Primal smirk

Thursday, January 5th, 2006

I ache with fresh hope and foreboding at this time of year. The time is ripe for an overarching vision of a world without war — a tough, smart vision that can claim headlines and hold its own with the spin machines of government. Without it, we’re doomed to . . . war with Iran?

“Of course, Bush has publicly stated for months that he would not take the possibility of a military strike (against Iran) off the table. What’s new here, however, is that Washington appears to be dispatching high-level officials to prepare its allies for a possible attack rather than merely implying the possibility as it has repeatedly done during the past year.”

This is from the German publication Der Spiegel, at the end of 2005. Even the cynic in me is shocked by the lack of subtlety in these calculations: “During his trip to Turkey,” the article goes on, “CIA chief (Porter) Goss reportedly handed over three dossiers to Turkish security officials that purportedly contained evidence that Tehran is cooperating with Islamic terror network al-Qaida. A further dossier is said to contain information about the current status of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.”

Terror link, WMD program. Uh oh.

Suddenly Ares’ primal smirk is all over this story, especially when you factor in the Bush administration’s plummeting poll numbers and its obvious need to do something decisive. It stops the heart. Are we once again watching the slow, methodical buildup to folly? Are we once again helpless to stop these guys from doing what they do best?

Our primary institutions are locked in a cycle of violence the public has been in the process of abandoning for several generations. The same poll numbers that bode so poorly for Bush point to Americans’ serious loss of appetite for militarism. In a University of Maryland survey a while back, 76 percent of respondents, asked what role the country should assume globally, agreed that, “The U.S. should do its share in efforts to solve international problems with other countries.” Only 12 percent thought it should be the predominant world leader. And 57 percent disagreed that the U.S. “has the right or even the responsibility to overthrow dictatorships”; only 12 percent agreed.

“Should we begin to think, even before this shameful war is over, about ending our addiction to massive violence and instead using the enormous wealth of our country for human needs?” asks Howard Zinn in the current Progressive. “That is, should we begin to speak about ending war — not just this war or that war, but war itself? Perhaps the time has come to bring an end to war, and turn the human race onto a path of health and healing.”

Perhaps indeed! Here at the dawn of 2006, I am allowing myself to slip into the current of this idea, to feel it quicken and fill the void in the public conversation about war, as purveyed by a fatalistic and self-importantly complicit media.

“You supply the pictures and I’ll supply the war,” said William Randolph Hearst a century ago. Today the cynicism is a little more couched, a little more craven. The New York Times and the Washington Post make a pretense at public soul-searching when reality exposes their atrocious pre-war drum-beating. Judith Miller theatrically atones for her propaganda pieces by going to jail (in defense of the public’s right not to know who fed her the B.S.). It’s all show.

When it’s time to make the case for the invasion of Iran, the administration’s horrific gobbledygook will be all over the front page and all over the op-ed page, and tenure-track journalists will once more put career ahead of principle and, in the words of Watergate icon Bob Woodward, join the groupthink. Our major institutions are hell-bent on making the same mistake over and over again. This is the myth of the “inevitability of war.”

We the American public experience the falseness of this myth one dead son or daughter at a time, but such lessons burn into the soul. Many who have learned it will be marching on Jan. 18 — Martin Luther King Day — in Washington, D.C., in opposition to the war in Iraq, a known disaster. Will they be outflanked by a fresh new undertaking in Iran?

“I don’t believe that our government will be able to do once more what it did after Vietnam — prepare the population for still another plunge into violence and dishonor,” Zinn writes.

I would phrase this great hope a little more cautiously. I think our government is perfectly capable of perpetrating another such plunge because most of the machinery of our society is calibrated to assist in the effort. But I believe the force to oppose this folly is enormous, and this time it will find leaders, and a voice.