Below is the latest The Pain -- When Will It End?
It was hard to find ways to make this cartoon funny, and I’m afraid that perhaps I failed after all. I got so angry and despairing last week when I heard about the massacre of civilians in Iraq. It shouldn’t be shocking that such things happen in war, especially wars of occupation in which the enemy insurgency is invisible and the civilian population is hostile to the invaders. Me, I blame our civilian leaders (most of whom conspicuously avoided military service) who sent teenagers into this baking hellhole and have kept them there for three years. If I’d been over there this long and someone blew up Boyd or Chris or webmaster Dave in front of me I’d be shooting women and children, too. And then there were the three simultaneous suicides at Guantanamo. Rear Admiral Harry Harris, the commanding officer of the base, said of his dead captives: “They have no regard for life, either ours or their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.” Reading this line brought me that piquant mixture of incredulity, disgust, and perverse satisfaction at seeing one’s blackest, most cynical expectations exceeded, a delicacy increasingly available to us connoisseurs of human hypocrisy. (It’s not unlike that slow, sarcastic, half-sincere applause a husband in an old movie might give his transparently manipulative villainess of a wife after an especially histrionic performance.) It’s an acquired taste. This pathological right-wing need to position themselves as victims and underdogs, besieged on all sides, is apparently unshakable, even as they imprison their enemies and torture them to the point of starvation and suicide. Help, help, America is under attack by suicide hangers! O the humanity! Will no one save us from these monsters? Jesus. Even the admiral’s name, Harry Harris, sounds like the stuff of parody, an echo of Heller’s Major Major.
Further confusing things is that the World Cup is in progress, which since I am oblivious to the sports world gives me the occasional jarring surreal moment. How to tell, at a glance, which is sports and which is news when you read headlines like and “Sri Lanka, Tigers clash” and “Argentina crushes Serbia”? For a second I was like: holy shit—Argentina crushes Serbia? What in hell do the Argentines want in the Balkans?
It was my idea to put Hitler’s rationales for invading Poland into Bush’s mouth, but when I found the actual speeches even I was amazed and delighted by their uncanny appropriateness. They are all but indistinguishable from George’s Bush’s speeches preceding the war in Iraq, except for the place names and Hitler’s superior diction. (Hitler would’ve mopped up the stage with George as a public speaker.) Nation-states’ pretexts for launching wars are invariably the same from one millennium to another; always the invader poses as rescuer, always attacking in self-defense or to protect an oppressed minority, always claiming that their enemy is not the country but its leader, who is always called a madman and a tyrant. This is one of many reasons why it might be helpful Americans knew any history; the propaganda might start to sound suspiciously familiar. But to most products of our public school system the Gulf of Tonkin is as obscure and meaningless a reference as the U.S.S. Maine or Jenkins’ Ear or Helen of Troy. Yes, in other words, because you stared at Meg Moretti’s ass and inscribed “THE DOORS” on your notebook instead of paying attention in Social Studies your nephew’s coming home from Iraq in a box. Thanks to one Ian Sinclair for posting Hitler’s justifications for the invasions of Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland (see http://www.govinfo.bnet-newmedia.co.uk/facts_Articles.php?IDVal=54 for the complete texts).
For a while I was thinking of drawing a bar graph showing the disparity between the numbers of people killed by the Nazis and the number killed by the Americans, but then I realized that, for one thing, this was actually a pretty tricky problem, like am I citing the standard figure of six million killed in the Holocaust or am I counting all the combat deaths from the European theater of the Second World War, and am I only counting the forty thousand casualties in Iraq or throwing in all the civilians killed in American invasions, American-backed civil wars, and CIA-sponsored coups in Viet Nam and the Philippines and East Timor and Panama and Argentina and so on over the decades? Plus, more importantly, the resulting graph would not exactly have bolstered my cartoon’s thesis. Even if we limit ourselves to the Holocaust, six million is still a shocking number of people, besides which solemn looming tower on the bar graph the figure forty thousand would be a mere imperceptible sliver. It only served to illustrate what an unimaginable atrocity was Hitler’s attempted extermination of the European Jews, dwarfing even the monstrous pogroms of also-rans like Pol Pot and Stalin and Mao.* Except are we comfortable with this being the defining moral difference between us and Hitler’s Germany? The numbers?
So okay, I realize that the comparison of the Americans to the Nazis is hyperbolic and facile. This is the reason why anyone comparing Bush to Hitler is instantly dismissed as a crackpot America-hating lefty who’s lost all historical perspective. The Nazis were killing millions of civilians on purpose, as part of a deliberate, calculated campaign of genocide, whereas we’re only killing tens of thousands of civilians by accident, as part of an invasion of a strategically valuable country rich in resources, and we officially regret it. But, again, this doesn’t seem like anything to be proud of. If we’ve reached the point where we have to go out of our way to trumpet our moral superiority over the Nazis we might want to stop and try to pinpoint where we got so lost. It’s not as if our invasion of Iraq was any more nobly motivated than the invasion of Poland. Certainly it hasn’t, as the administration keeps trying to claim, made either Iraq or the world a safer or freer place. Who’s safer, exactly? The tens of thousands of Iraqis we’ve killed? The 2500 Americans who’ve died? As Michael Berg, father of Nicholas Berg, who was beheaded by al-Zarquawi, said in a recent interview:
Whenever I get into impassioned imaginary arguments with pro-war politicians and pundits, I always want to pose the rhetorical question whether they’d be willing to accept their own families’ deaths as “collateral damage” in this great mission to bring peace and freedom to the Middle East. Would, say, Bill Kristol consider his children acceptable casualties if it meant the success of the mission? How about only one of his children? In fact, if I ever got to attend one of Bush’s press conferences (admittedly a long shot at this point) the question I’d want to ask would be: If sacrificing your two daughters’ lives would ensure stability and democracy in Iraq, would you do it? Follow-up question (not that I’m likely to get one): If so, why don’t you make the offer? It seems like al Qaeda might actually go for this. It’d speak to their medieval sense of justice. Plus it’d make you an old-Testament-style hero at home, giving the lives of your own daughters to save the lives of thousands of American soldiers! Quote the Biblical story of Isaac and then cut their throats yourself on live TV! It would definitely appeal to the Base.
It was this week that I finally accepted that I don’t care what happens in Iraq, This is, I realize, an even more controversial position than demanding the immediate withdrawal of the troops. All I want is for people to stop dying there. I don’t give a shit about the “mission,” whatever that was supposed to be. This endless ghastly clusterfuck is entirely the fault of George Bush and anyone who voted for him and supported the invasion. It’s your war, folks. Enjoy. Good luck with it. Let us know how it turns out. I’m honestly not sure whether I’ll even be able to force myself to swallow my own vomit and vote for Hillary Clinton or anyone else who authorized the use of force in Iraq. Any politician who supported this war is either much stupider than me, since I didn’t buy the propaganda about Weapons of Mass Destruction or a link between Saddam and al Qaeda and I knew it would turn into a quagmire, or has even less integrity than I do, since they knew as well as I did that it would be a disaster and voted for it anyway out of political cowardice. I’m tired of our elected officials being cowards or fools. I’m tired of being ashamed of this country. I’m tired of being lied to and spied on and intimidated, and of Americans being seen around the world as invaders and torturers and killers. I won’t feel like we’ve begun to atone for the atrocity of Iraq until George Bush and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice and yes, even that well-meaning fuddy-duddy academic Paul Wolfowitz have all been tried for war crimes and hanged like Eichmann at Nuremberg. It makes me a bad person, I know--a divider, not a uniter, part of the problem, not the solution--but God help me, I’d like to watch those traitors kicking.
Today’s headline from the World Cup: “Scoreless in Nuremberg.”
* I like to eat at a chain of Chinese restaurants in New York City called Grand Sichuan, whose Chongquing chicken and mapo tofu is unsurpassed but whose institutional reverence for Chairman Mao creeps me out. There are photos of Mao on the walls—Mao in high school, Mao with his grandchildren, Mao at the beach—and a special section on the menu featuring his favorite dishes, such as sour string beans with ground pork. It’s a little as if I were eating in a Bavarian restaurant where they displayed baby pictures of Hitler and served items like “Uncle Adolf’s Wienerschnitzel.”