I just finished Charles Bowden’s Murder City, possibly the most disturbing book I’ve ever read. The horrifying death toll in Mexico due to the “War on Drugs” is an international catastrophe that nobody in the world seems to give a damn about. Articles headlined the ‘Drug War Death Toll’ say maybe 47-odd thousand have died since Felipe Calderon declared war in 2006. Or maybe it’s closer to 70,000. Depends on whose counting, or if anyone is counting at all.
Murder City is the story of 2008 in Ciudad Juarez, ‘the global economy’s new killing fields’, the subtitle announces. It is terrifying. Angry, hallucinogenic, fragmented, the writing is as surreal and horror-laden as the world it describes. Near the end, after describing how eight addicts were executed in a rehab centre while the army was parked down the block, Bowden’s orchestral prose bursts into a furious crescendo:
Yes, we will have the performance here at the abandoned rehab center. Surely, ghosts can’t take up that much space… We will not allow anyone with answers to be present. Explanations will be killed on sight. Theories strangled by my own hands…. there are a few ground rules. If you say, the killings make you sad, well, you will be killed — a bullet right into your head. If you say, it is terrible how people live in Juarez, how the poverty is awful, well, you will be killed — a bullet right into your head. If you say, it is all caused by American imperialism, you will be killed — a bullet right into your head. If you say, it is really an issue of femicide, you will be killed — a bullet right into your head. If you say, it is the result of NAFTA, you will be killed — a bullet right into your head. If you blame American drug consumers, you will be killed — a bullet right into your head. If you say, it is all because of a war between cartels, you will be killed — a bullet right into your head.
What do you say to that? I want to think there’s a reason, a cause to the effect that can — even if only hypothetically — be reversed. If no one is to blame, because everyone is to blame, then how will it ever stop?
Before Murder City I thought there must be something I could do — protests ended the war in Vietnam, right? After finishing the book that line of thinking feels naive, but the only alternative I can see is admitting there is nothing to be done and forgetting about it. That can’t be right though. There is a holocaust happening on the US border and it chokes me to think there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it. I don’t have any bright ideas but if anyone does, I want to know.