Friday, November 21, 2008

HOW INDEED?

Gary Brecher on ‘eXiled Online’ has a short piece whose title, again, says it all: ‘How Did We Ever Let This Guy Get Away with Being a War President?’. ( http://www.alternet.org/story/107321)

He goes on to do a very creditable number on the Incumbent. The piece stands on its own very well.

But while he gets the low-hanging fruit (And what else is Bush? And to read Rove’s description of his first glimpse of the young George, that phrase seems to work on so many levels …), he only skirts the actual question that his title implies.

Brecher sort of hints at it: “Nobody wants to recall what Americans believed back then [i.e. at the time of the initial invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq]”. Folks, he notes, “thought” that Saddam was “connected to 9-11” and that “his agents were going to poison our water, nuke our cities, and gas our subways”.

But then he shears off before really coming to grips: “At least they [the American people] claimed to believe all that. I don’t think they really did. There was just so much revenge momentum after 9-11 that it had to burst out somewhere. Everyone wanted payback.”

Nice. But too nice.

It’s sort of exactly the time when grown-ups show why they get paid all the respect: they ‘think’ when all their emotions and passions are pushing toward something else, like hasty, poorly-considered action that is undertaken with no thought to consequences, intended and – especially ‘and’ – otherwise: unintended, unforeseen.

We recall that the Imperial Japanese government hugely weakened its already delicate position after Pearl Harbor by only allowing itself to imagine that the results would conform to a best-case scenario for Japan: the Americans, deprived of their Pacific Fleet, the backbone of their naval power, would simply roll over and sue for peace, on Japan’s terms of course. Case closed and – banzai! – Mission Accomplished.

Things – as their Emperor was to note sadly but vaguely four years later – had “not worked out necessarily to Japan’s advantage”. Indeed. All that treasure and blood gone, and a budding empire reduced to a vassal state. No wonder that the Japanese tread carefully at the Yasukuni, their national shrine to the nation’s war dead, whose spirits are believed to inhabit those sacred precincts. And perhaps aren’t too pleased at the wastage of their young lives. It’s perhaps not to America’s cultural advantage that most of Us do not tread the precincts of Arlington with quite the same remorseful apprehension, sensing presences at every step, stopping Us in Our tracks, finally, and reducing Us to silent, imploring prayer. Perhaps one day We shall learn.

Especially now that the rackety, flag-happy Fundamentalist chaplainry is soon to depart the Beltway, perhaps – in the marvelous 19th-century phrase – “to take the veil”, and spend the rest of a natural life in silent, rueful contemplation of one’s follies and vanities and the blood-soaked consequences of actions hastily and lustily indulged. And of lives and treasure and honor gone beyond recall. Welcome to Christendom – for real. Welcome to that Old Testament that imposes sackcloth and ashes and the bitter gall and wormwood of evil’s ultimate treachery: to its own servants and cheerleaders. Use it well, ye of too much faithiness and not enough decency-ness. Leathery lungs that cheered pridefully must be taught to cry out in remorse, and loudly enough to prevail over the blood crying out to the Throne from the earth. And that’s a whole lotta blood.

And upon those dead be great peace.

But it was all done on Our watch. In Our name. Upon Our authority. And We watched it – on television.

Where I think Brecher is being too nice to Us is in trying to whistle by the graveyard of Our own culpability. Frankly, We’ve really let Ourselves go.

As one historian wrote about the decline of the British Empire: it would go like the Roman Empire had gone – its extremities grew at the expense of its heart. We are the heart. We have ‘gone’.

We’ve gotten so used to believing impossible things that after a while We couldn’t tell the difference any longer. And it’s been this way for a long while.

Could it be possible that before the guns had cooled in 1945 another, even worse enemy had arisen and wanted to destroy Us? Could it be possible that Harry Truman wanted to ‘scare the hell’ out of Us? Could it be possible that JFK would lie to Us about a missile gap? Could it be possible that LBJ and all those generals would lie to Us about how things were going in Vietnam?

Could it be possible that the ‘kids’ would really know more about how to conduct a human life than adults who had lived through a Depression and a World War (or two)? Could it be possible that the entire recorded history of the human race boiled down to brutish, kill-crazy guys keeping down the far more marvelous ‘women’?

Too many impossible things dutifully believed; no tires kicked, no questions asked.

James Dean must have known more than his bathrobe-bundled dad in ‘Rebel Without a Cause’. Brando looked so cool on that bike that he must have known more than anybody in the town his gang terrorized. The Beatles must know more than anybody else about what life really means and what it’s all about (nobody thought that about Gershwin or Cole Porter). Sinatra and Elvis really knew how to enjoy life and get the most out of it – everybody else was a chump.

It goes back that far.

Did We really think that nothing We were taught was real? Or did We just figure it was somebody else’s job? Did We have so little confidence in Ourselves that We naturally assumed that anybody with a little more cash or a little more get-up-and-go must automatically ‘know’?

Maybe, if you’re going to watch TV and movies, you really have to be anchored in a sense of your own self or else you’ll find yourself giving your life away to somebody with better teeth.

And giving your country and your heritage away to … well, various forms of sleaze and whackery. Or letting a bunch of too-eager unripes with a ‘sure idea’ of what has to be done take over the controls.

The Founding generation feared all of that. And they feared that the citizenry would not be up to the job of being The People.

Were they right? They wouldn’t be happy that their worst fears have come to pass.

Would they be surprised? I don’t think so – it was always in the cards that there might not be enough sturdy folks to People this contrapted Constitutional Republic. That eventually the whole thing might revert to the same old tyranny or oligarchy or absolutist State that had been the norm for almost all of human history up to that point in the late-18th century. That – after all – the whole show would turn out to be ‘Camelot’, just a bright, shining moment that its inhabitants let slip through their fingers. (That’s an anachronism, of course: none of the Founders would be familiar with the musical itself – although the plot would have been too familiar to them … they’d seen it in their nightmares.)

If only folks would ‘look at things differently’, then ‘things’ would get better. Nothing is real ‘per se’. It’s all in how you ‘look at’ it. If you hold your head the right way, then anything is on the level. Such was the 'wisdom' of the day - and for far too many still is.

A woman was just made a four-star general. Wearing pants, no less. Will her tenure at Army Materiel Command get the troops better armor? Maybe, but probably not – but that’s not the point. She’s a ‘symbol’. If people get used to ‘looking at’ her, at ‘a woman’, in a four-star general’s uniform, then that’s really what it’s all about. Don’t ask for facts about her specifically – embrace the ‘symbolism’. It’s a symbol of a great victory. Or, actually, the symbol is the victory. Which is kind of way too symbolic for the present mess the Army’s in. But then, the men haven’t done a very good job. So what the hey?

Anyway, We are rapidly approaching the situation of the once-mighty Royal Navy, that now has more admirals than it has ships, even little ones. But it’s still a nice symbol. Perhaps they’ll make her Chairman of the Joint Chiefs just in time to preside over the withdrawal of the Army from the Middle East. Or its encirclement. Or its being hired out – like Hessians of yore – to whomever has the cash to pay its bills. But the symbolism of a woman ‘Chief’ – ooooh. That’s progress. Chardonnay all around, barkeep! And make it the good stuff!

The British people – before the ink was even dry on the German instruments of surrender – voted Winston Churchill out of office forthwith. They knew what they’d had to live through since September of 1940; they sort of knew what was coming down the pike at them in the second half of the 1940s. They had had enough of flags and glory; they had saved Western civilization, they were flat broke, and it was somebody else’s turn now. They brought him back, a few years later, and he loved it – but there was no British Empire any longer; he was a museum piece, reminding them in a hazy golden glow of the time when once they had been a Great Power.

There is no ‘America’ that’s going to come and relieve Us of the burden. The whole concept of Novus Ordo Seclorum (it’s on the money) was entrusted to Us. And We’ve pretty much let it slip through Our fingers.

The world goes back to something much less than it was when the Founding vision was kept alive. We have failed to tend the flame. Maybe it’s not so strange that failed priests are all the rage as objects of derision nowadays: maybe this is a whole country of failed guardians, just looking to get by or get away. Like Mussolini when Hitler’s commandos scooped him off his mountain-top prison, hoping to thank his Fuhrer and then ask for cabfare back to his hometown in Italy – quiet Predappio - where he’d jus t like to settle down and get back to normal and leave history – what there was of it – to somebody else now.

Hitler and History had other ideas. And Mussolini was no longer in a position to ‘make’ history. How fast time changed for him. Not long before, just a few years, he could even make trains run on time.

If We slept through those history lessons the last time, it seems they’re coming around again. Buckle up.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous David said...

Well done. This is a keeper for the anthology. :~))

5:54 PM  

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