Private Jessica Lynch has amnesia. The soldier, now reportedly in hospital, can bear witness neither to what happened nor what didn't.
Lynch remains the governing metaphor for the war, which, like her, is less a substance than an absence, a portrait drawn in silhouette. Just as Lynch is colored around by what did not happen to her on April Fool's Day, what is not happening in Iraq is growing clearer by the day.
On April 4 The Washington Post reported that Lynch was rescued from the Saddam Hospital in Nasiriyah by "navy special operations forces, or Seals, extract[ing] Private Lynch while under fire". In fact, there were no Iraqi soldiers in or near the hospital.
It was reported on April 6 that after being ambushed, Lynch "fought fiercely and shot several enemy soldiers, firing her weapon until she ran out of ammunition despite having sustained multiple gunshot wounds".
Rather than being ambushed, it has now emerged that Lynch's convoy leader misread his orders and drove into Nasiriyah past waving Iraqis. Realizing his error, he tried to turn the 13-vehicle convoy around but they ran out of petrol, or collided with each other, or broke down, or got stuck. It's unclear whether Lynch fired her weapon or, like others in her convoy, her gun jammed due to poor maintenance.
[Lest this imply that the leader, Captain Troy Kent King, blundered, that too is not the case. According to the military investigation, King did nothing blameworthy, but committed a "navigational error caused by the combined effects of the operational pace, acute fatigue, isolation and harsh environmental conditions".]
This newspaper's Miranda Devine, reporting from Sydney, described the Lynch rescue as "the feel-good story of the war", but said it was being hijacked by "feminists": "It is inevitable that Jessica Lynch will be immortalized as the invincible female warrior princess, her heroics exaggerated for feminist propaganda. The ramifications for all women are profound."
By the time she comes to, Lynch's world will have changed, then changed back again. What has not changed, however, is her status as the human symbol of what the war on Iraq was not.
It was not a war to disarm Saddam Hussein of the weapons of mass destruction he did not have, or the "enriched uranium" he did not buy. It was not a war to remove the "45-minute" danger Iraq did not pose. Nor was it a war to disable an elite Republican Guard which was, in fact, a poker party of old men manning sandbags with rusty rifles, and tank drivers who cheerfully drove into the B-52s' crosshairs. It was not a war to bring democracy to Iraq, for a democratic expression of a majority Iraqi will is precisely what the occupiers will not allow.
Nor, of course, was Saddam the tactical genius he (or we) pretended he was. Had Saddam been a coach in the National Rugby League, he would also have been out of a job by April. He certainly wasn't a leader with 100 per cent electoral approval, as he claimed, but then in a free election he'd still likely have won more votes than the 24 per cent of Americans who voted for George Bush.
[A note on the difference between Saddam democracy and American democracy: in the former, people are forced to give their consent by voting for the one available candidate; in the latter, people are liberated to give their consent by not voting for anyone.]
Most potently, the war isn't a "was", but an "is". It's here now, in the present. The fact that it's no longer being broadcast live on Fox News only makes it feel more real then when it was.
Meanwhile, Private Ryan - sorry, Lynch - will become a hero of a telemovie that tells her story as it could, perhaps should, have happened. When the telemovie is screened, Lynch's amnesia will be relieved and she can become, at last, what Michael Moore might have predicted as her destiny: a fictitious character rescued fictitiously from a fictitious war to which she had been sent by a fictitious president, as seen by an audience who can't remember.
Malcolm Knox is a Herald journalist.
Copyright © 2003. The Sydney Morning Herald