Training Wheels and Fighting Words

Peoples of the world — outraged and horrified at the US occupation of Iraq, which has decisively discredited the Bush administration and inflicted deep damage to the image of America in all lands, which has been characterized by martial law, looting, human-rights violations, and more than 10,000 dead civilians — were stunned to find all this mayhem and madness has at last received a characterization by the Commander-in-Chief: “training wheels.”

Yes, that’s what he called it, in the context of explaining to Republicans how it is that the US is going to transfer sovereignty. “Time to take the training wheels off,” he said. The metaphor is revealing in some respect, though it is not clear precisely how. It could reveal the infantile mind of the president. It certainly reveals how the Bush administration regards Arab civilization, as essentially in need of the US Midas touch. Or it might just reveal the way the government looks at all things it is in charge of, which includes you and me.

Training wheels, we now know, amount to tanks in the streets, shut-down newspapers and other forms of media, whole towns enclosed in razor wire and terrorized with Satanic rock music and machine gun fire, not to speak of the unspeakable acts of training that took place at Abu Ghraib.

Oh but wait. The US claims to be really sorry about the abuse in Abu Ghraib, and mystified as to how such clear violations of international law could have taken place. As a sign of its penance, the military has begun trials for those responsible, handing out such severe punishments as discharging those responsible. Many reservists might be thinking: so all I have to do to get out of this hell hole is beat up some Iraqis and send the pictures to the Washington Post?

You had better do something beside just walk away, because look what happened to Camilo Mejia, who could not somehow come to terms with the idea that all that blood he was told to shed in Iraq was spilled to protect freedom. So he walked away, claiming conscientious objector status, and not a living soul doubts his sincerity. A military jury, however, found him guilty, as guilty as those who treated prisoners like slaves and dogs.

Meanwhile, as if to further confirm Mejia’s moral qualms, in a ghastly scene even more egregious than that caught on film in Abu Ghraib, the US shot up a wedding on the Iraqi border with Syria, killing 45 people, many of them women and children.

Incredibly, the US continues to deny having done so, while claiming this was actually some terrorist outpost, citing Orwellian evidence such as the presence of “30 males of military age,” and deigning to decide where and when weddings can take place. The US says that they shouldn’t take place in the desert so apparently this did not take place. If it did take place, well, “bad things happen in wars,” says Major General James N. Mattis of the 1st Marine Division.

The bad things in this case are once again unspeakably bad. There is the testimony of everyone there, plus reporters, the fresh graves themselves, and detailed accounts of a war crime. The first bomb hit at 2:45am. A Baghdad wedding singer was killed (a “human shield”?). The second bomb hit a stone house and killed everyone inside. Shells fell for hours before the helicopters arrived and dropped 40 soldiers, who search the houses and then blew them up, and stripped money and jewelry from dead women, and then left. That’s the end of the story. So the US military is reduced to demanding that we believe what its spokesmen say rather than our own eyes.

Training wheels indeed.

On the home front, another unspeakable scene: a huge conservative celebration in Washington, DC, attended by the usual hacks, hucksters, interns, college Republicans, political junkies, bumper-sticker salesmen, special interest pleaders, cynical intellectuals, organizers, would-be power brokers, and naïve throngs of dupes, plus some sincere people who truly believe that the conservative movement is a viable vessel for change toward freedom.

Bush spoke. That’s the Bush, the one who has inflated the federal budget at a pace that matches and even exceeds that of Lyndon Johnson, and a man who has presided over and exacerbated the worst thing to happen to the world since the Cold War: the rise of global terrorism and US imperialism locked in a recurrent cycle of self-reinforcing mutual dependency — a perfect storm for the leviathan State.

If you have ever attended one of these events, you will find the following report from John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge entirely believable:

In his speech, the President promised that “for our blessed land the best days lie ahead,” and was greeted with several foot-stomping ovations and cries of “Four more years!” But the real flavor of the event was captured by what the president called the “fine group of decent citizens” gathered at the tables in front of him — members of the N.R.A., the Heritage Foundation, the Family Research Foundation and countless other groups that make up Conservative America. One man wore a tie with the Ten Commandments; women carried handbags in the colors of the American flag; and when the narrator of a film about the conservative union used the phrase “right-wing nuts,” the room roared its approval.

A few conscientious objectors were reported: Donald Devine among them.

And one more scene: the Cannes film festival in France, attended by glitterati from all nations, some of them socialist superstars who like to prattle on about the plight of the poor even as they complain about the quality of the service at the world’s most expensive hotels. They live off the high budgets for leisure amassed by average consumers thanks to the capitalist economy, even as they decry the excesses of capitalism and proclaim their devotion to the workers, peasants, trees, and bugs.

Michael Moore’s new film debuted at Cannes. It’s called Fahrenheit 9/11. The movie decries the warmongering of the Bush administration, exposes the fraudulence of his excuses for invading and crushing Iraq, unearths the unseemly ties between the Bush regime and big oil and the Saudis, and blasts the Bush regime for its egregious violations of civil liberties and massive pillaging of the American taxpayer on behalf of the merchants of death.

Some footage shows US troops abusing Iraqis. Other footage shows Michael Moore stopping Members of Congress to ask them to sign their kids up to fight in Iraq (no takers). The reported contents of this film contain nothing with which a libertarian could object, and everything to praise to the skies.

Certainly the audience gathered adored this movie. They stood and cheered for 20 minutes, something unheard of in the history of the festival. This speaks very well of them. These were people from all nations, and for them, the film clearly represented something of a catharsis. They, along with many of us, had clearly been feeling frustration that the conventional media are not telling the full story, and worried that we have been living through something approximating a fascist takeover of the United States, and yet we have all been too silent. Moore has done a wonderful thing.

Juxtaposing the two scenes underscores to what extent conservatives have shored up socialist ideology with unrelenting praise of militarism, and helped the left to thrive by becoming so brutal and violent-tempered.

A question: With which crowd do you sympathize? The wedding party or the bombers? DC cons or Cannes? Don’t call me a conservative. That’s a fighting word.

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