All war, all the time: It’s not healthy. Newspapers, magazines, television and radio are universally consumed with the unfolding drama of advances and skirmishes, threatened aerial bombardments and possible civil uprisings in Iraq. It does have a horrible fascination — the ultimate reality show in action. But it is also depressing, especially as the coalition’s advertised expectations of a quick, sanitized “precision war” continue to be muddied by inevitable errors and setbacks.
As spring creeps encouragingly over the land, coloring trees green and cherry blossom buds pink, it’s no wonder we look for distractions. The only problem is, reliable distractions are proving few and far between. Let’s consider a few.
There’s spring itself, of course. What better escape from the droning testimonials of “embedded” TV journalists than a walk in the park or along a neighborhood street bright with magnolias and daffodils? Nothing, you think, could be more soothing than a warm spring day in a peaceful city. But the mind plays tricks. Thoughts of the weather set you musing on what you know of the weather in other countries, other cities.
You recall those midweek photographs from Baghdad, a city whose springtime was suddenly engulfed by howling winds, red sand and black clouds of smoke from trenches of burning oil. The pictures had a quality of almost biblical desolation to them — as if nature itself wanted to provide a fitting backdrop to the threat of airstrikes that had loomed over the Iraqi capital for days. Just thinking about it, you find your own gorgeous spring day turning cold and dreary.
What about the movies, then, those time-honored windows to other worlds? Well, maybe you were too busy to get to the actual cinema or didn’t want to stand in the lines. Waiting about just gets you thinking and talking again, and that always seems to mean circling back to the same apocalyptic topic. So you watched the Academy Awards show instead. And that went well for a while: so much glamour and elegance, talent and excitement and even, for Hollywood, good will.
Then what happened? They had to go and present a lifetime achievement award to Peter O’Toole, the aging British actor who is forever associated in the mind’s eye with his greatest role, Lawrence of Arabia. Ah yes, Arabia! Mystical, half-mythic realm whose capital, down through the centuries, has always been Baghdad, the city of a thousand and one nights. You tell yourself that the part of Arabia where T.E. Lawrence plotted and fought during World War I was far removed in time and place from both present-day Iraq and the Arabia of the caliphs, but it’s no use. The spell has been broken. The nightmare of the war intrudes again.
So you go for, what else, a cup of coffee. Find a comfortable place to sit, relax for a while, let the sorrow and the doubts recede. Right? That might have worked, except for the fact that the coffee of the day happens to be arabica. Just one small word, and the familiar fears flood back in.
It is not so much that you fear for the survival of those ancient places. They have been through worse wars, often self-inflicted, over the centuries; and besides, for all the loose talk of “shock and awe,” few peoples have ever faced invasion by a more painfully well-intentioned force than the one fielded by the United States, Britain and Australia.
The hitch is that, despite those good intentions, the assurances of the ends justifying the means, and the eloquent sincerity of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, you are just not satisfied that the case for this war and its risks was ever persuasively made. That is what keeps you awake at night; that is really what makes the blanket coverage such an ordeal.
It’s even the same with reading, or it can be. It doesn’t matter if you’re rereading The “Lord of the Rings” or tackling the latest biography of Winston Churchill or even seeking respite in “manga.” Somehow, every book you pick up seems to presuppose an elemental conflict between good and evil — the very terms in which U.S. President George W. Bush has long cast this strange conflict.
Why is that a problem? Because while there is no doubting the evil of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, it is his foes, Japan’s democratic allies, who are doing what evil people do: starting a war, invading another country without provocation, even — unthinkably — “reserving the right to exercise the nuclear option.” It’s the effort to square this intractably round hole that has proved, over the past few months, so exhausting. And it is why this war just will not seem to go away, no matter where one turns.
May it be over soon.
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