I blinked at the words on my screen. I had been trolling the internet, looking for reasons why the US does not celebrate its workers on the same day as the rest of the world, even if the origins of that date happen to be profoundly American: 1 May 1886, when demands for an eight-hour working day by Chicago trade unions (mostly made up of European immigrants) were met by violent police repression. When my search engine turned up an unknown website, www.secrethistory-georgewbush.com
, I almost decided not to explore its contents. Of all Americans, the one least likely to be linked to May Day was George W Bush, notoriously uninterested in history or, for that matter, the working class. The website, however, managed to make a connection, albeit an astounding one:
It has now been confirmed. 1 May 1973: that was the date George W Bush was recruited as an agent by the KGB rather than some time in 1972 as had been previously reported on this website. “As this is the son of the chairman of the governing Republican Party,” the security officer in charge of the operation wrote to Secretary General Yuri Andropov in a coded message which has now been deciphered, “we will see where this leads. Take it as a gift to the glorious Soviet people on this International Workers’ Day.” Another source inside the Kremlin indicates that, upon receiving the news, the usually solemn Andropov smiled as he reviewed the troops marching through Red Square and murmured to his fellow members of the Politburo: “We have a secret weapon and it is not here in Moscow.”
I blinked again. The next paragraph was even more absurd:
Jump forward 30 years, to 1 May 2003. There was George W Bush, now the president, landing on the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and proclaiming, under a gigantic “Mission Accomplished” banner, that “major combat operations” in Iraq had ceased. At first glance the event appeared as a fantastic Top Gun photo op on a vessel named after the greatest Republican president of all time, which had the added attraction of returning from the second Gulf war without having suffered a single casualty. The homecoming had been delayed for the ship, idling 30 miles off the coast of California until the soft morning light was ready for the Commander-in-Chief to fly in on an S-3B Viking jet, strut around in full battle gear and send a message to a world celebrating workers: the US does not need you or your countries to rule this planet. Or surely that was what his American handlers thought was transpiring. This website deems that the real message was intended for Dubbya’s Russian handler, that the Mission Accomplished banner was a mischievous nod and wink to the president’s very own KGB agent: “I did it, tovarish. We’re on our way. Watch what is about to happen in Iraq and elsewhere and enjoy the decline of the American empire. My jubilation knows no bounds. Happy 30th anniversary! Long live International Workers’ Day!”
And suddenly, before I could click over to another website which might provide less ludicrous material about 1 May and America, my computer shut down, the words and very website vanishing from my eyes. Irritated by this freak mishap, I rebooted my Toshiba, brought Google up and typed in the internet address.
Unable to open http://www.secrethistorygeorgewbush.com/.
Cannot locate internet server or proxy server.
I tried again. Same outcome.
The following hour of clumsy surfing yielded no trace of that incongruous blog or anything approximating it. I asked my eldest son, Rodrigo, a webmaster himself, if he could find out whether secrethistorygeorgewbush was owned by anyone. A few minutes later he informed me that nobody had bought it or, as far as he could tell, ever used it. Did I want to secure that domain? And what was I up to anyway?
Not a bad question. What was I up to?
I told my son: nothing, just curious, forget the whole thing. But I could not, in fact, forget it at all. Was somebody playing a trick on me? Had I been hallucinating? Or had that abruptly cancelled website even existed? Brought up on Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes as a child and spy novels as an adolescent, and as the victim of real conspiracies as an adult, I could easily conjure up the anonymous author of such wild accusations seated in some smoke-filled interrogation room even as the web police (whoever they might be) erased all remnants of those outlandish theories from the vast plateaus of virtual reality.
Stop right there. I had to resist the temptations of political science fiction. What mattered about 1 May in 2006, in the United States, was that 120 years after those European immigrants had marched in the streets of Chicago, May Day was being miraculously resurrected by other workers, other immigrants. Hundreds of thousands of men and women would again fill those Chicago streets and streets across America. But this time they would come primarily from Latin America, most of them would be illegal and all of them would be united against the impending legislation threatening to expel them. And they had chosen this date, an American date forgotten by America, to emerge from invisibility.
That was the story that mattered. The workers from the South bringing May Day, the day known in Mexico as El Día de los Mártires de Chicago, the day of the martyrs of Chicago, back to El Norte, back to the America which had turned its eyes away from its own past.
And yet, the febrile writer in me couldn’t help wandering off into the arcane realm of Bush and the KGB. In an attempt to rid myself of the obsession, I followed up on some of the clues mentioned on that “disappeared” website, struggling to create a thriller that Hitchcock would never have directed, The Blog Vanishes. Or was it Three Days of the W?
Either way, three hours later my cursory search turned out predictably inconclusive.
On 1 May 1973, George W Bush was supposed to have been in Texas training as a pilot with the National Guard. It is true that there is not one eyewitness who can confirm that he was in situ during that period. Indeed, not one record places him in Texas or anywhere else during what is known as “George Bush’s lost year”. So lost, that the future president did not even report for his physical. Of course, it’s more logical to picture him partying, boozing and smoking marijuana, rather than to con-jecture his body being smuggled into some secret Soviet training camp near Uzbekistan, or wherever those cloak-and-dagger facilities might have been located, maybe Leningrad.
Yes, Leningrad, I thought to myself, now passionately embracing the conspiracy. Leningrad would have been perfect, as that was the one place and time when he might have been offered an early introduction to his counterpart Vladimir Putin, already on his way to his own career in the KGB. It would certainly elucidate one of the most bizarre incidents of Bush’s presidency, when, at his first (known) meeting with Putin, on 16 June 2001, George W astonished the world by stating that he had looked his Russian “friend” in the eye and found him trustworthy, that he now had a sense of Putin’s soul. And if you look at the video of that encounter, there is a peculiar smile on Putin’s lips, perhaps enigmatically reminiscent of Andropov’s smile in Red Square all those years ago. Was the Russian president saying to himself, yes, you have a sense of my soul, but I have a sense of your KGB file, my friend, and that probably matters more. You won’t utter a peep when I bomb Chechnya.
Enough already. These convoluted ramblings of my imagination would get me nowhere. More relevant was to ask whether the theory of George W Bush as a KGB agent ultimately made sense of his presidency. And here I have to admit, reluctantly, that yes, it does illuminate any number of dark issues that have been puzzling me over the years. Because the truth is that, during his amazingly inept administration, there is only one thing at which Bush has been diabolically efficient and that happens to be the systematic destruction of his own country.
It’s easy to understand this as a particularly lethal combination of arrogance and stupidity, laziness and greed. Or it can be interpreted as apocalyptic evangelism run amok. Or we can focus on the corporations that have him in their pockets or the neo-cons or . . . so many explanations. None of which really satisfies my desire to grasp how Bush managed to sabotage his own country in such a savage way.
Here is a man who wilfully ignored all signs of the terrorist attacks about to be launched on American territory. A man who squandered the goodwill of the world by disastrously invading a country that posed no threat to America’s security. Who proved more adept at ravishing foreign lands than rescuing compatriots devastated by a hurricane. Who has bankrupted future generations with his inane tax cut. Who has tried to destroy what is left of his land’s social welfare net. Who looks away when people are tortured in the name of America.
It is hard to believe that an incompetence so drastic and so persistent is not deliberate. It’s crazy, I know, but George W Bush has acted as if he had indeed received secret instructions many years ago to ruin his land and lay low the American empire, make sure that, no matter what happened to the Soviet Union, it would not be the United States that would inherit the earth. Hard to believe and yet, I must confess . . .
I made it all up. The eccentric web- site. Its mysterious disappearance. The riotous accusations. All of it invented by me as a way of using that May Day landing on the deck of the Abraham Lincoln three years ago to ask ourselves what George W Bush has done to America, where has his mission finally landed us all?
It turns out that, despite all his efforts, the mission is far from accomplished. Just look at those millions of undocumen-ted men and women who advanced through the avenues of Lincoln’s country on this 1 May 2006, marching through its hopes and through its fears. Look at them, risking everything, crossing deserts and dodging bullets, exploited by bosses and discriminated against by vigilantes, just to be part of the American dream.
It’s time to recognise that hidden truth: those illegal workers marching along the avenues and into the memory of America believe more in the promise of the United States than its president does. They are doing more, day and night, to keep their adopted country running and alive than the man who is not, of course, a KGB agent but, sadly for his fellow countrymen, continues to act more and more like one.
Ariel Dorfman’s latest books are Other Septembers, Many Americas (Pluto Press) and Burning City (Random House), a novel written with his youngest son, Joaquin. www.adorfman.duke.edu