Freud, have mercy upon us.
Life, have mercy upon us."
--Stephen Vincent Benet, from the poem "Minor Litany"
Tonight I went to our neighborhood Persian restaurant. The owner knows my wife and I as newly frequent customers, so he came over to speak to me. When he saw I had brought a science fiction book to dinner (my wife being out of town), we began discussing books. I knew he is trilingual, so I asked him which language he prefers to read in--French, English or Farsi. He told me that he found Farsi capable of expressing incredible poetry, but that he was more comfortable in French, which he spoke more fluently and found more evocative than English. We laughed about the inadequacy of subtitles. I told him the story of how I toured the Swiss parliament once. I speak schoolbook German. When we got to one chamber, the tour guide explained in German that we were in the Mendenhall, and gave a discourse about how each chair had a special meaning, depending on the canton of the delegate who sat in the chair. She asked me if I knew an English word for the concept of a "mendenhall". I shrugged; I wasn't sure. She finished the long German explanation. Then she turned to the Brits and Americans on the tour, and said, in English, "this is a lobby". We went to the next room.
Last night, I wrote my senators. Today, I feel that I am one of millions of voices not being heard.
Last night I went to senate.gov, so that I could send electronic mails to my senators opposing the war. I considered setting my e mails out verbatim here, so that I have the assurance they would be read by somebody, but I must confess that they contain nothing I have not read on LJ for months on end now. I set forth my position--that UN action is the only permissible action given these circumstances--and that the arguments I felt existed for military action in 1991 and in Afghanistan could never translate into an argument for this planned conflict. I made clear that I am not a "dove for all purposes" in this particular vein. I told the senators, perhaps superfluously, that I love my country and would support our troops in the field. As an aside, I hang my head with shame whenever I think of the kids on the left in the sixties who harrassed military enlisted people for the sins of politicans and generals.
I told the senators that I felt this war placed our country in needless peril, when other options exist. I felt we will win this war, and lose the peace. I expressed my sharp concern about what adverse homeland fallout from war could do to our flailing economy (I pointed out that the airline industry in particular is deeply vulnerable). I sent off my long e mail. This noontime, the radio told me that Mr. Bush had given a press conference which said, in essence, that tomorrow marks the "end of diplomacy". I know my e mails were just two more "clicks" in a poll. I've even read that a paper letter "counts for more" than an e mail. But I still can't help but feel that nobody is listening.
I spent today in rural Texas, driving and walking around, visiting off-the-beaten track flea markets and junktique shops. I found a 1961 book called "Fallout Protection--What to Know and Do about Nuclear Attack", published by the US government. The book is filled with words which seek to "prepare" one for nuclear conflict. Although we have seen a great many parodies of this type of work, I thought it significant that the work's tone is spare and direct--on page 38, the book states "the world and your community would be shattered by a nuclear war". This book was issued when I was two years old. I grew up believing I would see a Soviet/US nuclear war someday.
Now the Soviet Union collapsed of its own design flaws, and there is the potential that the world will never have to see the great communist/capitalist confrontation which I believed would one day consume my childhood. Instead, we must confront the issues which fester in the wake of the end of the Cold War. Both the Taliban and the Iranians stem from the derivatives of the Cold War. The Taliban and other mujaheddin were our armed "counterweight" to Soviet expansionism in Afghanistan. We overlooked their aims and goals, so long as one of their aims was fighting the Soviets. The Iranian Islamic fundamentalist revolution arose in substantial part because we propped up a deeply despotic regime, and radical revolutionaries came to control the rebel forces. Iraq is a very complicated tale of a country which soaked in both US and USSR aid in substantial measure, playing on both the US hunger for an Iran enemy in the region and the Soviet hunger for a government reasonably friendly to its flawed brand of Marxism.
I hear voices who consistently say that everything in this situation is the United States' fault, but such a view ignores altogether many Cold War complexities, as well as the historical fact that the forces which have given rise to some of these tensions have existed in this region long before the United States was active in this region. In the case of Islamic fundamentalism, some of the issues predate the existence of the US. In a more modern vein, the baathists in Iraq did not merely take pages from the Stalinist playbook; they actually wrote a few especially barbaric plays of their own. I am also intrigued that so few people have recognized the possibility that the Bush administration is not moved by ulterior motives, but instead by their own asserted motives--and that those motives are deeply, tragically, fatally flawed. I think that even in the opposition, too many on the left are willing to give them the credit of having a useful ulterior motive, when in fact I fear that they mean what they say--and live in a "world all their own" in which they've convinced themselves they are right, come what may. I fear that the problem now is that they have heard the American people, and do not believe them.
A book which stays on my bedside table is called "Cacti and Succulents, a Concise Guide in Color". It is an English translation of a Czech book. The left-hand page in the text covers a single cactus or succulent species. The right-hand page contains a drawing of the species of cactus discussed, done in full color drawing by an artist named Jirina Kaplicki. Professor Kaplicki apparently was an artist who worked in Prague during the 1950s and 1960s. I imagine an artist painstakingly doing these nature sketches of blooming cacti. I read this book for a relaxing escape from the day to day stresses of the world. The book was first published in translation in the UK in 1968. Tonight I wonder, perhaps improbably, what the authors of this book on cactus were doing when the Soviet tanks rolled in, after millions across the world cried out for Czechoslovakia to go free.
I do not give the Iraqi government a "free pass" to oppress its people, including this week's apparent move against certain of the Kurdish people. I do hope that regime change can be affected in Iraq someday, and that a true Iraqi democracy is one day achieved. I despair of people who do not see the horrors that people living in nations like Iraq face every day. I am not moved by the argument that prior US wrongs in supporting Iraq against Iran somehow should lessen my revulsion towards Mr. Hussein.
Tonight it's easy to despair of words. In 2000, the majority of people voted against the current president, who took office based on an electoral college vote (and I'll skip tghe attendant controversy). During that election, crucial votes were stripped from the center left candidate by those casting a "protest vote" in favor of Mr. Nader. The folly of this tactic on the left is now fully home to roost, as isolationists turned born-again international intervenors daily show us their lack of appreciation of the nuance of this situation. But I do not believe that 100,000s of thousands marching in the streets will avert this war. I frequently think agitprop is better at preaching to various choirs than at really effecting change. I am frustrated by the fact that our government just won't read the tea leaves. But I must admit I'm also frustrated that the millions weren't in the streets--and the ballot boxes--when the 2000 election was in swing. We are literally one president and three senate votes from not being on the brink of an Iraqi war.
Today I bought, for 3 dollar and 50 cents, gourds which had been made into maracas, with ornate little wooden handles, and little paintings that said "Mexico" on them. This bit of faux folk art for tourists shows so much craft. I look at these trinkets and listen to the radio, and the world seems so out of sync with my hopes and dreams.
The more curious thing of all is that I believe that the US has a consensus about spending the money to track down and arrest the remaining 9/11 terrorists. I believe an overwhelming majority of Americans, including myself, suppported our action in Afghanistan. I even believe that most people in this country support a more aggressive UN, even if that means that violation of UN sanctions lead to military action. But I am amazed that so many indicators are present that this potential war is fraught with peril, and yet nothing changes.
I cannot help but believe that the misplaced brinksmanship by the current administration is leading us down the wrong path. I want Iraq contained; I think most do. But the instability that appears to me likely in this bleak time worries me. I find it particularly ironic that Mr. Bush campaigned as a Middle East isolationist. He reminds me for all the world of an ex-smoker speaking about cigarettes.
But the hard part now is that I feel that until the next election, no change can be effected. The next months are going to be difficult, and lives will be lost. I think back on the well-taken conservative criticisms of our brushfire action in Somalia, and then marvel that this government now proposes to occupy a nation of twenty five million people.
I think people have to keep speaking up, and trying to effect change. But I also think people have to keep hope,even when our government doesn't listen. When Republicans boycott the Dixie Chicks for speaking out, I have to buy Dixie Chicks CDs. I went for lunch to a German restaurant. There were only two tables filled; the owner said that he worried that customers were avoiding him due to the German stance on the war. I plan to eat there again. On the other hand, we have to make sure that soldiers in the field are not blamed for Mr. Rumsfeld's war. If the war is to be fought, it must be won, as losing it will not add to world stability. But although I will be loyal despite my dismay, I cannot help but think that this war should not be taking place, and nobody is listening.