• Two Strikes Down

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    opens with a recommendation to anyone considering an antiwar book
    that they try an anti-glacier book instead. Same effect, same futility.
    In spite of the odds, Kurt Vonnegut then proceeds to finish one
    of the best antiwar books of the 20th century. If Slaughter-House-Five
    is an exercise in futility, it's a damned fine one. Hayden Carruth's
    poem On Being Asked to Write a Poem against the War in Vietnam
    is in the same vein. "Well I have [written many antiwar poems]…"
    the poet begins, but for all the toil and angst and emotional investment,
    in the end:

    …not one
    breath was restored
    to one

    mans womans or childs
    not one not

    but death went on and on
    never looking aside

    except now
    and then
    with a furtive half-smile
    to make sure I was noticing.

    Again, if this
    is an exercise in futility, it's a damned fine one.

    The Bush Administration's
    exercises in futility, in contrast, are damned demeaning. The idea,
    I guess, was to drop a few bombs, kill bad men with beards, eliminate
    terrorism (if not Evil altogether), and get on with the business
    of being the Greatest Country in the World. The mission, sporadically
    "accomplished" in fantasy, remains unaccomplished in fact.
    Nobody likes us all that much (though our world reputation remains
    u2018great' in a sense, ranging from Great Satan to Great Debtor to
    Great Goofball), nobody trusts us all that much, and nobody really
    respects us all that much. It didn't have to be this way. But thanks
    in large part to Bush-league military adventures, it is.

    The war in
    Afghanistan, the one commonly regarded as the good one, has looked
    steadily less good to the point that it isn't mentioned much anymore.
    The one in Iraq may still read like a success story to a handful
    of Likudo-fascists, but looks like a stinking meshugaas to the rest
    of the planet. You'd think that two strikes down, the Bush-leaguers
    would contemplate guarding the plate awhile — but no, as we wait
    for the next pitch, the third base coach (who in the world is he,
    anyway — an Al Qaeda mole? Beelzebub? A tobacco-chewing Machiavelli?
    Someone with a PhD in baseball???) is still sending swing-for-the-fence
    signals, Bush-code for war.

    Now that calm
    has been so effectively established in Afghanistan and Iraq, talk
    of moving the good work to Iran is in the air. Those who doubt that
    even Bush-league management could be capable of anything so stupid,
    should consider the words of Rummy's pinch-hitter, Robert Gates,
    who in early February declared: "We are not planning for a
    war with Iran." The statement would be immensely reassuring
    on the lips of some, but such lips tend not to work in the Bush
    Administration, which has now lied its way through a dazzling six
    years in office.

    A few weeks
    ago, Oman received a visit from one of the Administration's most
    distinguished liars. The Vice-president's few hours in the country
    were marked by monumental traffic snarls and a pervasive smell of
    sulfur. Genuine statesmen presumably go abroad with at least a hope
    and a prayer for peace in their hearts. Cheney goes with a hope
    and a prayer for war in his gall bladder (the heart being unsuited
    to a bilious agenda), to squeeze concessions of the u2018Please can
    our fighter planes take off from your glorious land, say yes or
    expect to be crudely snubbed' sort. Countries Cheney ought to be
    engaging in open diplomatic discussion, such as Iran and Syria,
    are meanwhile treated with dismissive contempt. As Seymour Hersh's
    The Redirection makes clear, Bush policy prefers now to deal
    with the Middle East's "centers of moderation" — that
    is, puppet regimes like those of Saudi Arabia or Egypt, corrupt
    enough to stomach its Plans for the region. In contrast to this
    "arc of moderation" (the phrase is a particularly noisome
    Blairite dropping), the Bad Barts of the region (Syria/Iran/Hezbollah)
    "have made their choice and their choice is to destabilize"
    (a particularly noisome Condoleezza dropping, on behalf of that
    venerable old champion of Middle Eastern stability, the American
    government). Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

    of the world from end to end is worth less than a drip of blood
    upon the earth," wrote the great Persian poet Saadi of Shiraz.
    The designers of the Great Iraq Liberation Scam had little use for
    that perspective. They may yet come round to it the hard way, or
    let the rest of us come round to it the hard way, while they go
    right on insisting that their failures are in fact successes. Lao
    Tzu said: "Those who would take over the earth and bend it
    to their will never, I notice, succeed." Saying it may not
    have made any more difference than writing an anti-glacier book
    or an antiwar poem, or observing that a war with Iran would be ignoble,
    unnecessary, ineffective, and possibly insane. But Lao Tzu said
    it anyway, and thank God for that. Some exercises in futility are
    better than others.

    17, 2007

    Liechty [send him mail]
    currently teaches in Muscat, Oman.

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