Thursday, January 06, 2005

Remembering Ezra Pound, or How Far We've Come

I remind my admittedly few readers the story of Ezra Pound. One of the most talented poets and editors of his generation, he spent the decades prior to WWII in Europe. He became fascinated with Mussolini. During the war he lived in fascist Italy and gave weekly (or near-weekly) radio broadcasts on behalf of the fascist government. He was indicted, in abstentia, on charges of treason in 1943.

The Americans occupied northern Italy in 1945. Pound was captured in May 1943. He never denounced his American citizenship (if he had he could have avoided the treason charge). The U.S. Army put him in a detention camp near Pisa. They put a 59-year-old American poet in a reinforced metal cage in a field. The camp itself was surrounded by barbed wire and topped with electrical fencing. He lived in this cage exposed to the elements until November. (Pound's biographer Humphrey Carpenter writes this in the chapter called "Gorilla Cage". "The days were often so scorching and the nights so cold that at last he was allowed to have a pup tent for shelter inside the cage.")

Pound spent his sixtieth birthday in the cage. He had committed no violent act. He was not part of any 'resistance' to the American occupation. He was not providing any material support to any forces opposing the American or Allied military. Yet this American citizen spent 6 months in a cage, like an animal.

In late 1945 Pound was transferred to the States to stand trial. Basically a group of prominent poets and writers convinced the authorities into letting him plead 'not guilty by reason of insanity'. Then to avoid the treason charge Pound spent the next 13 years in a hospital for the mentally disturbed. To summarize: an elderly, non-violent American poet spends 6 months in an open cage in Italy followed by 13 years in an insane asylum for making radio broadcasts for the enemy. This was how my grandfather's generation treated traitors and 'enemy combatants', even poets.

Now the New York Times and various other professional whiners spend their time bitching about 'torture' of armed, violent foreign terrorists. If the Guantanamo is itself illegal, can Pound's descendents sue for reparations for his torture? The man spent 13 years in confinement for radio broadcasts. He wasn't released until he was 73. John Walker Lindh got 20 years for taking up arms against his country. He will be 41 upon release, if he serves the full sentence (which he won't).

Next time you turn on the mainstream media and hear the litany of moaning about torture and mistreatment of prisoners (who on my previous post noted may not legally be prisoners at all) think of Ezra Pound. Think of a sixty year old man shadow boxing to stay fit while living in a cage in the Italian summer heat. Think of what it would take for the U.S. government to imprison an old man for making radio broadcasts today, during this war. Think of how the media would react, today, during this war.

How far we've come. I'm not sure it's progress, but it's change.


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