May This Be the Last of Your Sorrows

River:

The naivet of Americans who can’t believe their ‘heroes’ are committing such atrocities is ridiculous. Who ever heard of an occupying army committing rape??? You raped the country, why not the people?

In the news they’re estimating her age to be around 24, but Iraqis from the area say she was only 14. Fourteen. Imagine your 14-year-old sister or your 14-year-old daughter. Imagine her being gang-raped by a group of psychopaths and then the girl was killed and her body burned to cover up the rape.

Why not the people, indeed?

One type of criticism of the Bush administration and the war is the contention that the decision to go to war was correct but that the war itself was conducted badly. That we could have gone in with six times as many troops, did our bombing and killing, and then cleaned the place up nicely and swept all the rubble under the rug and handed over the keys to the palace. I have to admit it was once an argument that I found appealing, offering as it does a way out of the “but you didn’t want Saddam in power, did you?” trap.

Looking back, of course, it’s impossible to imagine that a war predicated upon lies and manipulations would ever have gone well. Looking back, it’s fucking lunacy to think, “Well, they lied about the whole cause for the war, but I’m sure once they get there they won’t screw anything up.”

And in the past three years we’ve pondered the loss to our national image abroad and the loss of American lives, we’ve tried to puzzle out how history will see us, how our children will judge what we did and didn’t do, to make this happen or stop it from happening. Time and again in the past three years we’ve given our leaders chances to turn things around, chances to prove that they’re not as bad as all that, really, chances to show us anything but the ugly face they’ve shown so far. We’ve never stopped hoping, and they’ve never stopped failing us.

In the past three years there’s been an abundance of evidence that the Bush administration is Lucy and we are Charlie Brown. We kick, they pull the football away, and we’re on our asses in the field looking up at the sky yet again. And it sucks to be Charlie Brown.

But as River so aptly points out, nobody ever thinks about what it’s like to be the football.

And to attempt to answer her I’d have to confirm my own darkest suspicions of human nature, that we do not imagine the dead as our own because we can’t, because doing that would leave us either paralyzed with terror or compelled to act, and either alternative seems to be impossible for us. It all seems to be too much, to speak up, to get involved, to give, to work, to march, to shout, to call, to write, to do anything other than go to work and come home and shake our heads at the news, confess antipathy for all politicians, and go back to not voting like we always do.

Somehow in the past six years or so the attitude has infected this country that there’s nothing we can really do to change what’s happening, that there’s no real consequence we can bring to bear. It’s not hard to see how that — not apathy, more like depression, a sort of smothering flat pain — came about, really: elections we should have won but didn’t, fiery speeches given to uncaring media, talking heads spewing lies day after day after day and then castigating their critics for rudeness … It seems like there are no consequenes for anybody anymore.

The president breaks the law? Fine, we’ll just draft up some new laws to make it okay for him to break the laws he broke. The president’s lawyer says the president is always right? Well, maybe he is, and shouldn’t we hang reporters for treason, after all? Is some kind of torture okay? What if Jack Bauer did it? What about John Wayne? Torture in fantasy world works just fine, and I like fantasy world, let’s go there and play. New Orleans drowns? Eh, “black culture,” and those people should have protected themselves just like me, sitting in my second-floor apartment in the dry Midwest. The poor deserve their poverty. The hungry deserve their hunger. War heroes are cowards. Nothing you can say is too outrageous, we’ll all just chuckle and pretend it’s performance art. And so on and so forth, forever and ever, amen.

Like River, I’ve been waiting for our national wake-up call, our one thing that will prove we’re capable of stopping this ride and getting off. I’m thinking now I should have set the alarm clock instead.

A.