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Heartbroken And Still Unwilling

Lilvia Soto Author Interview

Lies of an Indispensable Nation is a collection of impassioned poetry that provides readers with a historical perspective of the War on Terror and sheds light on the human toll of the war. Why was this an important book for you to write?

I worked on this book for 20 years. I wrote the first poem and started taking notes for the essays on September 11th, 2002. On that day, just as I had done a year earlier, I was glued to the TV watching the memorial ceremonies at the Pentagon, at Shanksville, and at Ground Zero. I watched, and I cried. I cried with all the survivors of the attacks, and with all those who were grieving the loss of someone they loved.

I was moved by the reading of the almost 3000 names of those who perished, the hundreds of white doves released into many skies of the world, the spiritual, majestic music played in cathedrals, symphony halls, and city parks of many countries, by the bagpipes, the tolling bells, the ferry horns, the moments of silence.

I was touched by the 3000 white rose petals that fluttered down from the dome at London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral while a cellist played a Bach suite and the 2000 people in the congregation maintained perfect silence. I was touched by the Quranic prayers for peace, justice, and tolerance offered by Muslim leaders at the Central Mosque in London, by the thousands of motorists in Sydney who turned on their headlights at 8:46 in the morning, by the two towers of light projected into the sky of Paris, by the tree-planting ceremony in New Zealand, by the human stars and stripes flag formed by firefighters and ambulance staff on the beach of Australia’s Surfers Paradise, by the Buddhist monks who chanted memorial prayers in front of the U.S. embassy in Tokyo.

I was happy to hear the presidents, prime ministers, ambassadors, religious leaders, and ordinary citizens, from dozens of countries, who observed the anniversary of 9/11 in solidarity with America, condemning the attacks, expressing in almost every human language sorrow for the victims, and declaring a universal desire for healing and global unity. What moved me the most that day, however, was the Rolling Requiem. The traditional Latin Mass for the dead, Mozart’s last, great work, left unfinished when he died at the age of 35, was played on the concert stages of London, Sarajevo, Anchorage, New Zealand, and in many cities of the contiguous United States again and again during the months after the attacks. The haunting beauty of the Requiem seemed to fill the need we all felt that year to remember that beauty was still possible in a world filled with cruelty and tragedy.

On the first anniversary of the attacks, Mozart’s Requiem was sung by almost 200 choirs in twenty-eight countries and in over twenty time zones representing all seven continents. Beginning at 8:46 A.M., the time of the first attack on the World Trade Center, rolling across each country and around the world from time zone to time zone, the voices of over 17,000 people rose as a worldwide invocation of hope and healing to honor the dead and give comfort to the living.

The Rolling Requiem became for me a symbol of paying homage to the dead and singing around the earth to heal the losses and the hatreds and to establish solidarity among the living in the wake of September 11th. It became a symbol of the power of music, and of the beauty of human creativity and human understanding. A symbol also of American ingenuity and organization, for it was a group of American women who imagined and executed this amazing first worldwide commemorative event. When the invasion of Iraq began in March of 2003, the Requiem was transformed for me into a symbol of opportunity lost, of solidarity betrayed.

What I did not realize at the time, or for many years afterwards, was that it would eventually become a fitting symbol, not of September 11th, but of the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations, of the horrific destruction the United States and its allies have visited upon these two countries and other places of the world, of the Empire’s Eternal War. What I did not know at the time was the Requiem’s history. Like the Iraq and the Afghanistan invasions, the Requiem was born in lies and deceptions. It was dishonest in its inception, its execution, its manipulation of public opinion, its entire history, and it is still to this day surrounded in controversy. I believe we can safely say that not only did it roll around each time zone of the earth on September 11th, 2002, but also that it has rolled down through the years since the beginning of its composition in 1791. We know who commissioned it and from whom, but we don’t know exactly how many versions there are today, or who has played or will play a part in composing or altering each. Because it was left unfinished, it continues to change, seducing new composers into becoming participants in its completion, which will, however, forever remain controversial and unfinished.

Both the Requiem and the two wars were and continue to be surrounded by lies, secrets, and manipulations. To this day, the U.S. government continues to lie about the reason its military went into the two Middle Eastern countries.

On September 11th, 2002, while grieving, I started hearing rumors about the U.S. government planning to attack Iraq with the excuse of taking revenge for the attacks of the previous year. Heartbroken and still unwilling to believe those rumors, I started writing poems and taking notes for what has become Lies of an Indispensable Nation: Poems About the American Invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

My favorite poem from this collection is ‘Soldiers Heart’. Do you have a favorite or standout poem from this collection?

That is a difficult question to answer. Each one, because it was written in response to a particular event at a different moment of the war, has a special place in my heart. However, I will mention one that, translated into Spanish, has had a very favorable response among my poet friends in Mexico.

Blue Man
The anthropologists call him Blue Man
because of his ink blue shirt
and his blue-striped pants,
because as he lies tangled in a mass grave
his arms tied with rope,
his skull jerked upward at the neck,
his sand-colored cap firm on his skull,
his eyes blindfolded with frayed cloth,
his mouth open wide with pain,

the crack of the bullet
hovers,
the shimmer of the blueflies
blinds,
the scent of the starry Prussian scilla
rises,
and the sorrow of the flute cut from its reedbed
whispers
through threadbare clouds
to the azure sky.

They call him Blue Man
because of his presence,
blue like the fragile veins
in the stilled eye of the turtledove.

They call him Blue Man
because of the longing for being
that echoes
in the heart of the despot.

What were some ideas that were important for you to explore in this book?

When I started, I was only interested in expressing my feelings of sadness for the victims of the attacks on the U.S., and among those victims, I include the mothers of the 19 hijackers who committed murder-suicide. “Mothers’ Hearts” is about them. As the war proceeded and the victims on all sides accumulated, I went from sadness and anger to indignation and despair. When the photos of Abu Ghraib came out, I could only feel contempt for George Bush and his administration. Since then, I have learned about the military-industrial complex, the support for this war and for all previous wars from both Democrats and Republicans (Barbara Lee of Oakland on September 14th, 2001 cast the only vote in the House of Representatives against the Authorization for Use of Military Force that preceded the military action against Afghanistan), the militarization of the U.S. Mexican border, the cast-off military equipment given to the police, the ever increasing budget for the Pentagon, the perennial preparation for war, and the constant lying to the American people and to the rest of the world because the military, industrial, and political leaders believe that the U.S. has the right to attack any country that stands in the way of natural resources it craves or a geographic position it needs for maintaing its unitary supremacy. At the end, I learned that the invasion of Iraq had long been on the drawing boards, that 9/11 was not the cause of the War on Terror, that eight different American presidents, starting with Jimmy Carter, were involved in provoking and maintaining it through lies and deceptions, and that George W. Bush’s administration lied to the United Nations, to the rest of the world, and to the American public because it wanted to wage war on Iraq as the first step of its long-held plans for a Pax Americana that would exceed the Pax Romana they were trying to emulate, and that it planned to extend to the rest of the Middle East. George W. Bush and his followers sought world domination. They planned to occupy Iraq, depose its government, write its new constitution, change its economy from state to market, and set up corporate globalization in order to open world markets to U.S. multinationals and maintain U.S. influence in the Middle East and its control over oil, one economy at a time.

Antonia Juhasz, one of the scholars I have followed in my research, in her book The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time explains that a year before 9/11 the Central Intelligence Agency had warned that the increasing global inequality would “spawn conflicts at home and abroad, ensuring an even wider gap between regional winners and losers than exists today…. Regions, countries, and groups feeling left behind will face deepening economic stagnation, political instability, and cultural alienation. They will foster political, ethnic, ideological, and religious extremism, along with the violence that often accompanies it (Juhasz, 4-5).

As Juhasz has said, the U.S. has continued to ignore the CIA’s warning about the worldwide conditions caused by the corporate globalization policy the U.S. has fostered in support of its multinational corporations. We are now painfully aware of the manner in which their rapacious, violent, and destructive corporate behavior has impacted not only the world, but also our own country.

In the introduction to my book, I place America’s wars, and in particular the destructive corporate behavior fostered by George W. Bush, in the context of other empires, their conquests and subjugation of other peoples for their own perceived glory and enrichment.

Do you have plans to write and publish more works of poetry?

Yes, definitely. I am 80% done with my next book, which will include poems and essays. It will be a memoir / history of my ancestors on both sides of the border, especially against the background of the Mexican Revolution. For years, I thought I was almost 100% Mexican, with some Irish from my paternal grandmother, Dolores McNerny, and with some Scottish from my maternal grandfather, Elmer Nephi Thayne, a Mormon born in Utah in 1882. In doing the research for this book, I discovered that Elmer’s Thayne ancestors came from Scotland, via Canada. I also learned that one branch of that family lived in Pennsylvania, where I now reside, when it was still a British colony. I was excited to discover that his maternal grandfather, Hans Larsen, born in Denmark in 1837, arrived in Utah in 1861, when the American Civil War had just started, and thirty years later moved to a Mormon colony in Chihuahua, Mexico. In 1912, while still living there, he wrote a poem for my great-great-grandmother, Jensina Dorthea Michael Jensen, to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary, and I have a copy of that poem. On my father’s side, I discovered that a great uncle, a general in the Mexican army, whom I considered my grandfather, played an important role in a 1927 uprising to defend the constitutional prohibition against a former president seeking reelection. I come from soldiers, farmers, and migrants. Most of my ancestors have migrated, some, numerous times, across several borders.

I also have enough poems for two other books. One will be about Mexico and the Mexico-U.S. border, and the second will be my responses to poems by some famous Middle Eastern poets.

Author Links: Amazon | GoodReads

Most Americans think that the war on terror started as a reaction to the September 11 attacks on the United States. In a series of poems and essays, Lies of an Indispensable Nation reveals that the seeds of this tragedy were planted much earlier, during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, and that by the end of the 20-year fiasco, on 1 September 2021, there had been eight U.S. presidents involved in the secrets, lies, and manipulations that led to millions of dead, wounded, tortured, impoverished, and displaced men, women, and children. 

Lilvia Soto shares with us the poems of sadness and anger, disappointment and compassion she wrote contemporaneously with the events of the first ten years of this double war, beginning with her reactions to the tragedy of 9/11 and the world-wide memorials of the next year. Her essays, based on scholarly research as well as her own experiences as a citizen witness, tell the story of the American invasion and occupation of the two middle eastern countries and end with the rushed and bloody withdrawal of the U.S. military from Afghanistan.

In addition to the history of the 20-year war, Lies of an Indispensable Nation offers us a wider historical perspective by placing the war on terror in the context of other empires, their conquests and subjugation of other peoples for their own perceived glory and enrichment.  
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