by Eduardo Galeano Translated by Mark Fried
I pressed the COMPLAINTS key. And I complained about the wall the United States is building on the border with Mexico. A steel wall that is supposed to block the free circulation of people while the free trade agreement guarantees the free circulation of money. The computer answered: "It is not a wall. It is a work of art. A giant monument in memory of the martyrs of the ignominious Berlin wall." I pressed DOUBTS. I thought I'd bring up the subject of laws against immigrants. Laws already passed, like CaliforniaÕs Proposition 187, that do away with the rights of illegal immigrants, and laws proposed to eliminate the rights of legal immigrants too. My doubt is: Are these supposed to benefit the Indians? Since the United States is a nation of immigrants, only the Indians, the Native Americans, would be spared. It struck me as a rather moving gesture: a grand expiation after so much crime and scorn. But the machine set me straight: In America everyoneÕs an immigrant, the Indians too. They came from Asia 30,000 years ago. The laws will admit no exceptions. I pressed FEARS. I asked if there were some sort of magic ink for bathing Latin American workers every day at dusk, so they'd be invisible after their long day in the fields and streets of the North. It might resolve the bothersome presence of Mexican and Central American braceros in towns and cities across the United States. "Not yet," said the computer. I asked if it was true that they were going to open a U.S. Embassy in the United States of America, right in Washington, so the C.I.A. could organize coups in its own country. "Not yet," said the computer. I pressed DOUBTS again. I asked: Isn't it a mistake to call the government agency in charge of the military the Defense Department? IsnÕt it a mistake to call the money that supports it the defense budget? "Defense" strikes me as the wrong word, since the United States has not been invaded since 1812 but has devoted itself to invading others at an average of once a year ever since Independence. And before the computer could answer I added: Besides, defense against whom, since the Russians are now the good guys? "The world threatens. No one can be trusted. The good guys of yesterday could be the bad guys of today. The good guys of today could be the bad guys of tomorrow." I asked for an example. "Tobacco," the machine answered. I remembered that yesterday cigarettes had looked good on the lips of Humphrey Bogart or the Marlboro cowboy. Today they're bad. Awful. The United States has declared war on smoking. Why? I asked. Because it gives you cancer? Or because it gives you pleasure? Then the computer crashed. I couldn't ask if the Marines were going to invade tobacco-loving countries to save the world from the sin of smoke. With no other enemies in sight, it sounded promising. The machine refused to work. I wasn't surprised. IÕve never trusted computers. IÕve always suspected that they drink at night when no oneÕs looking. Eduardo Galeano, "The Computer & Me", The Nation magazine, copyright 1995 The Nation Company, Inc. Reprinted with permission.