Juan Cole writes today that ‘only gullible, self-righteous Americans’ could have taken seriously Bush’s infamous 2003 Mission Accomplished speech aboard the USS Lincoln, and I would add to those adjectives ‘gullible, self-righteous and mesmerized by the sight of an overgrown kid in a combat flight jacket.’ His point by point dismantling of the non-stop lies in that speech is essential reading.
The larger point, however, is a concealed truth that needs a better airing than it’s getting from the Obama campaign and, I believe, reveals one of the weaknesses of that endeavor. The unity message is all well and good, but the voting public also needs a good injection of wake-up to its own complicity in the astounding b.s. that’s been peddled en route to this war of conquest and ever since. It would be a bracing antidote to the endless electoral pandering parading as leadership, which assumes we are all 9-year-olds tempted by too much ice cream.
Militarism and imperial adventure took a licking during the Vietnam debacle, but those permanent American values recovered quickly, thanks to the steady rewrite of history by cash-flush think-tanks and films like de Niro and Streep’s, The Deer Hunter. We were barely into the Carter presidency when the Committee on the Present Danger and other defense contractor front groups were back to their Cold War tricks, stimulated by the Soviet blunder into Afghanistan in 1979.
Carter tried to ride this wave, not realizing that it would soon carry him out to sea on an ice floe. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s Rasputin, celebrated the Soviet Afghanistan error and may have conspired to provoke it, convinced (correctly, it turns out) that the invasion would weaken them mortally and lead to an American Cold War triumph. A mere million and a half Afghans had to die to give Zbig his wish.
Lest we forget, Carter’s boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics was part of this remilitarization—so enough about keeping politics out of that quadrennial PR campaign.
Bush stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier five years ago and crowed about the humane and virtually painless American conquest while lying through his teeth about weapons of mass destruction, al-Qaeda in Iraq (which didn’t exist until he created it), the elimination of the Taliban in Afghanistan and peaceful U.S. intentions toward the Palestinians (!) How many Americans, today disgruntled, noticed or cared about the vast bundle of lies contained in that photo op?
At the beginning of Louis Malle’s crushing World War Two film, The Sorrow and the Pity, he interviews a middle-aged German couple at their daughter’s wedding party about their wartime experiences. The matron remembers the early months of conflict and says matter-of-factly, ‘We were very happy with the news of all our victories.’ The camera lingers on her blank face while the viewer conjures images of Nazi troops pouring into Yugoslavia, Holland and Czechoslovakia. She doesn’t add anything more and is either unaware or unconcerned about what those lovely ‘victories’ meant for the people on the receiving end of Nazi bayonets.
The crimes of this war are sufficiently grave that a leader wishing to appeal to our better selves must also tell us some uncomfortable truths about what America has done. It’s not enough to say we should join together and lift up our collective hearts to a better land on the horizon. Like it or not, we also have to look back and notice the dead bodies left in our wake.