Thursday, August 19, 2004

Thugs and Thucydides 

Molly Ivins revisits those glorious days prior to the invasion of Iraq, when the more belligerent among us discovered, gratifyingly, that society would offer no barriers to the public expression of their natural psychopathology -- as long as they called it "patriotism":
"To think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward; any idea of moderation was just another attempt to disguise one's unmanly character; ability to understand the question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action; fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man... Anyone who held violent opinions could always be trusted, and anyone who objected to them became a suspect."

The quote is from Thucydides, the Father of History, writing about the day in 415 B.C. when Athens sent its glorious fleet off to destruction in Sicily. I have not been re-reading Thucydides, but found the quote in a footnote in a splendid little book called "Gag Rule: On the Suppression of Dissent and the Stifling of Democracy" by Lewis Lapham, in my opinion the most incisive essayist in America.

I bring this up only because it doesn't look as if anyone else is gonna. John Kerry is running such a cautious campaign that George W. Bush can get away with falsely claiming that Kerry would have supported the war even if he had known then what he knows today. This does, of course, raise the awkward question of whether George W. Bush -- had he known then there were no weapons of mass destruction, no nuclear program, no ties to All Qaeda and no imminent threat -- would have gone to war himself. The one legitimate excuse they always had -- that Saddam Hussein was a miserable s.o.b. -- was the one they specifically rejected before the war.

It is so painful to read about what is happening in Iraq today (can we put the old dog about how the news media are ignoring "the good news" to rest now?), it is not clear whether we should barf or go blind. With the best will in the world, one cannot pull a positive outlook out of this tragedy. I never advocate despair, but ignoring reality is just as destructive. What. A. Mess . . . .

The patriotic bullying that went on in this country over Iraq should not be forgotten . . . . Wretched excess always accompanies war fever -- in World War I, "patriots" used to go around kicking dachshunds on the grounds that they were "German dogs." As I have noted elsewhere, people like that do not go around kicking German shepherds.

Some of that bullying, swaggering tone remains with us, in our politics. To treat with contempt any effort at "nuance" or "sensitivity" -- in one of the most fraught and sensitive situations we've ever been in -- is just ugly know-nothingism. As Republicans used to say to Democrats abut the election debacle in Florida last time, "Get over it."
UPDATE (via Cursor): The poster that the Minneapolis Star-Tribune refused to run, by artist Jeff Johnson:

 Posted by Hello

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