The jingoist euphoria that followed a successful one-sided war may not last as long as the Republicans now assume. John Major, for example, having bowed to the need to dismantle Maggie Thatcher’s poll tax, is painfully discovering that the British people cannot be blinded forever by sand from the desert.
And yet the political landscape does look different after the storm. To be more accurate, some of the changes are indeed new, while others have merely been brought more sharply into focus. Observing the conflict from Paris, its most striking–and most shocking–feature was the sordid silence of the intellectuals about the crimes committed in our name. The treason of the French clerics reached such unprecedented proportions that it raises the issue of whether, in the tenth year of his reign, François Mitterrand may not be in the process of completing his unexpected task, as a nominal socialist, of "normalizing" France by bringing it fully into the U.S. orbit. It raises a broader question, too: whether the inevitable and necessary collapse of the post-Stalinist system must now be followed–and for how long?–by the domination of the American ideology. These are some of the issues that I will touch upon in the notes that follow.
The Time of the Murderers
"Voici le temps des Assassins." Thus Arthur Rimbaud, who broke his pen at the age of 20, having revolutionized French poetry. Rimbaud died in 1891 and, although his centennial does not match the Mozart celebrations–since poetry books do not sell like CDs–it is still quite an occasion here. His famous forecast came to mind during the forty days in which the coalition forces bombed a country back to the Middle Ages, killing an incalculable number of soldiers and civilians. Uncalculated may be a better word than incalculable, since no effort has been made–quite the contrary–to tell us how many Iraqis were massacred, possibly 100,000 or more, in that short lapse of time. The objection will be raised that Iraqis grew used to slaughter under Saddam Hussein; more than a million died, after all, on both sides in the protracted war with Iran. Some of those dead, it should be remembered, were exterminated with our weapons; but this new massacre is entirely our handiwork.
The facts and figures are kept secret for reasons that are not hard to find. They would destroy the image of a clean, clinical conflict, bloody the legend of a just war and disturb the clever talk about the resulting peace in the Middle East. Only once, on the penultimate day of the war, were we shown the burned carcasses of cars and personal belongings, scattered as the fleeing Iraqis were bombed and strafed in a "turkey shoot" [see Christopher Hitchens, "Minority Report," March 25]. It was imperative, however, to stop this impression of a massacre from spreading: Since most people are shocked by the concrete image of death, it would have spoiled the great jingoist celebration. Rimbaud, incidentally, had words for this, too: "Ma patrie se lève, j’aime mieux la voir assise"–roughly translated as "My country stands tall, I prefer it seated."