IT’S BEEN A couple of weeks now since I saw the Alley Theatre’s excellent production of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, yet it seems that hardly a day goes by without my thinking of the play, and of certain scenes and lines in particular.
The play is set in Ohio right after World War II. It is about businessman, Joe Keller, who had knowingly supplied the U.S. Army Air Force with defective parts, causing the death of many service members. He somehow is able to talk his way out of jail and returns home to run his company.
As time passes, Keller and his wife, Kate, become convinced that Joe was indeed innocent, and when, inevitably they are forced to admit that the plane parts were defective, they find ways to justify his actions.
He’s not the only one who acted selfishly during the war, Joe insists: other industries and other businesses did the same.
“It’s dollars and cents, nickels and dimes,” he says. “War and peace, it’s nickels and dimes.”
And when Joe and Kate are forced to look at that they are saying, they find ways of coping.
“I ignore what I gotta ignore,” Joe says.
Of course, the web of deception and delusion collapses in a key dramatic scene toward the end, and Chris demands to know why Joe did what he did and asks:
“God in heaven, what kind of man are you?”
Joe again explains that he did it, “for you, a business for you!”
But Chris has had enough and he angrily replies:
“For me! Where do you live, where have you come from? For me! – I was dying every day and you were killing my boys and you did it for me? What the hell do you think I was thinking of, the Goddam business? Is that as far as your mind can see, the business? … Don’t you have a country? Don’t you live in the world?”
THOSE ARE EXCELLENT questions, ones that we should all ask ourselves as we go about making decisions in our everyday lives.
What kind of people are we?
Are we part of this world, and if we are, will the actions I take today – or the actions of those whom I support and abet — make our world better or worse? Similarly, are we part of this country and are we contributing, through our actions, through the causes we support, to making our country better or worse?
Is our love for “nickels and dimes” so overwhelming that we ignore – because we gotta — the harm that our actions are inflicting on our society?
I wonder if the people who run this country, the executives of the largest companies and their largest shareholders, ever ask themselves questions such as these. Is there ever a minute in a company’s board of directors meeting when those sitting around the table take time to ponder whether they live in this country, in this world, or whether they live strictly in the world of ever-increasing monetary gain?
Is there ever an agenda item titled, “Assessing corporate responsibility to our world and our children’s world – how does our company measure up?”
I wonder if the Koch brothers and the Sheldon Adelsons of the world ever bother to ask themselves these questions.
Is the Koch brothers’ desire to protect their rights to make as much money as they want whenever and wherever they want so strong that they are willing to ignore – because they gotta – the great harm that the tea party crazies are inflicting on our democracy?
For Adelson, is the survival of the rightwing Israeli government more important than the survival of our country, and of Israel itself?
Do they have any sense of civic responsibility? Their actions tell us they don’t. Take the Koch brothers (please!). We know they are highly intelligent, well-educated people. We know that they can’t possibly buy into the TP’ers’ anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-poor people, anti-labor rights, anti-abortion, anti-immigrant agenda. Some of it, maybe. But no one can seriously make the case that these highly intelligent and sophisticated men buy into all that crap.
Yet, there they are, the Koch brothers, funneling more and more of their money into the coffers of the TP crazies running for office on anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-poor people, anti-labor rights, anti-abortion, anti-immigrant agenda. There they are, supporting idiots like Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, who would rather see the country go down the drain than allow President Obama or the Democrats a single victory.
Why? Nickels and dimes, my friends, nickels and dimes. They ignore what the TPers are up to because they gotta, because they know that the TPers will vote –always — against any governmental action that might infringe on the right of the Koch brothers to make as much money as they want to make, regardless of the consequences to the environment, the economy or society. Always.
SO, BACK TO Miller’s questions. Do these men have a country? Do they live in this world? It doesn’t matter. They’ve got the nickels and they’ve got the dimes. Chingos and chingos of them.