Wednesday, July 07, 2004

"The Way We Were" 

Tom Engelhardt (of TomDispatch) on the vision thing:
Here we are just past our Independence Day, past that moment in memory when the United States was, by active example, a "beacon of freedom" to the world, past the moment in memory when, as Barbara Ehrenreich reminded us in the New York Times on July 4th, the signers of the Declaration of Independence penned their names to the following line (Their George and Ours): "And for the support of this Declaration… we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." She adds:
Today, those who believe that the war on terror requires the sacrifice of our liberties like to argue that 'the Constitution is not a suicide pact.' In a sense, however, the Declaration of Independence was precisely that. By signing Jefferson's text, the signers of the declaration were putting their lives on the line… If the rebel American militias were beaten on the battlefield, their ringleaders could expect to be hanged as traitors. They signed anyway, thereby stating to the world that there is something worth more than life, and that is liberty.
Now, let's leap a couple of centuries-plus and consider another group of Americans who signed onto what's looking more and more like an inadvertent (political) suicide pact. Our media washes over us like some mind-cleansing drug, so today, in the shambles of Bush administration Iraq policy, in the wake of Abu Ghraib, just beyond the "transition to Iraqi rule," it's difficult to recall what life was like back when the press was simply a lapdog; CBS's Dan Rather was burbling, "George Bush is the President, he makes the decisions and, you know, as just one American, he wants me to line up, just tell me where"; war was a swift, smiting blow (when was the last time you heard the phrase "shock and awe"?), and we were about to be anointed as the New Rome.

It's hard to remember that we were then ruled by the greatest, and most arrogant, gamblers in our history, men (and a single woman) ready to roll the dice any old time on the fate of the Earth. In the wake of every crumbling pseudo-explanation for the war in Iraq, it's hard to remember just how sweeping their vision actually was or what they had in mind when, not so long after September 11th, 2001, they loaded some high-tech hummer (regular cars being far too retro for them) with explosives and drove out into the world looking for something to blow up. Now that the strategists among them are in decline and the "realists," long left in the lurch, are wheeling and dealing in Iraq and Washington, it's hard to recall the utopian (or dystopian) fantasies they were so intent on imposing on what turned out to be a surprisingly recalcitrant world.

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