by Garrison Keillor –
The opposition to this war is not about George Bush, or pacifism, or flabby thinking by liberals, so much as it is a simple sense of dread at the thought of the United States of America entering into a religious war against Islam.
The idea strikes Republicans and libertarians as well as Democrats, that our crusade in Iraq may lead to a place we don’t want to go, and that is the Fifty Years War in which suicide bombers become a routine part of American life and we are trapped inside a bad movie that doesn’t end. A war that my grandsons will dread as they grow old.
Dread is the feeling that grips the 25% who answer to the word Opposed — or maybe we’re down to 15% by now, after day after day of Olympics coverage of the war, seeing the incredible firepower, witnessing the awesome and inspiring fact that young men and women are willing to face death in behalf of this country (and how would we know, except in war?).
One sits and watches television reporters who are giddy as if they were embedded in the World Series of War, Our Very Own Yankees vs. pitiful Podunk High. But if you are not embedded, if you are a free American, you may sense that we are floating into a very deep canyon.
These Bombs Will Come Back to Haunt Us
We of the 25 or 15 or 7% aren’t so visible. The demonstrations don’t represent us at all. How do you march under banners that say THIS IS APT TO TURN OUT TRAGICALLY and DON’T HIT THAT TAR BABY?
The people marching in the streets seem to be a lot of Democrats happy for the chance to jeer at Bush. I am not one of them. I went to a vigil on the first Sunday night of the Crusade, and it was straight out of 1972 —- same people holding the same candles and singing the same songs and not singing them nearly as well. And “We Shall Overcome” doesn’t get at what I am feeling, which is: we are caught in the grip of events and heading toward an outcome that cannot be predicted. We are bombing Baghdad and every one of those bombs is going to come back to us.
Here we are, pushing boldly into the Middle East with American troops (would Dwight D. Eisenhower have done this?) to bring democracy to a world that is utterly alien to 99.44% of all Americans. Does this add up? I wish that George Bush were right and that he’d be hailed by historians and his tight-lipped face be chiseled into the mountain. I would sit at the base of the mountain and sell postcards. But I do not accept his case for this war.
I fear the worst.
America Is Not a Religious Country
Our military is tough, well-trained, disciplined, fighting in behalf of a lot of us loose, happy-talking, impulsive, dreamy people walking around eating ice cream cones at the carnival, about as disciplined as a battalion of cats. This is not a militant or religious country.
I’ve been in religious countries and this is not one of them. You can buy liquor on Sunday anywhere in America, find pornography in any Marriott and every Wal-Mart, listen to songs on the airwaves whose lyrics make you wince and turn pale.
These are products of entrepreneurial capitalism, which thrives in our loose jazzy democracy, along with timeless art and comedy and enormous human kindness, but if we get caught up in the Fifty Years War against Islam, we will find out how fragile all of this is. We’ll become, of necessity, a much tougher and more disciplined society, in which we obey instructions and stick to the message, and that, dear hearts, is not my country.
The conservative intellectuals who did the think-tank work on our new preemptive strategy have made a brilliant case for it, that reads well in the pages of political journals and sounds brave and good on the Sunday morning talk shows, and now a few tired old liberals must try to express the old conservative objections: the world is not an abstract construct and as much as you try to reassure the Muslim world that this is not a religious war, it is one if they think it is.
Everyone knows that 9/11 was a religious attack, and the crusade in Iraq is our response to it. A religious war is the worst kind, a war impossible to win and very difficult to extricate ourselves from. God spare us. God save us from ourselves.
A great deal depends on this country having a genuine election next year, with a real debate that names the dangerous road we’ve taken. Flag-waving is no substitute for democracy. Every one of us honors the heroism of the young who face death; none of us want to demand this of 57,000 of them in the near future.
Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.
–Theodore Roosevelt, April 19, 1906
They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening. By lack of understanding they remained sane.
–George Orwell: 1984, on brainwashing in authoritarian societies.
Once a government resorts to terror against its own population to get what it wants, it must keep using terror against its own population to get what it wants. A government that terrorizes its own people can never stop. If such a government ever lets the fear subside and rational thought return to the populace, that government is finished.
To plunder, to slaughter, to steal, these things they misname empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace. — Tacitus
War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today. –John F. Kennedy