April 3, 2003
The Fog of War
Like Matthew Yglesias
and a scattered handful of other bloggers, I dont really have a strong
opinion of the current military strategy of the United States in Iraq.
I am not a general,
nor do I play one on TV. Playing lots of games of Civilization 2
does not give me great insights into whether the 3rd Infantry Division ought
to be flanking to the north of Karbala.
Even if I did have
aspirations to be an armchair general, I sure as hell wouldnt try to do
it with the kind of information available to the American public at present.
There is a great deal of accidental and purposeful misinformation flying around
the global mediasphere, especially in the US media.
The war could be
over tomorrow, or five months from now. My concern has never been about what
would happen during the war, but what I see as some of the inevitable long-term
consequences of the way in which we went to war and some of the unavoidable
disasters that will follow in its wake.
About the only
thing I do feel confident in saying is that if American policy-makers overestimated
the degree to which Americans would inevitably be met as liberators by the Iraqi
people, theyre stupid. I dont know for certain that this misunderstanding
was typical within the Bush Administration, but I think the evidence is fairly
good that there's a fair amount of this particular hubris in the air--or there
was before the war started.
What I am struck
by more than anything else, however, is that hardly anyone in the public sphere
seems in a deeply thoughtful mood, either in the mainstream media or in Blogistan.
My own feeling in watching or reading some of the news coverage is a complex
mix of emotional and intellectual melancholy combined with a sense of open curiosity
about what is happening on the human scale of these events. The complex sadness
I felt when I saw a photo of a Marine cradling a girl whose mother had just
died in a crossfire, or the amusement I felt seeing a young Iraqi boy with a
Batman shirt accepting gum from a US soldier: none of this is a talking point
in some predetermined, shrill argument for or against the war.
Where are the novelists
and poets of the daily grind of the war, the people who call us to some deeper
meditations about the meaning of it all, who bring us together in a contemplative
pause where the lion lays down with the lamb and the warblogger sighs heavily
in sympathetic unison with the critic of the war? Where is the general humility
in the face of events vastly larger than ourselves, the reflective pause?
Why must every
unwinding of the widening gyre be ripped back immediately to the hurly-burly
of crudely diametric rhetorical combat? Why cant Andrew Sullivan or James
Lileks or Glenn Reynolds allow themselves the necessary luxury of moral ambiguity
as well as empathy for the whole wide world and all the frightened people in
it? Don't they have a single doubt or regret? Isn't anything messy or difficult
in their world? Why does Patrick Nielsen Hayden get vaguely harrassed for feeling
a moment of magic connection with a single American soldier as opposed to the
generic abstraction of humanity as a whole? Why must antiwar bloggers drag every
utterance and image coming from generals and politicans and soldiers through
a brutalizing vivisection? Why is everything part of some media conspiracy?
Where is the curiosity, and yes, the excitement, the pulse at the temples, the
little heart-skipping trill of empathetic fear for men and women in harms
way, all of them? Where is the simple fascination with the awesome technological
and logistical scale of the war?
Why is everyone in such a rush to line up all the ducks in the world in a row?