Irony Strikes Back!

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Following
Sept. 11, the pundit class declared that irony was dead. It was
a strange pronouncement. What, after all, has terrorism to do with
irony?

If
I were of a conspiratorial mindset, I'd be inclined to think that
the punditocracy – which is now cheerleading for an even wider
"war on terrorism" – was attempting to disarm anti-war
critics before the bombs started to fall.

That
couldn't be right, could it?

Of
course, if anything is now obvious, it is that the war on terrorism
is stinking ripe with irony.

"In
irony, even in the large derived sense of the word, there is a kind
of malice," wrote
Lionel Trilling in 1954
. "The ironist has the intention
of practicing upon the misplaced confidence of the literal mind,
of disappointing comfortable expectation."

Certainly,
our leaders would love for us to fall asleep amid our comfortable
expectations and not ask bothersome, ironic questions.

For
instance, if this is a war on terrorism, why are we so busy bombing
the Taliban's front lines, not to mention hundreds of innocent civilians?
U.S. planes have bombed the Red Cross at least three times so far.

The
day after bombs fell on the Red Cross for the second time, Red Cross
President Bernadine Healy announced her resignation from the group.

Too
bad irony is dead. I can see the headline in The
Onion
now: "Red Cross chief surrenders after second day
of bombing."

So
far, the terrorists with whom we are supposedly at war remain unfazed,
which is unsurprising as we are bombing everyone except Osama
bin Laden's al-Queda terrorist group.

Granted,
the Taliban are not nice people, but the argument that we must eliminate
them because they are harboring terrorists doesn't stand up. The
Taliban aren't sheltering bin Laden; bin Laden is propping up the
Taliban. Without bin Laden's contacts, resources and money, the
Taliban are just a bunch of 10th Century goat herders.
They are dangerous only when defending their own land from invaders.

Before
the bombing began, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told us
that the Afghan campaign would not be an exercise in "nation
building." Nearly a month later, it is only an exercise
in nation building. Clearly, replacing the Taliban has overtaken
rooting out terrorism as the Bush Administration's primary war aim.

Here
is another ironic question: If America is really united, why do
the politicians and their media co-conspirators have to keep telling
us that America is united?

Careful
ironic analysis reveals the "America united" mantra to
be a rhetorical ploy, designed not to highlight a lack of dissent
but to strangle dissent in its crib. It is peer pressure for adults:
What? You are against the war, you say? Well, what is wrong with
you? Don't you see that the rest of America is united? Why don't
you just go to Afghanistan?

Even
taking the war at face value, there is plenty of irony to go around.

President
Bush is sending young people, mostly from rural America, off to
die to defend people under attack in urban America. Rural Americans
overwhelmingly supported Bush during the 2000 election, while those
in the nation's metropolitan centers did not. Tell me this isn't
ironic.

For
something that is dead, irony is pretty busy.

Last
week, we learned that CNN is going to "balance" its war
coverage. Supposedly, CNN is devoting too much time to covering
the victims of "collateral damage" in Afghanistan and
not enough time to spreading Defense Department propaganda.

Are
we talking about the same CNN that keeps former NATO butcher Wesley
Clark on its payroll?

Speaking
of former Gen. Clark, why was it wrong for the Serbs to fight Muslim
terrorists invading their own country, but it is O.K. for the United
States to fight Muslim terrorists a world away?

And
if this is a war to protect our freedoms, why is it that Congress'
first wartime action was to gut what little is left of Bill of Rights?
And why did President Bush create the Office of Homeland Security,
which has a Stalinist ring to it if ever anything did?

Irony
may well be dead. But as long as there is government, its ghost
will be alive and well.

November
5, 2001

Franklin
Harris [send
him e-mail
] is a newspaper reporter and columnist in
Alabama.

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