Why War Will Take No Holidays in 2010
This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.
Excuse the gloom in the holiday season, but I feel like we're all locked inside a malign version of the movie Groundhog Day. You remember, the one in which the characters are forced to relive the same twenty-four hours endlessly. Put more personally, TomDispatch started in November 2001 as an e-mail to friends in response to the first moments of our latest Afghan War. More than eight years later... well, you know the story.
Worse yet, the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll indicates that a startling 58 percent of Americans, otherwise in a mighty gloomy mood, support the president's latest "surge" in Afghanistan, which will extend that war into the dismal future. And worse than that, in Afghanistan as in Iraq, from the point of view of official Washington, next year won't really count for much. The crucial decisions on both wars will evidently leapfrog 2010. So, on that score, we might as well just mark the year off on our calendars now.
Two thousand ten: pure loss. But before I go into the details, let me try this another way.
In his 1937 short story with an unforgettable title--"In Dreams Begin Responsibilities"--Delmore Schwartz's unnamed narrator imagines himself "as if" in a "motion picture theatre." He's watching a silent film--already then a long-gone form--"an old Biograph one, in which the actors are dressed in ridiculously old-fashioned clothes, and one flash succeeds another with sudden jumps." It's not any movie, however, but one about his parents' awkward, uncertain courtship, and there comes a moment when his character suddenly leaps up in the crowded theater of his dream life and shouts at the flickering images of his still undecided (future) parents: "Don't do it. It's not too late to change your minds, both of you. Nothing good will come of it, only remorse, hatred, scandal, and two children whose characters are monstrous."
For just an instant, that is, he's willing to obliterate himself, his very being, in order to stop a nightmare he knows will otherwise occur.
This unnerving fictional moment, which I want you to hold in abeyance for a while, came to my mind recently--in the context of TomDispatch.
Bombing Afghanistan Back to the Stone Age
Our endless wars are nightmares. Few enough would disagree with that, even, I suspect, among the supportive 58 percent in that poll or the 54 percent who "approve of the president's performance as commander-in-chief." If only we could wake up.
I was reminded of our strange dream-state recently when I reread the article that sparked the creation of what became TomDispatch. I first stumbled across it in the fall of 2001, after the Towers came down in my hometown, after that acrid smell of burning made its way to my neighborhood and into everything, after I traveled to "Ground Zero" (as it was already being called) to view those vast otherworldly shards of destruction via nearby side streets, after I spent weeks reading the ever narrower, ever more war-oriented news coverage in this country, and after I watched George W. Bush and Company mainlining fear directly into the American bloodstream, selling the eternal terror of terror and the president's "Global War on Terror" that so conveniently went with it.
It was obvious that war was on the way, and that the men (and woman) who were leading us into it had expansive dreams and gargantuan plans. Somewhere in that period, probably in late October 2001, a friend sent me a piece by an Afghan-American living in California that spurred me to modest action.
His name was Tamim Ansary and he posted it online on September 16, just five days after the attacks on New York and Washington, having listened to right-wing talk radio rev up to an instant fever pitch about "bombing Afghanistan back to the stone age." His piece went viral and finally reached me--I was hardly online in those days--by e-mail sometime in October after the Bush administration had begun the bombing campaign in Afghanistan that preceded its invasion-by-proxy of that country.
Ansary wrote "as one who hates the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden," and yet his piece was a desperate warning against the American war to come. He wrote with passion and conviction, with knowledge of Afghanistan and a kind of imagery that was otherwise not then part of our American world:
We come now to the question of bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age. Trouble is, that's been done. The Soviets took care of it already. Make the Afghans suffer? They're already suffering. Level their houses? Done. Turn their schools into piles of rubble? Done. Eradicate their hospitals? Done. Destroy their infrastructure? Cut them off from medicine and health care? Too late. Someone already did all that. New bombs would only stir the rubble of earlier bombs. Would they at least get the Taliban? Not likely.
It was the image of our bombs only "stirring the rubble" that stunned me. I had been reading the papers for weeks and had seen nothing like it. It seemed to catch the forgotten nightmare of the Afghan past as well as the nightmare to come at a moment when the only nightmare on the American mind was our own. Our own chosen imagery was then playing out in repeated public rites in which we hailed ourselves as the planet's greatest victims, survivors and dominators, while leaving no roles for others in our about-to-be-global drama--except, of course, for Greatest Evildoer (which Osama bin Laden filled magnificently). It wasn't only our foreign policy that was switching onto the "unilateral" track, so was our imagery.
Small wonder, then, that the strangeness of that single image moved me to gather the e-mail addresses of a small group of friends and relatives, copy the piece into an e-mail, add a note above it indicating that it was a must-read, and with that modest gesture, quite unbeknownst to me, launch TomDispatch.com.
Ansary, an Afghan who had been living here for thirty-five years, wasn't thinking only of Afghan lives and nightmares, however. He had American lives and nightmares in mind as well. He wrote about Americans dying, about the dangers of Pakistan, and especially about bin Laden's dream--to draw this country's military into the backlands of Islam and start a war of civilizations--while pleading against an invasion that, even on September 16, was unstoppable. Of bin Laden, he wrote:
It might seem ridiculous, but he figures if he can polarize the world into Islam and the West, he's got a billion soldiers. If the West wreaks a holocaust in those lands, that's a billion people with nothing left to lose, that's even better from Bin Laden's point of view. He's probably wrong, in the end the West would win, whatever that would mean, but the war would last for years and millions would die, not just theirs but ours. Who has the belly for that? Bin Laden does. Anyone else?