The Iraq War on the edge of our Victory


I know American soldiers. I remember a marine who was in one of the criminal London classes I give in the Cromwell road. He'd done a tour of Afghanistan, and was about to be sent to Iraq. He never mentioned it, and apologised without saying why he had to leave the class early when he could have asked for any grade he wanted, really. I was impressed by him, as I tend to be by the US Marines. I think all he wanted to do to get away from things was solve the Jack the Ripper case, which was one of life's twists that make the demands of intellectuals for consistency in human rationality so absurd.

I've also met special forces people who turned up on an Oxford summer school I taught a few years ago who was torn to bits by his killings in Nicaragua, so angry he held me and the world he considered liberal in contempt. God knows what he would have done had he met the half of the world to the left of me.

My memories of Maryland are bound up with the meeting of Vietnam Veterans in the 1990s; and in North Carolina I gazed on the remnants of the native American nations in a pow-wow. My grandad was a soldier of Ireland in his youth, part of the generation who helped establish the republic, and some of my students have been soldiers of Israel, some children of the wars in Serbia and the Islamic world. Some of my sister's friends have been shot or killed in Iraq.

I remember the faces of some Congolese refugees who rucked up to hear me at a peace lecture in Minnesota once, and the crying woman who called herself by a Native American name and held me when I repeated a little poem about love. She and the young woman next to her had been soldiers to serve their country and gain a little qualification for themselves too. Then she'd had to recover from the things she'd seen. I remember friend who worked for the Joint Chiefs and told me of their horror and near mutiny at Cheney's crazy scheme of a Persian War.

The poem was the short one Mario Cuomo used to quote;
They drew circles that shut me out
Heretic, rebel, a Thing to flout
But Love and I had the wit to win
We drew circles that took them in.


I usually don't use the word hate. It's pointless and its eats people up. yet I hold wars chosen too easily in horror, and I wonder if deploying the methods of the fascists of this world--and fascism is the default condition of humanity, most of the time--against them ever works when freely chosen. The Imperial theme is seductive, destructive and leaves us as ants on a pile, forever scrambling in a pale history.

So I think people, especially in democracies, should see what the consequences of their governments' policies are. They should see what some of the people I know have seen. To that end, here's Arlo Guthrie's lovely Patriot's Dream set to what the war in Iraq will really mean, even if we are on the edge of declaring it won by setting the Baathists against the Mahdi Army and encouraging the Kurds to drain the oil deep.

May God have mercy on us.

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