American Nero

I’m feeling an almost perverse sense of relief that the war has started. Now that the waiting is over, events are finally progressing onwards towards the conclusion of the crisis. Whether it’s weeks, months or years -- at least we’re closer than we were last week.

As usual, the American media is beating the drums of war and waving their flags. This morning on NBC’s Today Show, one of the correspondents delivered his report wearing a gas mask. There was something surreal about it -- as if it was a scene from David O. Russell’s satirical film Three Kings and not happening in the real world. It’s amazing just how excited and happy these people are to report on killing. The Iraqis are abstractions to them, just as they are to much of America. Brown people in funny clothes, led by a man who looks like some Bizarro version of Stalin, worshiping a strange, vengeful God. 10,000 casualties would be light they tell us, without a thought to the realities of that number. I once did a mailing of 3,000 post cards and it took me over a week of steady 8-hour work to finish that mailing. 10,000 casualties is a lot of dead people.

I surfed the web to get some alternative opinions about things, but was left largely unsatisfied., the “news” site that all the protest organizers promote to the anti-war activists, is a joke. Anyone can post a story, so very little of it follows the rules of journalism. There are no corroborating sources, just statements of hearsay. I knew it was time to stop reading when one of the stories mentioned a “Zionist media cabal.” Sorry guys, I may not agree with Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians, but the idea of a Zionist media cabal sounds not unlike the language of the American Patriot movement. A little too extreme, even for me. And a little extreme for mainstream America.

I was struck last night by the live video feed from Baghdad. The streets largely empty save for a few cars, everything seemed rather peaceful, almost serene. The scale and scope of the city was not too unlike the scale and scope of Washington. With the exception of some obvious Middle Eastern architecture, it could have been my own city. I found myself hoping that all those buildings would not be destroyed, that Saddam’s army would just give up in the face of the American forces. That the normal people of Baghdad would not have to suffer.

Around the world, other nations are denouncing the war with as much fervor as they rallied behind the U.S. to support us on September 11. Protesters in D.C. shut down the Key Bridge and managed to disrupt the morning commute. But none of it will have any effect -- we have an administration that holds democracy and public opinion in contempt. Should it be any surprise after they muscled their way into office during the Florida recount debacle that they would do whatever they want without any regard for the public?

Looking out my office window past the statue of Daniel Webster (if only Webster had been successful in blocking the annexation of Texas ...), I imagine George W. Bush sitting in the White House just a few blocks away. I wonder what drives the man to do this -- religious fundamentalism, big business, a need to finish what his father began in 1991? Or does he genuinely believe that this is the right thing? Is he like the mythical Nero, playing the violin while Rome burned around him, oblivious to the consequences of what he’s done? Say what you will about Bill Clinton, at least his motivations were clear. George W. Bush is an enigma -- and I fear, not an enigma because of brilliance, but an enigma because there is nothing there at all.

All the bonds of friendship and alliance are broken, the rule of law that has maintained the World order since World War II has been violated by the very country that drafted that law to begin with. A precedent of pre-emption has been set that Pakistan can use against India, China can use against Taiwan, and North Korea can use against South Korea and the United States. These are terrible times.

But at least it’s started. The end of all this is now a little closer. All we can do is watch and wait while it plays out. Oh yes -- and protest. Not that the media or the administration are listening.