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