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Paul Andersen: A man of conscience

Some label me a liberal environmentalist for the opinions I put forth in this column. Some might even call me a communist, a red, a pinko, a bleeding heart or, perish the thought, a hippie subversive iconoclast.

But hold on there. Compared to author John Nichols (“The Milagro Beanfield War”), I’m a milktoast moderate. If you want to hear from a real radical, then consider the man who stunned an audience at Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale in 2001 when he said in three languages: “We are all murderers.”

Nichols delivered another lightning bolt at a meeting of the Western Colorado Congress Saturday afternoon in Grand Junction, when he smilingly summed up mankind as “just one more cataclysm to wreak havoc on Planet Earth.”



In Carbondale, Nichols stated that Americans are the “biggest racists on earth” because of our callused indifference to the plight of the Third World, whose labor force and natural resources American corporations routinely exploit for our materialistic addictions.

In Grand Junction, Nichols excoriated Americans for our failure to vote, our crazed nationalism, our recklessness with the global environment, our love affair with SUVs and for allowing the president to be appointed by the Supreme Court.




If you want a reality check, then read Nichols’ recent book, “An American Child Supreme: The Education of a Liberation Ecologist.” In it, Nichols traces the roots of his conscience and the intricacies of a formidable mind, both of which compel him to write unflinching tirades against the claptrap of contemporary American culture.

Nichols experienced his personal revelation during a trip to Guatemala in the early 1960s. What he saw in the deep poverty and political subjugation of an entire people forced upon him a rude awakening.

“I would soon use Guatemala as a springboard to inform myself of the cruel American history in the Caribbean and Central America where we had helped lay waste to generations of Latins by ruling them through petty tyrants schooled in North American counterinsurgency academies while we demolished their natural resources with a ruthless 19th century plantation mentality.”

Nichols throws his blasphemous gauntlet at the face of American hegemony. The wrongs of Guatemala pushed him beyond the sway of American political and economic propaganda and cast him into a state of revolution.

“Guatemala made it impossible for me to feel comfortable or free. Like it or not, Guatemala insisted that everything is interconnected and that the price of wealth for some is an ache of want for many.”

When Central America segued into Southeast Asia, Nichols had an epiphany that forced him out of a comfortable career as a successful commercial writer and into the angst of self-examination and lifelong activism.

“Vietnam, especially, became the quagmire that symbolized the need to question everything else,” writes Nichols. “And as I questioned my country, I also questioned myself.”

Nichols questions everything with the satire of a humorous realist who opines that humor is the only way a thinking person can cope with the unfolding tragedy of Iraq, the World Bank, NAFTA, the Bush administration, voter apathy, global warming, and Barney the purple dinosaur.

Nichols, who lives a life of voluntary simplicity outside Taos, is one of the most vibrant voices speaking today about issues most Americans wish would just go away. Well, they aren’t going away, and neither, I hope, is John Nichols.

[Paul Andersen wonders who else can exercise free speech with as much elan and sanity. His column appears every Monday]


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