Thursday, March 18, 2004

Mr. Bartlett's Iraq War Anniversary Address to the Nation
My fellow Americans:

There has already been plenty of speechifying and posturing in honor of the first anniversary of the war in Iraq. The House spent the day yesterday debating a resolution commending the troops in Iraq and crowing that the demise of Saddam has made the world safer. A number of anti-war Democrats succeeded in getting some licks in before the resolution passed overwhelmingly.

But there's one thing to keep in mind as you contemplate the war's anniversary, and the self-congratulatory yammering coming from the administration--this war is a political operation, first and last, aimed at consolidating George W. Bush's power in the United States. This war is the perfect club with which to beat political opponents, using issues on which Bush's opponents are perceived as the weakest--national security and the military, and the relationship between American power and patriotic feeling. Anything else the war might purport to accomplish is secondary to that primary aim. Don't forget: We were not attacked--not by Saddam Hussein or anybody associated with him, anyhow--and so trying to equate this shameful, illegal war with any of the legitimate wars this country has ever taken on is utter fakery.

And while we're dislocating our collective shoulders patting ourselves on the back for our nobility, we might take time to read the results of a new poll of the rest of the world, regarding how safe they feel, and how they feel about us, one year later. They believe our war is about oil and domination, not about ridding the world of terror. And they don't feel any safer. How can it be it that the rest of the world is wrong, and we alone are right? As the great journalist Robert Fisk wrote in The Independent this week, "The only people who feel safer are those who prefer not to think for themselves."

What sets Fisk apart from most American reporters is his grasp of history. In America, history is a class we take and swiftly forget. In Europe, history, and especially its memories of war--real war in people's own back yards, as opposed to newsreel footage and best-sellers about "the greatest generation"--remains fresh. That doesn't suit our forward-looking American mindset. Every day is a new one over here--and as a result, we tend to make our own versions of mistakes the rest of the world has already made. We do this because we think we're exempt from history--but we're not. We fail to heed the lessons others have already learned, and we don't remember the ones we learned for ourselves. At best, we're amnesiacs. Bismarck once famously said that God looks out for children, fools, and the United States. But could it be that the consequences of our amnesia are finally outrunning our divine protection? That might sound strange for a country as drunk on religion as ours--but call it divine protection or call it plain good luck, either way, we seem to have gone to the well once too often, and now it looks like it's running out on us.

And for all we hear about how this country stands united in its purpose, it's important to keep in mind that "united we stand" is utter fakery, too. This country is divided, bitterly divided, divided in a way that is beginning to defy purely political solutions, and anybody who attempts to claim it isn't is trying to paper over something there isn't enough paper in the world to cover. This must have been how it felt in the 1850s, when North and South, both believing themselves heir to the same traditions, both believing their very way of life under attack by the other side, reached the point at which conflict became irrepressible. It's hard to fathom how another civil war could begin in this country now, in our time, but one thing is for damn sure--the anger and bitterness needed are already here.

My fellow Americans, nearly 600 of us who were alive one year ago today are dead now, sacrificed to the Iraq war, and in effect, to the Bush/Cheney reelection campaign. If their deaths are to mean anything, let it be this--let their deaths remind us of the cost of complacency, the wages of fear, and the capabilities of leaders who mistake their own whims for moral imperatives. And let us hope that if there's such a thing as ghosts, the ghosts of these dead come back to haunt the evil bastards in Washington who got them killed.

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