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Bill Moyers Rewind: Susan Sontag (2003)

In 2003 author Susan Sontag appeared on NOW WITH BILL MOYERS and discussed her experiences and writings about war, less than a month after the Iraq invasion:

Ms. Sontag explains:

We have a form of politics now in which we're told that our duty as citizens is to assent, to be supportive. United we stand. That's a very sinister slogan, as far as I'm concerned.

Do you agree or disagree? Tell us your thoughts on patriotism and the inevitability of war.


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I thank you, too, for posting this interview. It was like finding a long lost sister who shared an experience I've been telling people about for years. In 1958, when I was ten, my career Army father took our family to Dachau which was opened as a memorial to the people who lost their lives there. I walked through the gas chambers, saw the mass graves and stood next to the ovens that made people disappear. When I heard the words explaining what had happened come out of my father's mouth, I trusted they were true and learned about a side of humanity I never knew possible. My life was changed forever that day. My heart discovered empathy. Susan's description of the noise of war is now added to my understanding of the experience of war. If we ourselves are fortunate to never have to experience the events, we must see, hear and be reminded about it from people like Susan and my father. The empathy we feel will make us a better people, seeking to understand all human experience.

I read one of Sontag's books in college about TB. She went on and on about the stigma. Then and now, I wish she would try out the stigmas attached to being a battered wife or woman. Many women and children live in war zones right where they live, 24/7. Christmas time is very tricky to just survive - even after you are free from the war zone.

When I used to think of Susan Sontag I thought about her elite and privileged life, her media access and superb education at the finest universities and in France. I thought about how her little coterie in New York were mutually promoting and supporting. Yet she remained critical and dissident. In short, I was jealous of her luck. Many women I know have as fine a mind, but no outlet for their ideas. All of us promote our beloved friends and value their highest abilities and aspirations. I think the thing I admire now was that she could remain authentic and honest when interviewed, seen by millions, and was not ashamed to be a regular woman, very engaged and insightful, but ordinary too.
Her absense should open slots for 500 originals as smart and caring as she was. All women in my past, please forgive me for not seeing your potential and power. I was only an egotistical child then. Trying to understand Sontag has shown me the way.
And she was right on about superpatriotism too, right up there with Michael Parenti, another giant soon to pass. Do you know him, Bill? (

Thank you for making this important discussion available again. Three things stand out in my mind, as I reflect on it:

Ms. Sontag's remark, "War isn't weather," seems obvious and yet is subtle. That it can exist when so few wish it seems to make it a weather within certain minds.

I submit that these are the almost unimaginable minds of people without empathy and, in response to her dividing humanity between those who have personally experienced war and those who haven't, I suggest an even more crucial distinction between the empathetic and those untouched by others' pain.

Her reference to the photographs taken at Dachau and how profoundly they changed her experience of reality at the age of 12 shows the keenness of her empathy.

Many years later, at the age of 11, I saw those images for the first time in the film "Judgment at Nuremberg" and emerged from the cinema like the newly bereaved, staring on an implausibly active landscape. HOW was it possible that ordinary life could continue –- people simply going on about their business; cars passing as if continents hadn’t cracked and shifted, the seas swallowed islands and the planets halted in their spellbound course? And how was ART possible after such a cataclysm? Who could ever create anything worthy against such a backdrop and why try? I worried those questions interminably and still do.

As deep as my reaction was, Ms. Sontag's was deeper. She got it on the level of pure evil and was motivated to combat it, not simply stricken by the horror. It took me many decades more -- until the past five years, in fact -- to get that part and rise against it.

What an amazing soul, I miss her so much. We need her and more like her now more than ever.

Job well done, Susan, thank you for adding to our world and leaving much for the rest of us to ponder.

How can one claim to be Patriotic, when backing a war that was caused by an inexcused, illegal, invasion to kill innocent people?

The lemmings are united in their march to the sea.
A Democracy is dependent on the right to free speech and a government of the people, by the people and for the people. There must be a ways and means to correct our course when we go astray.
Nature is survival of the fittest. Our civilization is not based on survival of the fittest. It is based on mutual benefits. Color, culture and gender enrich our human experience. If we were all alike, we could not survive. The solution to attaining peace is to stop killing each other and "do unto others as you would have them do unto you". We have the technology to make the world a wonderful place but instead, we turn it into hell on earth.

United We Stand does not go for our Government, they are to be bipartisan and represent the people whom, voted them in to office. United We stand is for We the People only, standing up for the Constitution and the protections it affords us. We are the government! They are representatives of WE!

This is indeed a remarkable and insightful interview. I was deeply saddened to hear that this compassionate lady passed away in 2004. The disgusting fact is folks like these are being castigated for bravely speaking the truth when they did. Perilous times are ahead for the society if independent thought is ridiculed/denigrated.

I thank Bill Moyers again for bringing these interviews to our notice which definitely enrich our perspective of the world around us.


This brave woman gave me hope that cooler heads may prevail in this mis-guided and corrupt nation. Ms. Sontag is very brave, and very sensitive.


Nature's true spirit is waiting for us to unite all things, and set her free.
United is the solution to freedom or peace on Earth.
And equal is nature's true spirit.
Nature's truth!


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