April 3, 2003

The Fog of War

Like Matthew Yglesias and a scattered handful of other bloggers, I don’t 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 wouldn’t 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, they’re stupid. I don’t 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 can’t 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 harm’s 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?