Monday, February 05, 2007


The world never spent much time in 1946, listening to the assorted Nazi bigwigs still around explain how things happened the way they did. The Nazi project was so reprehensible that nobody was interested in spending any more time on them once the war was over. Assorted generals and field-marshals wrote memoirs, and later Albert Speer – the brilliant young architect who wound up running Nazi war production – did a bravura turn as the brilliant but too-trusting subordinate who had served his 20 years in Spandau and was now on the lecture-and-book circuit.

The January “Vanity Fair” has an illuminating article by David Rose entitled “Neo Culpa”. ( The author goes around interviewing assorted major players among the neocon war-urgers. The overall impression is that they are not only looking to avoid some American version of Spandau, but are actually looking to keep up their creds for the policy-making and talking-head circuit.

None of them have demonstrated the truly impressive skill that Speer deployed in actual hands-on management of crucial affairs in the service of the nation. They ‘think’, mostly at self-serving think-tanks but occasionally on the faculty of ‘reputable’ institutions of higher thinking and learning.

Their pleadings are various. It was a good plan but the Bush Administration really screwed it up, beyond any reasonable thinker’s ability to imagine such a colossal “Schweinerei” (as the Germans might say). Ach ja. The Leader was an incompetent monomaniac who presided over a rigged planning-process staffed by fawning toadies and too-clever-by-half apparatchiks who thought they could handle him. Who knew? Who could imagine that such things could have gone on in our modern and enlightened world? Surely we wouldn’t blame the thinkers. And they’re sorry now.

Well, no, they’re not. To say they were sorry would be to make Nixon’s mistake of admitting one had screwed up. And look where that got him. No, mistakes were made, and good thoughts were pigged-up by lesser beings elsewhere on the food-chain. Would we care to engage a lecture on the topic? The fees, alas, must reflect the tremendous stresses and strains of maturely sitting by and watching one’s visions trampled by kine and swine, lower down or even “at the center”.

Apparently these honchos were simultaneously movers-and-shakers and yet not so close to “the center” that they could reasonably be held accountable. In the British series “World At War”, made in the early ‘70s, Speer cannot – even after 20 years’ imprisonment for his sins – shake his pride of place: “Everyone else had to go through Bormann to see Hitler. Except me. I had the right of direct access to Hitler.” Ach, such power. Look upon me, ye mighty, and despair.

Things have gone terribly wrong, but was one expected to be “delphic”? Can one be held accountable because one is not a god?

And were we not seeking merely to use our power as a force for good in the world? Didn’t we at least try? That’s more than the wussies with their morality and ethics and international laws would do. Don’t we get credit for trying? Is it our fault that such a noble and beneficial plan was poorly executed? And after all, you may take our word for it that at the outset the war was “a doable do”; they love to strut the man-stuff, these neocons.

We wasted “thousands of hours” before the war, confides one Player, “searching for middle-ground which most of the time will not exist”. The logical gap between relating what actually happened and then suddenly shifting to the ungrounded assertion begs for further ‘unpacking’, as they say. But this is not to blame the interviewer: these characters didn’t allow themselves to be interviewed in order to humbly do their bit in shedding light on the Truth; they are all trying to ‘position’ themselves to survive the wreck of Iraq. Eating regularly in Georgetown can get expensive real quick if you aren’t on a number of dinner-party guest lists or ‘cleared’ for the White House Mess (again, the irony …).

After all, given the moral and manhood failures of the U.N. and everybody else, it was only “American armed might” (if they do say so themselves) that was left able to ensure “a world at peace, a world governed by law; a world in which all peoples are free to find their own destinies”. That their efforts have been effected through war and the violation of laws international and national, they do not appear to notice. That their programme has resulted in a ‘freeing’ of the Iraqis “to find their own destinies” comparable to the ‘liberation’ of the Cherokee to do likewise on the Trail of Tears can be attributed to the brutal fog of war, which not even the most competent and realistic planners can totally disperse. Now people … people can be dispersed, and divided, and hung and drawn and quartered, but realistically, the fog of war and events is just one of those things. It happens. Anybody who really knows what the score is knows that.

But while “a huge strategic defeat” is almost inevitable, not to worry. “The best news is that the United States remains a healthy, vibrant, vigorous society. So in a real pinch we can still pull ourselves together.” That’s encouraging, if it’s as true as is going to be necessary. We’ve taken some serious hits in the ‘capability’ department since the end of the ‘60s and even since the (remember it?) fall of the Soviet Union. Theory has flattened our world, the government is happily presiding over a nation of victims, adequate jobs for those who seek them are in short supply, and for lack of anything better Congress has been channeling its predecessor of the Gilded Age and the last Weimar Reichstag. But perhaps a war with Iran will give us all the opportunity to stick-it-out and find ourselves.

Those of Us who can’t keep up on this glorious March or Griff, or doubt the wisdom of it … well, we obviously aren’t worthy of our birthright. And perhaps God will arrive at the last minute and Rapture all the good ones and toast everybody else. So what’s the diff? Why do your homework if the world will end before final exams? That thought had been proposed by more than one enterprising school-child the night JFK announced the blockade of Cuba; the tests went on after sunrise nonetheless.

Photographs accompany the article. In the practice of journalistic photography these days, the portrayed is allowed to control the mise-en-scene. They have all been shot in sober black-and-white, much after the style of Karsh, the great portrait photographer of World War Two, whose camera captured Churchill and … whoever. Well-coiffed, expensively suited, perhaps chin in hand pensively “pondering the imponderables of war” (in Shelby Foote’s acute description of General Halleck).

Except for one Mr. Professor Doctor Cohen, who stands sideways to the camera, head turned to look sharply at you over a raised nose and chin, eyebrow raised as if alert to the exigencies of those imponderables, hair just a tad mussed, one hand decisively flat on his lap, the other arm half-stretched forward with the hand half-curled in tensive thoughtfulness; he seems to be going for either Lincoln or Grant, but he’s careful not to let you see his arm resting on the classic Civil War-era half-column prop, so it looks like he might have just had a stroke.

A woman, an ‘expert’ at one of those think-tanks, in unadorned simple black, was apparently trying to go for decisive arms-folded, but instead looks like she’s hugging herself, whether out of habit or fear of still-pending consequences, it is not clear.

Another is bearded, looking either thoughtfully or shiftily off to his left, perhaps eyeing the arrival of those same consequences; the expertly trimmed beard makes it look like a simple change of collar and type of tie would make him one of the Kaiser’s advisers, or one of Franz Joseph’s – and considering the sorta Central European dynastic froth out of which the neocon agenda of empire stems, that’s not so off the mark.

Our accounts have not been managed well. And our managers appear far less impressive than the troops who remain obedient to their word. We should do something about that.

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