Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Lewis and Clark Reach the Euphrates

America's most famous advance team gets a little lost.

Cross posted at dKos and My left wing.

After four months of discovering how the state disability insurance program of California works, I'm back at the Mark Taper Forum theater in LA, tech rehearsing Lewis and Clark Reach the Euphrates. The last play I did here was Stuff Happens, which was a critical look at the run up to the Iraq war, featuring Keith Carradine as George Bush. That was back in July and August. Since then, Bush's poll numbers have steadily tanked. While this play isn't as directly critical of the Bush administration, it does explore American interventionist policies in wars based on questionable intelligence, and I'm hoping it will lead us to Bush approval numbers somewhere in Cheney land (end snark). When it comes to actual impact on Bush’s numbers, hopefully there will be many more Lawrence Wilkersons.

Meanwhile, over here on the West Coast, Lewis and Clark, sent by President Jefferson to explore the new Louisiana Purchase, get a little lost in time and space. After trying to entice the Sioux Nation to convert to capitalistic democracy, they stumble into US wars of aggression, starting in Cuba with Teddy Roosevelt and the rough riders, then to the Philippines, where a US commander laments the guerrilla tactics used against the US Army, to Viet Nam, and eventually, Iraq. We're still in tech rehearsals and we just got to Viet Nam, but I've gotten the idea. Throughout US history, leaders have lied to pursue an interventionist, if not outright imperialistic, foreign policy.

There's a lot of comic relief in this play (Lewis and Clark are smoking a joint in Vietnam right now, complaining that it’s the worst tobacco they’ve ever tasted), and it's probably necessary considering the seriousness of the subject matter. I'll be able to get a better feel for it's effectiveness when I see the whole thing at our first preview Thursday. What I've seen so far is intriguing, if only for its ambition. Taking these two American icons into the future they helped create is an adventurous way to compare and contrast the early American vision of expansion with the corporate military industrial complex Eisenhower warned us about.

Lewis and Clark are, to say the least, confused. But their views of the role of the American Philosophy actually fit into every time and place. Their denial of their predicaments is eerily reminiscent of Bush administration’s insistence that everything will be OK. Their superiority, politely expressed as conviction that everyone would want to be like America, inadvertently insults or unconsciously instills confidence, depending on whether they’re dealing with Native Americans, a black slave, Teddy Roosevelt, Army commanders in the Philippines, a CIA agent in Vietnam, or when they finally reach the Euphrates. The point, it seems, is that they might actually fit into any American adventure, and that's a scary thought.

While the fear of an enemy hasn't changed much over the centuries, our knowledge, or at least our potential to learn about an enemy, has. In Lewis and Clark's day, America was a little country, afraid of the superpowers of the day. Even in Roosevelt's day, America was still limited in what it could know about the rest of the world, in the diplomatic and military sense. It was extremely difficult for us to find out about the world, especially with the likes of William Randolph Hearst practicing yellow journalism. But as we move into Vietnam and Iraq, we have become a huge power with the ability, if not the balls, to find out the truth about our supposed enemies, And the thread of powerful people ignoring facts, or generating lies, for profit, runs as clear as an 1806 river through time, from Hearst's yellow journalism whipping up “humanitarian” enthusiasm for the Spanish American war, to the gulf of Tonkin fiasco furthering our involvement in Vietnam, to the fact that as late as October of 2004, Seventy-five percent of Bush supporters said they believed that Iraq was providing "substantial" support to al Qaeda.

Maybe this is something every generation has to learn for itself, the hard way. Perhaps even the greatest generation, if not threatened with an actual threat, would have allowed someone in power to manufacture one. But maybe, just maybe, if we write about it, create plays about it, film movies about it, and tell our kids about it, perhaps a generation soon will figure out how to avoid these messy, expensive frauds we let these egomaniacal plutocrats get us into.

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