Monday, March 26, 2007

Why Did We Want to Fight?


I must be brief because the damn internet here goes in and out. When I return to the states, I will declare one thing: Don't sign up for internet in South Africa. It sucks.

That being said, which we sometimes say, after recently viewing two documentaries, The Fog of War, a compelling personal journey with former Secretary of Defense and alarmingly formidable mind (especially for an 85 year old), Robert McNamara, and Why We Fight, a modern view of the dangers and progress of what Eisenhower labeled in his farewell address, "the military industrial complex", which I've always thought sounded like a psychological condition. (Ever since Henry got back from the war it's like he's distant or something. The doctors told me he suffers from a military industrial complex.)

Both films are chilling reminders of the uncanny madness of war and the continued ease with which we enter them. As I watched them more than four years after we set foot into the quagmire of Iraq, the question drawn to my lips (but left unspoken, because I wasn't with anyone and talking out loud to oneself is a sure sign of a military industrial complex) was not "why we fight" but "why did we want to fight in the first place." For me, the war began in the Spring of my Sophomore year in college, 9/11 had woken me from the solipsistic outlook in which most undergraduate time is spent, and a large group of protesters had formed in the center of our campus.

In the days leading up to this anti-war demonstration, blackboards around campus advertised the when and where. I don't remember which day of the week it was as that kind of thing tended to blur during these years, but the VirginaDissentator and I strolled out to watch, most likely using the jaunt to justify our skipping either our monkey course or art history. The neoclassical quadrangle looked as it did on any other day -- we usually had some sort of demonstration, be it from the ISO, Israeli Palestine something or other, or who knows (like I said, solipsistic) -- but this time people took notice of the anti-war crowd which had assembled with a microphone at the center of the quad.

Facing the growing numbers of protesters were an equally burgeoning cohort of -- and this is where I get confused -- were they pro-war protesters or merely anti-anti-war protesters? Just to clarify. VA and I were off to the side, as he put it at the time, "supporting big tobacco "(smoking cigarettes). These reactionaries, some of whom I recognized from the Football team, the rich kid social club, and -- those mythical beasts of our campus -- the Republican club, all sporting American flag paraphernalia, army fatigues and some bare chests (though these guys may have just been soaking up the early Spring rays). So, embarrassed as I was by the anti-war gang singing "Blowin' in the Wind", I couldn't comprehend what the other group was doing. Like a speech by President Bush, it was tough to watch for too long. Neither side compelled my allegiance; they were both friggen nuts as far as I could tell. Could someone please start a dance off or something, anything, a competitive eating contest. The tension had to be broken.

But, I'm sorry to tell you, dear readers, that this did not end in a dance off (side note: I would have betted on the anti-war gang in this. Those Repubs didn't look like the dancin' type. No question, though, the football team would have taken the eating contest.). I don't actually remember how it ended, as VA and I walked away, probably coughing as we tried to make sense of the spectacle we had just witnessed. Now in retrospect, I wonder if those anti-anti-war types have given due time for reflection. Were their sentiments just and justified? What were those sentiments exactly? In the face of overwhelming proof against WMD's and the Osama/Sadam link, have they reconsidered their views? And because I keep asking myself these questions outloud, do I have a bit of a military industrial complex?

1 comment:

BrooklynDissentator said...

For more on Why We Want to Fight, read Why Are We in Vietnam, by Normal Mailer. This little book is the story of a bear hunting trip in Alaska- told in first person stream of conscious by either a young texan society boy or an old negro harlemite (you're never told which one). On the face of it, a hunting trip in Alaska shouldn't have much to do with the Vietnam war, but what I think Mailer is getting at is that the two campaigns spring from a similar base american impulse to conquest, destruction, nihilism, and self-defilement.