Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Relics of America: Introduction

The Relics of America

Introduction to the Latest Edition of Relics of America

An updated version of apocalyptic sci fi  novel is now available at Here is the introduction of the 2015 edition:

When the Ebola epidemic spread throughout Africa and threatened the world, and as war fever continues to spread throughout our country and the world, this prophetic novel seems even more relevant than ever. Our country’s values seem upside down. The United States sent troops to Africa to combat Ebola, while Cuba sent doctors. Disturbed by America’s military response to a health crisis, some in Africa suspected that Ebola was part of a biological warfare campaign. This may seem like  paranoia, but there are grounds for this fear which I explore in this novel. In 2000, a conservative think tank called the Project for a New American Century published a study calling for the development of biological weapons targeting “specific genotypes”:

New methods of attack—electronic, ‘nonlethal,’ biological—will be more widely available ...[C]ombat likely will take place in new dimensions, in space, cyberspace, and perhaps the world of microbes ... [A]dvanced forms of biological warfare that can ‘target’ specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.

What does this passage mean? By “specific genotypes,” does it mean specific races or ethnic groups? Most scientists doubt that a race-based biological weapon is possible, but PNAC implies that if such a bio-weapon were developed, it would be “desirable.” As I explain in my notes to this novel, the Bush administration used this study as a blueprint for its military and political strategies after 9/11. Given this kind of racism, are people of color being unreasonable when they fear what the United States might be trying to do in its secret biological weapons labs? What does this suspicion say about the nature and the future of the American empire?
The inspiration for this work came in the fall of 2002 when my wife and I watched a documentary called Byzantium: the Lost Empire. British historian John Romer described with deep feeling the glories and the downfall of this great empire. Suddenly the question struck me: What will be the legacy of the American empire when it falls?
Though many Americans are loath to admit it, America is an empire; and, like all empires, it is doomed one day to fall. That day may be sooner than we think. When America’s global empire comes crashing down, and the dust settles, and humankind wakes up as if from a bad dream, what will our empire be remembered for?
The most important legacy of Byzantium was its spirituality, as embodied in its exquisite religious art and icons—what the poet William Butler Yeats described as the “artifice of eternity.”
But what about the United States? When the American empire falls, what will future generations see as our greatest legacy?
As I reflected on this question, the answer came in the form of a story. As I wrote it, characters emerged, took control of my life, and led me to places that I had never dreamed. Then the fit would pass and I would resume a “normal” life as a peace activist and editor of a little magazine for Quakers.
But the story kept returning over the next few years, and it finally reached the stage where it clamored to be published. A voice within whispered, Time is  running out.
Never in history has an empire had such destructive power as ours, or used it so blindly. As I was putting the finishing touches on this work, the LA Times published this disturbing article:
The researcher at Texas A&M University had never been trained to handle Brucella, a bacterium included on the government’s select list of potential bio-weapon microbes.
Her work was in a different type of bacteria, but when asked to help clean a chamber that had been used to create an aerosol version of Brucella, she leaned inside and wiped it down.
The bacteria entered her body through her eyes, investigators later surmised. She was infected for more than a month before doctors diagnosed her with brucellosis and put her on a regimen of strong antibiotics.
The incident was part of a small but unsettling number of laboratory accidents that has followed a boom in research funding after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the still-unsolved anthrax mailings that came a week later (Jia-Rui Chong, LA Times, October 3, 2007). Brucella causes what is known as Maltese or undulant fever. It induces sweating, weakness, anemia, headaches, depression and muscular and bodily pain. In 1954, Brucella became the first agent weaponized by the United States at its Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas. Supposedly Brucella and all other remaining biological weapons in the United States bio-warfare arsenal were destroyed in 1975 when the United States signed the Biological Weapons Convention.
But now Brucella and other biological weapons are enjoying a “boom.”
This boom in bio-warfare is symptomatic of the sick times in which we live. Sad to say, most of the information about biological warfare in this novel is factual.
I believe the illness described in this novel—humanity’s addiction to war—is curable. If humanity could abolish slavery—an institution thousands of years old and found in almost every culture—war can also be abolished. A cure for militarism is possible, even for America, the country that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. rightly called “the world’s leading purveyor of violence.”
If the Germans and Japanese could give up their bellicose obsessions and become peaceful, law-abiding nations, why not us?
As I contemplate the fate of the country I love, I keep in mind our sacred documents—the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution—and all those valiant men and women who have struggled nonviolently to preserve America’s heritage of democracy and freedom. As John F. Kennedy once said, “A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.”

In the hearts and minds of people around the world, the idea of real freedom and democracy lives on. This is the legacy of America that I cherish and try to celebrate in The Relics of America.—Pasadena, California, September 11, 2015.

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