“Feeling the Unthinkable: Essays on Social Justice” by Donald Gutierrez

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If Donald Gutierrez were alive today, what would he think of the USA now? He’d be horrified. And disgusted.

Gutierrez, who died in 2013, shortly after this collection was published, was a social conscience. He passionately confronted inequity and government abuses, particularly that of his own country, the United States of America.

Here, 48 of his essays and book reviews make a memorial to his life’s work: the pursuit of justice. He is the embodiment of Gunter Grass’s line: “The job of a citizen is to keep his mouth open.”

If you want to know Gutierrez’s interests, read the titles of the books he reviewed: State Terrorism and the United States: From Counter-Insurgency to the War on Terrorism; Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower; Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in an Age of Crisis; The Trial of Henry Kissinger. Not much room for ambiguity there.

His subjects are wide-ranging – he covers individual, institutional and state crimes – but he’s notably strong on US foreign interventions and the military-industrial complex. He takes pains to remind us of the human costs of US intervention in the Middle East and Latin and Central America, as well as inequities at home, and he recognizes “the social evil abounding in the modern era.” And this is before President no. 45.

Some of the strongest pieces are the book reviews in Parts 1 and 2, which deal with state terrorism and war vs democracy. For those who read The Nation and the likes of Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Ward Churchill, and Arundhati Roy, these tread fairly well-worn topics. But I was stunned to learn about the ethnic cleansing of the Diego Garcian people in the Chagos Islands, and the final section of the book, entitled “Power to the Pen – Iconoclasts to the Rescue,” brought an interesting literary perspective, sending me back to the works of D.H. Lawrence and Thomas Hardy.

In Gutierrez’s own words, Feeling the Unthinkable is “not a scholarly study or an organically structured work.” But there’s a uniformity of tone that makes the collection totally coherent. Above all, there’s a passionate spirit behind every word. Gutierrez lives on in his books and in all the movements for justice that inspired him and that he inspired in turn.

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