A Failure of Imagination
9/11 was said to be more a failure of imagination than intelligence - the implication being that no one could imagine planes being intentionally flown into buildings. (As it turns out there were several people who not only imagined it, but also knew it was a weapon of choice for some.) As we listen to Bush and his handlers do their infomercial for war in Iraq, the challenge again seems to be more to our imagination than to our intelligence.
Bush demands respect in direct proportion to his inability to earn it. His slip during his petulant address to the UN on September 12th outed him. As he patronizingly assured the assembly that he wanted the UN to succeed he said, "We want the UN to be effective and respectful...." One imagines that his speech writer intended him to say, "We want the UN to be 'respected'" but the bad actor blurted out the subtext, which was and is, "Be respectful." And it's easy to imagine that the subtext to "Be respectful" is "Just do what we tell you to do."
Bush warned the UN that if they aren't "respectful" they will become irrelevant. And recent history shows that according to the Bush cabal the Florida Supreme Court is irrelevant; voting rights are irrelevant; black voters are irrelevant; Congress is irrelevant; The Constitution is inconvenient and irrelevant and now the UN will become irrelevant. Even as we are told that all of this military leveraging is for the American people, we are becoming irrelevant. Apart from hoping that we lack the imagination needed to confront them, our main virtues to them are our vulnerability to being manipulated and our consumption of fuel.
After our experience of 9/11, we don't have to imagine thousands of Iraqi civilians being blown apart. We have a frame of reference for it. Even before we consider the civilians who could well become soldiers as the streets of Baghdad turn into battlegrounds, we should not fail to acknowledge that the actual soldiers in Iraq are sons and husbands and friends - they have potential for joy and love - and they will be devastated as they do what their cornered fate has bid them to do. Protect the regime and the homeland. It is no less than what our soldiers would be asked to do if our homeland were invaded.
It's sad to feel compelled to state the obvious - that human beings feel loss in Iraq as much as they feel loss here - that there are faces of grief there as well as here - that Iraqi citizens may well be holding pictures of their husbands, wives, brothers, sons and sisters as they search for them through smoldering rubble. We've seen those images on the streets of New York. We don't have to imagine it we just have to expand our experience to include - them.
As Bush wraps himself in a Christian cloak his actions and rhetoric again insult the integrity of his political hero's message. Love your enemy - Do unto others as you would have them do unto you - Let he who is without sin cast the first stone - Before you worry about the speck in your brother's eye take the log out of your own. To Bush Jesus is a banner, not a person or a spiritual reality that has actual application in this world.
As Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush rattle off the laundry list of crimes that require us to invade Iraq one can imagine other countries at different times in our history who might have thought it would be time to take away our ability for self-determination. From the treatment of Native Americans, to slavery, to women not having the vote until 1920 - to capital punishment - there could have been and could be a country that might make a case for invasion. In fact, right now it would not be hard to imagine countries that believe we should have a regime change.
There are those who wonder if the 9/11 hijackers saw their mission as a pre-emptive strike. Imagine if each one of the hijackers, whose pictures we have seen often, were put on trial posthumously. Imagine the investigation of each internal evolution that put them on those planes and into criminal and political history. The most lethal weapons of mass destruction resided in the hearts and minds of those men. Their posthumous trials might well be the most valuable form of weapons inspection we could ever imagine.
At this exact moment we are debating the ostensible reasons for the invasion of Iraq. Critical thinkers here and around the world, using their imagination, resist these ostensible reasons. They imagine that our leaders are hyping dramas so they can make deals with Iraq's oil. If what they imagine is true, then the discussion turns sharply.
The invasion of Iraq becomes less about liberation and security and becomes more like a hostile takeover. To imply that our commander-in-chief would use our military as if it were a hit man for a corporate mob action has to remain, for most, unimaginable. The only response from the administration to this theory has to be red-faced indignation and outrage. Anything less would make them available for impeachment.
The other day, a friend from New York came up to the country and stood with a neighbor of mine looking out over a great Connecticut hill. The New York friend said, "It's a beautiful country." The neighbor said, "It could be." The friend looked at the neighbor for an explanation. The neighbor added, "If we put our foot down." It feels like a helpless concept: citizens, supposedly in the minority, putting our foot down to demand a beautiful country. 9/11 has stretched the limits of our imagination - and now the push for war in Iraq - what motivates it and how to stop it will make demands of both our commitment and our imagination.