Meditations on Another Iraq War Teach-In
I sat down this morning to write something for an Iraq war teach-in I was supposed to speak at and found that I had nothing to write. So I’ve written about this.
What do you say about a nightmare like the war in Iraq? Do I talk about the money spent? The lives lost? Do I talk about the banal pleasures of life – going to the market, playing with your children, sitting at a café talking with friends – that are made near impossible in a country at war? Do I talk about the distance and denial that allows us to enjoy these precious banalities here in this country? Do I talk about oil and empire, about private contractors and Blackwater mercenaries?
What point can I make that hasn’t already been made? What audience can I reach that hasn’t already been reached? I’m a critic: I criticize, but what good does critique do now?
The war in Iraq is widely acknowledged as a nightmare. Yes, John McCain has renamed the bus of his floundering campaign "No Surrender," and the Republicans in Congress have again blocked the tepid moves of Democrats who’d like to wind down the war. But these moves are not bold statements of belief in the War, rather they are cynical political positionings. The argument is over. The vast majority of the people in this country are against the war. They know it is a nightmare.
Then why does the war continue? Despite the daily revelations of devastation and incompetence it continues. And despite the continued criticism and critique the street demonstrations get smaller, the teach-ins less attended. Who is left to convince? What more is there to say?
"The ruthless criticism of all that exists," a young Marx wrote to his friend, laying out his political plans for the future. A few years later he appended this, writing that "philosophers have only interpreted the world…the point, however, is to change it." The protesters of an earlier American imperial war taunted: "Hey, Hey, LBJ. How many kids did you kill today?" but they also chanted: "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh. The NLF is gonna win."
Who do we want to win this war? What change can we imagine?
As a critic, faced with the challenge of the future and not just the disaster of the present, I find I have nothing to say.
The Washington neo-cons who began this war and the Islamic militants who execute it on the streets of Baghdad have something I don’t have, they have something we don’t have. They have a dream. Free market or fundamentalist state. Their dreams are my nightmares. Nevertheless, they dream.
What dreams can we offer to to awaken from this nightmare?
Image: "Iraq War - Eyes Wide Open" by HDragon used through a Creative Commons license.