"Never make predictions, especially about the future." -- Casey Stengel
The new year dawned cold and rainy here in Pinson -- leaden, gray and nasty. Roman augurs would look for portents in the activities of birds and the divination of their entrails. The only birds around here this miserable morning are crows -- Randall Flagg's familiars if Stephen King is to be believed. While I have no objection to shooting crows, the gunshots would have a startling effect on my hungover neighbors. The divination of entrails, however, is something I'd rather not waste time on.
The only thing I can offer for an omen was that I woke up in the middle of the night in the middle of dream, the soundtrack of which was Hendrix's version of All Along the Watchtower.
"There must be some kind of way out of here," said the joker to the thief,
"There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief.
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
None will level on the line, nobody of it is worth."
"No reason to get excited," the thief, he kindly spoke,
"There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we've been through life, and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late."
All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.
Outside in the cold distance a wildcat did growl,
Two riders were approaching, and the wind began to howl.
Bob Dylan wrote this song after a motorcycle accident darned near killed him. He spent some of his recuperation reading the Bible and some reviewers have pointed out this passage from Isaiah:
Isaiah 21:5-9 (King James Version)
5Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink: arise, ye princes, and anoint the shield.
6For thus hath the LORD said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.
7And he saw a chariot with a couple of horsemen, a chariot of asses, and a chariot of camels; and he hearkened diligently with much heed:
8And he cried, A lion: My lord, I stand continually upon the watchtower in the daytime, and I am set in my ward whole nights:
9And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground.
Watchtower of the Knights of St. John on Malta
Watchtowers, like tracers, work both ways. They can be set up as a means of giving early warning to a community of danger to it from without. Or, they can be used to oppress that same community by allowing the authorities to monitor and, with the advent of machineguns, use deadly force against, any people who object or try to escape from the oppressors' tyrannical system.
Watchtower at Buchenwald.
Perhaps my dream-state replay of All Along the Watchtower came from a movie I saw a few weeks ago, Watchmen.
Set in an alternate-universe America of 1985 where costumed superheroes were once counted on to deal with society's evil-doers, Richard Nixon has just been elected to his fifth term as President. It is a dark world, a fascist world, where the streets of the country are filled with immorality and filth.
When one of his former colleagues is murdered, the washed up but no less determined masked vigilante Rorschach sets out to uncover a plot to kill and discredit all past and present superheroes. As he reconnects with his former crime-fighting legion - a ragtag group of retired superheroes, only one of whom has true powers - Rorschach glimpses a wide-ranging and disturbing conspiracy with links to their shared past and catastrophic consequences for the future. Their mission is to watch over humanity... but who is watching the Watchmen? -- IMDB.com
"Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" is a Latin phrase from the Roman poet Juvenal, which is literally translated as, "Who will guard the guards themselves?" or "Who watches the watchmen?"
The Founders had an answer for this: the people. The armed citizenry, they felt, were the best guards of their own liberty, property and security. Over the centuries, like the Romans, we have become comfortable with hiring that responsibility to be done for us. Watchmen gives us a glimpse of what the end of that road is.
At one point in the narrative there is a police strike and the Watchmen are hired by the government to deal with it. As two of them, Edward Blake, "The Comedian" and Dan Dreiberg, the "Night Owl" are brutally dispersing a mob:
Edward Blake: God damn I love working on American soil, Dan. Ain't had this much fun since Woodward and Bernstein.
Dan Dreiberg: How long can we keep this up?
Edward Blake: Congress is pushing through some new bill that's gonna outlaw masks. Our days are numbered. Till then it's like you always say, we're society's only protection.
Dan Dreiberg: From what?
Edward Blake: You kidding me? From themselves.
The Comedian, as can be deduced from the reference to Woodward and Bernstein, has been in the pay of the Nixon administration for some time which is why Nixon is now in his fifth term. There is also a scene in the opening montage that places him with a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle at JFK's assassination. Whether the masked superheros are doing the government's bidding or working out their own well-intentioned but bloody and tyrannical plans, the result is the same -- a hubris of the elect where the people are mere pawns in a deadly game that involves the extinction of mankind.
One of the Watchman, a man who in the end murders millions of innocents around the world in pursuance of his plan to save mankind, enunciates this clearly early on:
"We can do so much more. We can save this world... with the right leadership. . ."
"The only person with whom I felt any kinship with died three hundred years before the birth of Christ. Alexander of Macedonia, or Alexander the Great, as you know him. His vision of a united world... well, it was unprecedented. I wanted... *needed* to match his accomplishments, and so I resolved to apply antiquity's teaching to our world, *today*. And so began my path to conquest. Conquest not of men, but of the evils that beset them."
In truth, the only "hero" who elicited my sympathy was Rorschach, a seriously twisted guy, who is only interested in exacting justice and tells the Night Owl just before his death:
"Never compromise. Not even in the face of Armageddon. That's always been the difference between us, Daniel."
In the end, it is Rorschach who has the last laugh, by using a weapon as old as mankind: the truth.
I urge you to watch the movie, if for no other reason than to see the logical results of the people abdicating their responsibility to be their own watchmen, as the Founders intended. Whether it is the government, or Dr. Manhattan, who you count to watch over you, the result is the same: subjugation, tyranny and death as pawns in someone else's well-intentioned Armageddon.
Whatever happens in 2010, this much is clear: we must be our own watchmen.
Minuteman -- the Founder-approved watchman.