Thursday, June 03, 2004

War on the truth

Whoever writes President Bush's speeches is either demented or a sick genius. I fear it's the latter but either way, they are taking a huge risk. Comparing the war in Iraq with World War II will prompt two quite different questions, one the speechwriter is hoping will only occur to the liberal intelligentsia who hate Bush anyway, the other they are hoping will pop into the patriotic noggins of all good Americans. First, who are the invaders, the aggressors, and who the heroic resistance? The people of Iraq are not Nazis. They didn't attack anybody, nor are they currently aggressing against any other nation. America's short war in Iraq has blown out into a drawn-out occupation, which is being fiercely resisted by sections of the populace. No amount of accusing the resistance of being "turrists" or claiming that Al Qaeda is behind it all will change the fact that Iraqis are fighting against the occupiers. And these occupiers are looking less each day like the guys in white hats that we take the US GIs of WWII to have been. In Saving Private Ryan, despite its ferocity, Tom Hanks did not piss on any civilians, or rope them up naked. He didn't even play them any loud rock music (okay, he would have had to invent it first, but he could have shouted at them a bit, rhythmically).
The second question is not so much who won but was it worth winning? By that I mean, was it worth going to the lengths we went to? Of course, in hindsight we know it was a war that had to be won. The man in the street probably doesn't question whether it was worth the horrific lengths we went to. He just knows it did involve some ferocious fighting, often directed against civilians. World War II brought the end of the notion of the inviolate civilian, which had had some currency for centuries, at least since feudal times, when combatants were readily delineated. The perceived justice of the cause seems somehow to still any questions about the methods. The end is seen fully to justify the means.

But I think there's a case for asking whether it did. Certainly, questions could be asked about the strategic bombing of civilian populations. Does a good cause excuse that? Does it today?

The speechwriter has hit on a tremendous device. Many are comparing Iraq with Vietnam: a war fought without justice, a grinding slaughter of a people fighting for their nationhood, a folly. How smart to put the idea out there that this is rather the Second World War and that Bin Laden is Hitler (when, of course, he is far more like Ho Chi Minh -- it is nationalist sentiment he appeals to, just like Ho, and the ideology is probably not what attracts his cadres -- all of this is doubtless true of Hitler but Hitler did not aim to inspire the siege mentality but to reawaken visions of former greatness).

But this war looks more and more like the Jewish Revolt. The locals simply will not worship the same gods as the Americans (money, consumption and sex prime among them) and the Americans will keep fighting them until they feel they have changed that. Unlike the Romans in Judaea, though, they haven't fixed the water. Would Bush be so glad to be cast as Titus as he is as Eisenhower or Truman?

Well, of course, he hasn't the faintest idea who Titus is, but if he did, he'd know that Titus also believed his cause was just, and his cause was nothing more noble than the enrichment and glorification of Rome.


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