Corpses in the Garden

Charles Sullivan

Posted Feb 26, 2006      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Corpses in the Garden

By Charles Sullivan

Knowing what I know about the history of my country, it is often difficult for me to fathom how my fellow countrymen have shaped their views. I have come to believe that they have created a mythical America that is not a real place. The perceived necessity of substituting a fantasy world for the real world suggests there is something terribly wrong with the American psyche. If there are corpses buried in our gardens, surely they must gnaw at our conscience and produce pathological behavior, even if we did not put them there. Subconsciously, we know they are turning in their graves trying to be free. We fear that they will awaken and climb out of their graves, forcing their way into our conscience, and revealing our complicity in the crimes committed in our name.

Pretending that these corpses do not exist leads to a recklessness of language and perversion of truth that is both deplorable and manipulative. Denial of this magnitude requires deliberate and wanton ignorance that can only be based upon fear. It makes a mockery of our sacred institutions—the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Self respect demands that we know truth and that we always convey truth to the best of our ability. Living in denial does not serve our cause; it serves the interest of wealth and power—the plutocracy. A fabricated life of denial allows the atrocities to continue without anyone being held accountable.

Imagine what an enigma we are to those people in other parts of the world who have experienced first hand Pax Americana. Throughout the world our government is engaged in acts of terror that inflict misery and suffering upon untold millions of innocent people. These acts of terror easily dwarf the infamous events of 9-11 that occurred on our own soil. We are told that these amoral actions are necessary to protect American interests. The widely held assumption is that American interests are noble and high minded; that they have much to do with democracy and liberation; the florid language of presidents. In truth, however, American interests are construed to mean corporate interests. The corporate interest and the welfare of American citizens must never be confused—they are mutually exclusive.

To believe that corporate greed is a noble cause intimately related to human rights requires a leap of faith that is beyond fantastic. It requires wanton and willful ignorance—the creation of a fantasy world that can make a miserable existence at least minimally palatable. Burying our heads in the sand can never bring us closer to solving the problems exacerbated by denial, nor can it provide a means of attaining social justice or ecological health. Denial is the most dangerous and delusional form of ignorance.

Eventually we will have to exhume the corpses that refuse to stay buried in our gardens. Truth always finds the cracks in the walls of denial we have built in our minds. Little by little it oozes out and destroys our most cherished delusions about who we are. The fruit it bears are a poison to the soul. Truth is self-exhuming, self extracting.

The corpses of millions of American Indians lie restive in the dark recesses of the earth; a story told but as yet unheard. Among the living dead are political prisoners who were executed by the state, whose roll call includes the names of Joe Hill, Albert Parsons and Vincent St. John, and a litany of others. Like the corymbs of splendid Orchid buried deep in the nurturing soil, lie the tormented corpses of the strange fruit that hung from southern poplar trees, with bulging eyes and twisted mouths, the scent of magnolia clean and fresh; the sudden smell of burning flesh. Their angst-ridden souls still haunt the sultry summer nights of the Deep South, impatient in their quest for justice. Divested of their humanity, these nameless men, women and children were recorded in their master’s ledgers as mere property, and accorded a dollar value on a par with inanimate objects such as plows and hammers.

America’s enormous wealth was built upon the labor of millions of slaves at a human cost that is beyond calculation. Some of the most highly esteemed names in the country accumulated their fortunes in this damnable manner. Many of them still hold important seats of power in government to this day, and play key roles in shaping current domestic and foreign policy. The descendants of slave owners in Alabama and Mississippi may be driving the enslavement of people of Middle Eastern descent. Surely, this is no accident. It is the continuation of an abominable racist policy called Manifest Destiny carried forward.

These heinous events are but a small sampling of America’s obscured history. As a people we must summon the courage of reconciliation with our past. A cultural reckoning is imperative if we are to comprehend what America really is, as well how and why we came to this place in the present. Burying the mutilated corpses and desecrating their unmarked graves under tons of asphalt and concrete, just as our ancestors abused them in life, assures that our national conscience will be haunted by the specters our ancestors created and unleashed upon the world. Asphalt and concrete will not keep them in their graves. They know how to rise and they will do it.

Only the full acknowledgment of these monstrous events can emancipate us from our past. Pretending they didn’t happen will not make them go away. America was built upon an unbroken chain of events like these which continue to this day. The torture and abuse of prisoners in Abu Graiab are connected to the lynchings of the Deep South a century ago. The abuse will not stop until there is a reckoning followed by reparations. As a people we must take ownership of the things our ancestors did because they are a cleared path that leads to the crimes against humanity that are occurring today in our names. Understanding current events in the context of history allows us to see without obstruction what is happening and why it is happening. Seeing history in this manner may thus help us to avoid the pitfalls that have troubled us in the past.

Fortunately, while our history has been one of brutality and unspeakable cruelty, it is also a history of resistance—a history of movements and hope. It is the kind of history that has been deliberately suppressed by those who write history precisely because it inspires the kind of hope that motivates and moves people from the realm of rhetoric into the theater of action. Action occurs at the interface of convention and social change; and it is all that has ever changed the world.

Those who record written history do so from the perspective of the conquerors, rather than the vanquished. It terrifies them whenever the other side of the story is told because it intrudes upon their delusion. When this happens a truth is revealed that conflicts with everything we have been told about America—a truth the historians of conquest and empire desperately want to keep hidden. Their dilemma is that the truth will not stay buried. It constantly threatens to awake, to expose their omissions and lies.

Awakening of this kind poses a threat to the established order, even as it promises a new order based upon social justice rather than exploitation and gluttony. It is a truth that menaces the myths surrounding war and conquest by bringing the ugliness of their real motives to the light of day and public ridicule. Truth is all powerful and all revelatory. Those who do not have it on their side may prevail for a while longer; but in the long run they will succumb to reality. The counterfeit cannot long endure the scrutiny and judgment of truth.

Reality, truth, exists apart from the human imagination as well as within it. They are a spirit that is imprinted indelibly upon the bedrock of time, as if etched in stone. They are a story that not only must be told—they are a story that will be told. Burying them under volumes of myth and bravado will not make them lie still and quiet in their graves. They will awaken and tell their story whether we want to know them or not. No force on earth can make them lie still until their lessons have been learned.

Viewed in the context of history, current events lose their ability to deceive. We see them exactly as they are, vulnerable and naked, and indefensible as doctrines of a civilized culture; always in stark contrast to what we are told. Truth, and only truth, will set us free.

So let the corpses in our gardens rise. They are trying to tell us something that may make our survival possible.

Charles Sullivan is a photographer and free lance writer living in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. He welcomes your comments at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Originally published at and reprinted in TAM with permission of the author.