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Happy Anniversary - On the First Anniversary of the Iraq War

By Gary Gordon
March 21, 2004
(published in the Santa Monica Mirror, 3/24/04)

     So what do you get for someone on the first anniversary of the war? Paper? Plastic? A... rock?
     Ever since Amy Vanderbilt died, and now that Martha Stewart is headed to prison where she belongs after bilking all those people and states of their energy funds and retirement income, it’s hard to know what’s proper etiquette.
     Etiquette is, of course, a French word, so it may no longer be proper to use the word etiquette to mean etiquette-it may be, in Ann Coulter’s word, treasonous.
     And we certainly can’t use a Spanish word, now that they’ve gone and defied President Bush and are about to join The Coalition of The Used To Be Willing But Not Any Longer.
     I wanted to get an anniversary gift for those significant others in my life-close friends, that is, not be confused with the people with whom I may or may not be doing something with which the sex police wouldn’t approve-something that says “Well, it’s been a year since the war started and here we are, one year later, so let’s celebrate, I guess.”
     It was, after all, a year like No Other, with a war like No Other, following an unspeakable attack like No Other when our world was turned upside down.
     This requires a gift like No Other, but I don’t think I can give the same gift to each friend. Some of them are for the war, some are against this one though they’re not pacifists and support wars of liberation or actual national defense, and some are pacifists. For those who aren’t pacifists I thought a t-shirt saying “Some War” would be ideal since that slogan allows for people to pick and choose which wars they want. But that leaves out the pacifists.
     According to those who make these rules, Paper is the first year gift, so I spent three hours in a bookstore after seeing “The Fog of War” looking at a variety of books as possible gifts. There’s no shortage of books about the war, Bush, campaign money and elections, and everyone’s favorite topic: lies.
     I could get “The Five Lies Bush Told About Iraq” by Christopher Scheer (Robert’s son) for the friends who are against the war, and “Slander, Liberal Lies About the American Right” by Ann Coulter, for my pro-war friends. Or maybe “The Lies of George W. Bush” by David Corn for the anti-war and “An End to Evil” by David Frum and Richard Perle, for the pro-war. I glanced at Frum’s and Perle’s book and it turns out that even with umpteen books documenting how Bush and his Team lied about Iraq, those of us who thought they were lies simply misunderstood.
     I guess it would be wishful thinking to think the whole lying thing had run its course. Clinton lied about what he did with Monica Lewinsky and that resulted in his impeachment mostly because it was a self-serving lie about sex that wasn’t a matter of National Security. Bush... well, if he lied about the war it was a necessary lie in his pursuit of the war against terrorism, and for those who scoff at what’s been accomplished since 9/11 suffice it to say that not only are shoes less dangerous than they used to be, but the World Trade Center hasn’t been bombed again and neither has the Pentagon.
     Speaking of the world being turned upside down, this actually happened before 9/11. Several times in the last 30 or so years, different maps, like McArthur’s Universal Corrective Map of the World, have been published showing the world upside down. That’s right. South America and Australia are near the top, Canada’s near the bottom. Other maps, using the Peters Projection or the Hobo-Dyer Equal Area Projection instead of the common Mercator Projection, show land mass accurately, revealing that Africa is more than 14 times bigger than Greenland and the land south of the equator is more than twice the size as land north of the equator. Some people, who argue the war is about imperialism and empire-building also take a North vs. South interpretation.
     If you want to get dizzy, quit trying to follow the line of reasoning that posits how tax cuts for the rich help pay for the war against terror and how cutting funds for police and firefighters helps fight that war and just turn a map of the world upside down and keep looking at it. Whew!
     After thinking about it, I thought maybe my anti-war friends should receive one of the books by the pro-war PNAC Trust-Perle, Wolfowitz, Kristol et al, and my pro-war friends should receive one of the books that purport (with extensive, accurate, plentiful footnotes) to demonstrate Bush and his people lie.
     Would my pro-war friends read Al Franken’s book? Or a book by Joe Conason? Eric Alterman? Mark Green? Molly Ivins? Michael Moore? Scott Ritter? Would my anti-war friends read Coulter’s book? Or one by Michael Savage or John Podhoretz? Has anyone other than Garry Trudeau read George H.W. Bush’s book in which he explains why he didn’t pursue the invasion of Iraq and regime change?
     Put another way, would my friends keep an open mind to new information that ran counter to everything they believed with every fiber of their being?
     Not knowing the answer, and still wanting to get some gifts for this important anniversary, I went to the big anti-war march and demonstration in Hollywood on Saturday. I hadn’t been to one in a long time, not since Bush’s dad drew a line in the sand. There were thousands of people and dozens of organizations. The Green Party was there, although I didn’t see anyone I knew. So was the Sparticist League, which has nothing to do with Kirk Douglas. Jerry Rubin was there with his table of bumperstickers-always a nice gift. I saw a t-shirt for sale that said: “Somewhere in Texas a village is missing its idiot” and another that said “The flogging will continue until morale improves”--I think that’s from “Mutiny on the Bounty.”
     “Mutiny on the Bounty” may not seem relevant to any discussion about this war in Iraq, but let’s keep an open mind about what literature and the arts can teach us. Mutiny on the Bounty was about the machinations of the British Empire as seen through the eyes of the hardworking and periodically-flogged crew of a ship ordered to bring breadfruit from Tahiti back to England. See, I worked in empire, which according to many is what this war for which we celebrate the first anniversary is really about.
     Also, "Mutiny on the Bounty? inspired "The Caine Mutiny", which, as you may recall, included Captain Queeg’s hunt for the missing duplicate key to the mess cabinet from which strawberries were stolen. Queeg is convinced that a duplicate key exists and has the ship searched, turning it, if you will, upside down. When it’s not found he insists that it was his officers who were disloyal, his men who were plotting against him, and that the key really, really, really did exist.
     Kind of like Weapons of Mass Destruction.
     “The flogging with continue until morale improves.” I think a grocery store worker was wearing the shirt.
     The turnout in Hollywood was great, enthusiastic opposition to Bush was palpable, but the two groups who kept their drum circles going while the speakers spoke made listening to the speakers almost impossible. That would’ve pleased my pro-war friends; perhaps the drummers were working for the GOP.
     Not that I agreed with everything I heard. As I told the sociology student asking questions for her class, “I’m here to oppose the war.” I wasn’t there to agree with everyone’s analysis of what’s wrong and how to fix it. And I think some of my anti-war friends would’ve agreed, also not wanting to buy into everyone’s analysis. I’m not sure you have to be anti-capitalist to oppose this war. And for alot of anti-war folks I know, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is irrelevant. Some people were chanting “Free Tibet!” and I’m sure the folks selling the books by Mao Tse Tung didn’t agree with that. On the other hand, I didn’t see anyone holding a sign saying “Capitalists Against The War” or “Jews Caught Between The Cross And The Crescent Who Think This War Is Bad But Are Kinda Worried About Crusades, Inquisitions and Jihads”.
     Some Kucinich supporters wore t-shirts that said “Democrats With A Spine” while other Kucinich supporters--and I witnessed this myself--registered to vote Peace & Freedom at their table.
     The Peace & Freedom Party is running Leonard Peltier for President, which raises a question rarely asked when Democrats and Republicans talk about female running mates, “Is America ready to elect a Native American in Federal Prison wrongly convicted of killing two FBI men?”
     One lone person carried a “Hands Off Syria” sign and it occurred to me that all the people who want “Free” this and “Free” that could end up committing what historians call The Wilson Error in that his Fourteen Points never really spelled out freedom for whom or self-determination for whom. Personally, I’m not interested in nations who want the freedom to persecute minorities or wipe them out, nations without religious tolerance and freedom of speech; put another way, I thought we could all agree Syria’s no good and everyone, from the U.S. to Cuba to Libya to Russia to East Timor ought to mix it up with those folks... but I guess not.
     Okay, I made that up about historians calling it “The Wilson Error.” But the fact is his Fourteen Points were vividly vague.
     In the end, sorting out my friend’s views and determining what would be the right anniversary present stumped me. So I took a different path. Inspired by Robert McNamara’s comments in “The Fog of War” about how “we’re not omniscient” and “we make mistakes”, I bought a book called “1421” for my friends.
     “1421”, by Gavin Menzies, is about the Chinese discovery and partial colonization of the Americas seventy years before Columbus’s voyage of discovery. It’s not a conspiracy theory. The archaeological evidence along with the maps are there.
     How’s that for turning your world upside down?
     Happy Anniversary.