I think it was Keith Olbermann who said it first, who said yes wow that Virginia Tech shooting rampage was horrible and shocking and brutal and oh my God we lost a lot of really good, honest American kids and Something Should Be Done.
And maybe let's start with the wide-eyed gun-rights maniacs and the conservative pseudo-cowboys and those twitchy Second Amendment paranoids who somehow still think that we all must cling to our nasty little Glocks 'cuz gosh, what might happen if our own government turns on us and nobody has their little handgun to protect their kids from the tanks and the missiles and the heat-ray guns? Right.
But hey wait (Olbermann went on to say), then again, in the 10 days prior to that horrific shooting, didn't we also lose nearly exactly that same number of young people over in Iraq (well over 30) to even more brutal idiocy and insanity, to cluster bombs and insurgent shootings and gruesome death and a hugely inept, warmongering American president who is so violently unable to see just what kind of bland, lackluster evil he has wrought upon the planet that he is now on the verge of entering the record books as the Worst President in History?
And maybe, just maybe, given how we are still losing double-digit numbers of good, honest American bodies every week in Iraq, just as we have for the past four solid years, perhaps we should be equally -- if not perhaps quite a bit more -- appalled and disgusted and shocked that this "war" is still raging, nonstop, to the tune of 3,400 dead Americans and tens of thousands wounded and counting fast?
What, in other words, is wrong with us? Where is our outrage? Where is the pain and wailing and the candlelight vigils? Why has it become so easy to let Iraq turn into this numb, forgettable, boring thing, a blip in media, a sad yawn in your day?
Yes, maybe you heard all that and, like many Americans, reacted by saying, well yes, Iraq is awful and all, but it's a war, and like it or not, kids are supposed to die in wars, in unspeakable and unrecorded and unbloggable ways, it's understandable and acceptable and even (tragically, morbidly) expected, whereas that's not supposed to happen in a nice upscale college where most kids can keep their nervous rage in check with iPods and drugs and beer bongs and lousy recreational sex.
Or perhaps you replied, well, it's easy to ignore Iraq because, unless you're in the family of a soldier, this might be the most painless, distant, unfelt war in our short history, so removed and so disconnected from our everyday lives that it's almost as if it's not happening at all, just some minor political irritant as opposed to a horrid, gory embarrassment that's costing us $100,000 per minute, or $275 million per day -- enough money, by the end of it all, to rebuild every school and every park and every free clinic in America and then go on to house every homeless person and solve the oil crisis and cure a few diseases and perform a thousand other social improvements you can't even imagine right now lest you feel disgusted and sour and sad for the rest of the month.
See, it's all about perspective. And when it comes to Iraq, we aren't really required to have a great deal of it anymore because, let's be honest, we're not really at war, are we? War requires a clear enemy, serious consequences, something powerful and vital must be at stake and there's nothing at stake in Iraq -- except, of course, our own crumbling identity.
What's more, no one except the most bitter die-hard neocon is actually claiming that America itself is actually under any sort of attack, and we're certainly not fighting and dying for anything, not really, unless you're naive enough to believe in the "march of democracy" thing and if you do, I have a time-share on some swampland in Florida, cheap.
Maybe it's merely the natural progression, the way it must be. Iraq has been going on for so long, will be going on for so long, maybe the only response possible is to become numb to it all, to tune out the dreary headlines as they trudge on by because every day it's a new bombing, a new helicopter shot down, five or six or 20 more American bodies ripped and gored and blown up and to feel every one would be to quickly induce trauma fatigue.
And then there's the horrible feeling, that deeper understanding that no one really wants to acknowledge but which everyone knows to be true: The terrorists have already won. Oh my good Allah, yes they have.
Bush has seen to it that America has become, post-Sept. 11, a reactionary, rogue, knee-jerk, hateful outpost of isolationism and thuggishness that no self-respecting developed nation really wants to deal with anymore. Just like the terrorists wanted. Disrupt America and make us paranoid and implosive and openly loathed by the few remaining shreds of the Middle East that didn't mistrust us already? Hey, mission accomplished.
Me, I like to imagine the babies. I like to imagine all the children born back in 2003 (or 2001, if you count the equally failed Afghan campaign), the Year of Brutal Idiocy, the Year It All Went Wrong, the Year America Jumped the Shark.
All these children born at the war's beginning are well over 4 years old now. They are walking, talking, speaking in complete sentences with more complexity and coherence than the president himself. And for their entire lives, America has been at war. They have never known a day where we have been at peace, where we haven't lived under this bitter cloud of rampant incompetence, violence, a deep sadness, a sense that something has gone very, very wrong with the American idea, and no one really has any clue how to fix it. How will they be affected? What sort of perception of a broken, lost America will they have drilled into their baffled little bones?
Which leaves us right here, in this murky no-man's-land of vague dis-ease, this foul, anesthetized place where our brutal-war-that-isn't-really-a-war has become the norm, a time when it feels like we as a country should be getting stronger and should be leading the world in everything from peacekeeping to environmentalism to medicine to technology, and yet we have this giant, bloodstained monkey on our backs, violent and ugly and still shockingly strong, and he is laughing, cackling at our feeble attempts to shake ourselves free, even as he eats at our soul. Thoughts for the author? E-mail him. Mark Morford's Notes & Errata column appears every Wednesday and Friday on SFGate and in the Datebook section of the San Francisco Chronicle.
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