Cross-Country Checkup | Sep. 16, 2001 | Orest Slepokura

"if i had a rocket launcher"

To Cross-Country Checkup,

Re: Sunday September 16 question: What's your reaction (to the September 11 carnage in NYC)? What's next?

To help me understand what happened in NYC and DC last Tuesday, I've turned to the music of Bruce Cockburn. Cockburn of course is a Canadian icon, as much for his humanitarian outreach on behalf of the world's disadvantaged people as for his fight to help preserve our endangered natural environment.

Only yesterday afternoon, on CBC's DNTO, I was able to hear his song about the lions -- which always puts me in mind of Hemingway's old fisher Santiago, "dreaming about the lions" he spied on an African beach as a young sailor.

The song I've turned to is "If I Had a Rocket Launcher," one that goes a long way to help explain the roots of the lust for vengeance. I copied the lyrics here so that you might scan them, and understand their context when I refer to them down below.

If I Had a Rocket Launcher comes the helicopter -- second time today
everybody scatters and hopes it goes away
how many kids they've murdered only god can say
if i had a rocket launcher...i'd make somebody pay.

i don't believe in guarded borders and i don't believe in hate
i don't believe in generals or their stinking torture states
and when i talk with the survivors of things too sickening to relate
if i had a rocket launcher...i would retaliate

on the rio lacantun one hundred thousand wait
to fall down from starvation -- or some less humane fate.
cry for guatemala, with a corpse in every gate
if i had a rocket launcher...i would not hesitate

i want to raise every voice -- at least i've got to try.
every time i think about it water rises to my eyes.
situation desperate echoes of the victims cry
if i had a rocket launcher...some sonofabitch would die

The socio-political context for this Cockburn song was the 1980s' Guatemala, but I can see in it many motifs similar to those we associate with the Israeli assault on Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. It was, BTW, Israel which sold the Guatemalan colonels the arms they used to commit genocide against the Mayan Indians.

Notice in the first stanza the reference to "helicopter" and the "kids they've murdered." I picture Israeli pilots at the controls of sleek American-supplied Apache helicopter gunships and "kids" like 12-year-old Mohhamad al-Dura as a moving (or huddling) target. The first stanza ends: "if i had a rocket launcher ... i'd make somebody pay."

In the second stanza there's a reference to "stinking torture states." Here I recall the American CIA operatives the world over who helped to keep such states viable to the great detriment of the masses. This stanza is punctuated with the vow: "if i had a rocket launcher ... i would retaliate."

In the third stanza, Cockburn bemoans the starving masses, abandoned to their hideous fate. Here I recall the 500,000 Iraqi children who died of disease and starvation because of the UN-sponsored blockade of Iraq, concerning which Madame Albright once told "60 Minutes" that it was a "price" worth paying in order to contain America's former ally Saddam Hussein. Here again Cockburn's mood is equally unforgiving: "if i had a rocket launcher ... i would not hesitate."

There's a fourth and final stanza. Cockburn ends his song very bluntly: "if i had a rocket launcher ... some sonofabitch would die."

See: Even CBC's much-loved Bruce Cockburn can feel moved to lash out at those hegemonic forces that oppress the world's poor and dispossessed.

To help your listeners better understand the roots of terrorism, why not do something unprecedented ... and play the Cockburn song, right after you have on, say, an American State Department expert to deplore terrorism?

Sincerely yours,

Orest Slepokura
Strathmore, Alta.