Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Tragedy, Farce, and Armageddon

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.

The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Karl Mark
And the third time it happens, we're looking at Armegeddon. Billmon of Whiskey Bar fame is back and better (I use that in a qualified way) than ever. What if we threw a thermonuclear war and no one came? Read the opening:

Maybe it's just me, but I've been at least a little bit surprised by the relatively muted reaction to the news that the Cheney Administration and its Pentagon underlings are racing to put the finishing touches on plans for attacking Iran – plans which may include the first wartime use of nuclear weapons since Nagasaki.

I mean, what exactly does it take to get a rise out of the media industrial complex these days? A nuclear first strike against a major Middle Eastern oil producer doesn't ring the bell? Must every story have a missing white woman in it before the cable news guys will start taking it seriously?

I suppose I could understand it if all we had was Sy Hersh's word that the administration is planning another "pre-emptive" war in the Middle East. After all, we're talking about the same reporter who peddled all those crazy, unsubstantiated allegations about torture at Abu Ghraib prison. You can't be too careful with a journalistic loose cannon like that.

But now that Sy's Iranian nightmare – including the nuclear aspect of it – has been confirmed by the semi-official media, you'd think we could expect a little more ruckus about it from someone other than Helen Thomas. (No disrepect intended to Thomas, but she's probably the media personality the White House would most like to see taking point on this story.)

Even by the corrupt and debased standards of our times, this is a remarkable thing. The U.S. government is planning aggressive nuclear war (the neocons can give it whatever doublespeak name they like, but it is what it is); those plans have been described in some detail in a major magazine and on the front page of the Washington Post; the most the President of the United States is willing to say about it is that the reports are "speculative" (which is not a synonym for "untrue") and yet as I write these words the lead story on the CNN web site is:

ABC pushes online TV envelope

ABC is going to offer online streams of some of its most popular television shows, including "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost," for free the day after they first air on broadcast TV.

It appears our long national journey towards complete idiocy is over. We've arrived.

Mutually Assured Dementia

And how. Billmon's mordant and funny look at how Americans (and the world) might react to a nuclear strike by the US on Iran strikes me as the most honest view of the topic I have yet read. On the surface, it won't be seen as any big deal. A substantial chunk of America (the 30-some% who still support Bush) will actually be proud we nuked some brown-skinned people who worship the wrong god. The punditocracy won't know what to say because they don't want to lose their access to the cocktail weenies so they'll just look the other way and pretend nothing has happened.

Somewhere, though, a force will be gathering. Kind of like the way a tsunami pulls water away from the shore, collecting it in a huge wave to send crashing down on the beachcombers who did not understand that an earthquake very far away can have devastating reactions. Or like the way we thought New Orleans was safe immediately after Hurricane Katrina swept through, not realizing what the overtopped and broken levees were doing.

Billmon again:

I've been trying to picture what the world might look like the day after a U.S. nuclear strike on Iran, but I'm essentially drawing a blank. There simply isn't a precedent for the world's dominant superpower turning into a rogue state – much less a rogue state willing to wage nuclear war against potential, even hypothetical, security threats. At that point, we’d truly be through the looking glass.

That's what's so hard. Just what would happen? It's not clear that there would be any reaction, aside from a collective "OhMyFuckingGod" from the rest of the world. Any storm that gathers will be from "out there", not from within the US.

What I'm suggesting here is that it is probably naive to expect the American public to react with horror, remorse or even shock to a U.S. nuclear sneak attack on Iran, even though it would be one of the most heinous war crimes imaginable, short of mass genocide. Iran has been demonized too successfully – thanks in no small part to the messianic delusions of its own end-times president – for most Americans to see it as a victim of aggression, even if they were inclined to admit that the United States could ever be an aggressor. And we know a not-so-small and extremely vocal minority of Americans would be cheering all the way, and lusting for more.
I don't want this to be true, but I fear it is how this country, in its current state of ethical depravity, will respond to war crimes committed in our name. I thought the US wouldn't stand for crude voting fraud, but Ohio has actually passed laws to protect exactly that. I though the US would not stand for torture, but it looks at the photos from Abu Ghraib and yawns. Christians are cheering on the bastardization of their faith, demonstrating their cynical nihilism without the slightest shame, selling their votes like it will make the Rapture come sooner.

Which it very well may. The first Gulf War was a tragedy, an act of hubris and stupidity triggering the needless deaths of thousands. The blame for that lies squarely on the shoulders of Saddam Hussein. I don't give a fuck what "messages" or "signals" the twit of an ambassador gave him, invading another country is wrong. The second Gulf War was farce, though a very bitter kind. It was opportunism and personal psychosis in glorious technicolor. "But we wanna have a war! We've got to get our war on!" The blame for this lies on the Cheney Administration who staged a war so they could line their pockets. There was no justification for invading Iraq. Period.

And the third Gulf War? The one where the US goes nuclear on the world? That, boys and girls, is Armageddon. No, not the Xtian wet dream of being taken up into heaven where you then watch all the people you hate get killed down here on earth, as though God created a snuff film for your delectation. I mean the annihilation of modern civilization by the nihilists who realize that the rules no longer apply. I'm not talking about a backlash against the US (though that might be part of it) as much as the act itself - unleashing nuclear weapons on a civilian population as a "deterrence" against using nuclear weapons against a civilian population. To do that is to engage in the murder both of humans and of humanity.

The Cheney Adminsitration doesn't think rules apply to them. They have placed themselves outside the normal order of human affairs, making exceptions of themselves. Thus far, they have only acted as demi-gods, deciding the fate of millions as it suits them. To utilize nuclear weaponry is to declare that they have the right to decide the fates of all. Which then makes it acceptable for other states to act in a comparable manner. What if Russia decides it's OK to nuke Chechnya? Or China decides to deal with those pesky Tibetans once and for all?

The End-times fantacists have already decided that it is good and desireable that the world should be destroyed ASAP. The rest of us can only try to keep them from dragging the rest of us into their holocaust. You know what really sucks about it all? Since their religion is a fantasy, there will be no hell in which their souls will suffer eternal torment for butchering the world.

I'll let Billmon have the last word:

When a culture is as historically clueless and morally desensitized as this one appears to be, I don’t think it’s absurd to suppose that even an enormous war crime – the worst imaginable, short of outright genocide – could get lost in the endless babble of the talking heads. When everything is just a matter of opinion, anything – literally anything – can be justified. It’s only a matter of framing things so people can believe what they want to believe.

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