we have of her amounts to not loving.”

Our country’s greatness includes a power and prosperity build on the shoulders and backs of the slave trade (which helped finance the American Revolution) and two hundred years of genocide practiced against Native American nations during our westward expansion. Our prosperity came, all too often, at the expense of dictatorships and mass murder— direct preconceived consequences of our imperialist policies in Mexico and in Central and South America for more than one hundred years. (For a surprising treatise on this subject by a Marine Corps general who won two Congressional Medals of Honor, go to: )

We should have learned from our experience in Vietnam that destroying a country cannot save it. There are levels of resistance that military might simply cannot overcome. There are means that simply cannot be justified.

For me, the greatness of our Constitution lies in the Bill of Rights, and most specifically in three of its most compelling arguments: 1: The inalienable right to free speech which opens the doors to the free exchange of ideas (including even the most repugnant). 2: The separation of Church and State, without which we’d all be members of the English church. 3: The right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

George Bush has spent the last five years using “a post-911 world” as his excuse to undermine these Constitutional rights as they have never before been undermined. Even as I write, our government is planning a huge military complex for Guantánamo where more prisoners can be tried without counsel, without habeas corpus, and without Constitutional or Geneva Convention interference. No President in our history has done more to destroy our civil rights and abridge our system of justice.

If we as poets are duty-bound to hear the cries of the world, we are also equally bound to celebrate the beauty and justice that blossoms however mysteriously even amongst such carnage. That, after all, is our human condition. Because we love our country and our language, we must be true not to its tyrants, but to essential principles and what can be made of them in the service of truth, justice, and the practice of decency, the practice of compassion.

Love our country as we love our children. Every country is a child slowly maturing. And just as we impose discipline on our children because we love them, we must impose discipline on those who claim to serve us. We may have to suffer through another two years of Caligula in the White House, but we have the power to hold our congressional representatives’ feet to a very hot fire. We have become the majority, and there is much that can be done: now is not the time for silence. We get the government we deserve.

May our poems continue to speak for the conscience of our country, as we asked in founding Poets Against War four years, countless lives ago.

Posted earlier on the Poiein kai Prattein – Create and Do site. and used with permission from the author.



Sam Hamill, Writing for Peace AdvisorAbout Writing for Peace Adviser, Sam Hamill

Sam Hamill is the founder of Poets Against the War, and the author of more than forty books, including fifteen volumes of original poetry (most recently Measured by Stone and Almost Paradise: New & Selected Poems & Translations); four collections of literary essays, including A Poet’s Work and Avocations: On Poetry & Poets; and some of the most distinguished translations of ancient Chinese and Japanese classics of the last half-century. He co-founded, and for thirty-two years was editor at, Copper Canyon Press.

Learn more about Sam Hamill here.


Writing for Peace News:

All during the month of February, Writing for Peace is commemorating the Tenth Anniversary of Poets Against the War with a Daily PAW Post. If you are interested in arranging a reading this month in honor of Poets Against the War, please contact us with the details at, and we will be happy to share your information on our site.

2013 Young Writers Contest

The Writing for Peace Young Writers Contest is in full swing, with entries coming in from all over the globe.  The contest is open to writers of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, for ages 13 to 19. Contest deadline is March 1st, 2013. Spread the word to young writers everywhere! You’ll find contest guidelines here.

DoveTales,  An International Journal of the Arts

The first issue of DoveTales will be released this month, featuring poets, writers, artists and photographers from all over the world.  We are also looking forward to seeing the winners of our 2012 Young Writers Contest in print. Watch our posts for news of the journal’s release. The new submission guidelines will go up on March 1st. Thank you for your support!


Copyright © 2013 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *