We Went to War Just to Boost the White Male Ego
Times UK | Opinion
Tuesday 29 April 2003
With their dominance in sport, at work and at home eroded, Bush thought 0awhite American men needed to know they were still good at something. That's 0awhere Iraq came in...
Exeunt: lightning and thunder, shock and awe. Dust, ash, fog, fire, 0asmoke, sand, blood, and a good deal of waste now moves to the wings. The stage, 0ahowever, remains occupied. The question posed at curtain-rise has not been 0aanswered. Why did we go to war? If no real weapons of mass destruction are 0afound, the question will keen in pitch.
Or, if more likely, such weapons are uncovered in Iraq not a tenth, 0anot a hundredth of what we possess but, yes, if such weapons are there, it is 0aalso likely that even more have been moved to new hiding places beyond Iraq. If 0athat is so, horrific events could ensue. Should they take place, we can count on 0aa predictable response: Good, honest, innocent Americans died today because of 0aevil al-Qaeda terrorists. Yes, we will hear the President s voice speaking 0abefore he even utters such words. (For those of us who do not like George Bush, 0awe may as well recognise that putting up with him in the Oval Office is like 0abeing married to a mate who always says exactly what you know in advance he or 0ashe is going to say, which also helps to account for why the other half of 0aAmerica loves him.)
The key question remains why did we go to war? It is not yet 0aanswered. In the end, it is likely that a host of responses will produce a 0acognitive stew, which does, at least, open the way to offering one s own notion. 0aWe went to war, I could say, because we very much needed a war. The US economy 0awas sinking, the market was gloomy and down, and some classic bastions of the 0aerstwhile American faith (corporate integrity, the FBI, and the Catholic Church, 0ato cite but three) had each suffered a separate and grievous loss of face. Since 0aour Administration was probably not ready to solve any one of the serious 0aproblems before it, it was natural to feel the impulse to move into larger 0aventures, thrusts into the empyrean-war!
Be it said that the Administration knew something a good many of us did 0anot it knew that we had a very good, perhaps even an extraordinarily good, if 0aessentially untested, group of Armed Forces, a skilled, disciplined, 0awell-motivated military, career-focused and run by a field-rank and general 0astaff who were intelligent, articulate, and considerably less corrupt than any 0aother power group in America.
In such a pass, how could the White House not use them? They could 0aprove quintessential as morale-builders to one group in US life, perhaps the key 0agroup: the white American male. If once this aggregate came near to 50 per cent 0aof the population, it was down to . . . was it now 30 per cent? Still, it 0aremained key to the President s political footing. And it had taken a real 0abeating. As a matter of collective ego, the good white American male had had 0avery little to nourish his morale since the job market had gone bad, unless he 0ahappened to be in the Armed Forces. There, it was certainly different. The Armed 0aForces had become the paradigmatic equal of a great young athlete looking to 0atest his true size. Could it be that there was a bozo out in the boondocks who 0awas made to order, and his name was Iraq? Iraq had a tough rep, but he was old 0aand a blowhard. A choice opponent. A desert war with no caves in sight is 0adesigned for an air force whose state-of-the-art is comparable in perfection to 0aa top-flight fashion model on a runway.
So Iraq was chosen. Our good people on high would rush to claim that 0aour putative foe possessed a nuclear threat. Along the way, they presented 0aPresident Saddam Hussein as the closet architect of 9/11. Then they declared 0athat he ran a nest of terrorists. None of that held up on close examination but 0ait did not have to. We were ready to go to war anyway. After 9/11, and the 0aabsence of Osama bin Laden s body in Afghanistan or anywhere else, why not 0achoose Saddam as the evil force behind the fall of the twin towers? We would 0aliberate the Iraqis. Wantonly, shamelessly, proudly, exuberantly, one half of 0aour prodigiously divided America could hardly wait for the new war. We 0aunderstood that our television was going to be terrific.
And it was. Sanitised but terrific which is, after all, exactly what 0anetwork and good cable television are supposed to be.
There were, however, even better reasons for using our military skills, 0abut these reasons return us to the ongoing malaise of the white American male. 0aHe had been taking a daily drubbing over the past 30 years. For better or worse, 0athe women s movement had had its breakthrough successes and the old, easy white 0amale ego had withered in the glare. Even the mighty consolations of rooting for 0ayour team on TV had been skewed. There was now less reward in watching sports 0athan there used to be, a clear and declarable loss. The great white stars of 0ayesteryear were for the most part gone, gone in football, in basketball, in 0aboxing, and half-gone in baseball. Black genius now prevailed in all these 0asports (and the Hispanics were coming up fast; even the Asians were beginning to 0amake their mark). We white men were now left with half of tennis (at least its 0amale half), and might also point to ice-hockey, skiing, soccer, golf, (with the 0anotable exception of the Tiger) as well as lacrosse, swimming, and the 0aWorld-Wide Wrestling Federation remnants and orts of a once-great and glorious 0acentrality.
On the other hand, the good white American male still had the Armed 0aForces. If blacks and Hispanics were numerous there, still they were not a 0amajority, and the officer corps, (if the TV was a reliable witness), suggested 0athat the percentage of white men increased as one rose in rank to the higher 0aofficers. Moreover, we had knock-out tank echelons, Super-Marines, and-one 0amagical ace in the hole the best air force that ever existed. If we cannot 0afind our machismo anywhere else, we can certainly settle in on the interface 0abetween combat and technology. Let me then advance the offensive suggestion that 0athis may have been one of the cardinal reasons we went looking for war. We knew 0awe were likely to be good at it. In the course, however, of all the quick events 0aof the past few weeks, our military went through a transmogrification. Indeed, 0ait was one hellion of a morph.
We went from a potentially great athlete into a master surgeon capable 0aof operating at high speed on an awfully sick patient. Now, even as the patient 0ais being stitched up, a new and troubling question arises: have any fresh 0amedicines been developed to deal with what seem to be teeming infections? Do we 0areally know how to treat livid suppurations we were not quite prepared for? Or 0awould it be better to ignore the consequences? Mightn t we keep trusting our 0agreat American luck, our faith in our divinely protected can-do luck? We are, by 0acustom, gung-ho. If these suppurations prove to be unmanageable, or just too 0atime-consuming, may we not leave them behind? We could move on to the next 0avenue. Syria, we might declare in our best John Wayne voice: You can run, but 0ayou can t hide. Saudi Arabia, you over-rated tank of blubber, are you out of 0agas? And Iran, watch it, we have eyes for you. You could be our next real meal. 0aBecause when we are feeling this good, we are ready to go, and go again. We 0amust. We have had a real taste. Why, there s a basket-full of billions to be 0amade in the Middle East just so long as we stay ahead of the trillions of debt 0athat are coming after us.
Be it said: the motives that lead to a nation s major historical acts 0acan probably rise no higher than the spiritual understanding of its leadership. 0aWhile George W. may not know as much as he believes he knows about the 0adispositions of God s blessing, he is driving us at high speed all the same. He 0ais more of a white male by at least an order of magnitude than any other boyo in 0aAmerica, yes, we have this man at the wheel whose most legitimate boast might be 0athat he knew how to parlay the part-ownership of a major-league baseball team 0ainto a gubernatorial win in Texas. And shall we ever forget? was catapulted, 0athereafter, into a mighty hymn: All Hail to the Chief!
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