On one of the message boards
where I hang out, we started to discuss political events that had effected us very profoundly, and memories that we carried forward from that time. And it got me thinking about the last time America went to war.
I was alive during the Viet Nam war; I was born smack in the middle of it, and was a child during its ugly tail end. But I was far too young to have any notion of it whatsoever. So I can't really speak to the incredibly divisive effect that it had on America except in an abstact sense, having read about it fifteen or twenty years later. However, I can remember the Gulf War quite clearly; I was a college student at the time, and had set well down the road of what will hopefully prove to be a lifetime of political crankdom. I was hardly a passive observer of Gulf War 1.0; I ran with a black bloc crew at the time, protested avidly, took part in a public debate at my college (acting as the second to my philosophy professor), and circulated a greensheet of which I am still proud.
Readers of any of my scribblings anywhere are no doubt aware of my fascination -- some would call it obsession -- with America's right-wing punditocracy. From the chattering heads of the FOX News Network to touchy Americana-booster James Lileks to the high-blood-pressure crew at Town Hall, I can't seem to get enough of their daily ravings. Aside from the cheap amusement value (which wears thin pretty fast) and the 'know thy enemy' axiom (do I really want to know my enemy THIS bad?), I don't really have a rational explanation for this compulsion. In fact, it's often a source of great dismay in my life; reading these columns makes me, in turn, depressed, angry, disappointed, offended, and infuriated. So why do I read them?
One of the big reasons, I've recently come to think, is that it gives me a sense of how much more venomous the rhetoric of the right has gotten. Perhaps I'm seeing things through nostalgic eyes, and if I'm wrong about what I'm about to say, I'd love to be told so, with examples. But it seems to me that there is much more hatred, much more rage, and much less tolerance directed at those who oppose this war than at those who opposed the last one. Of course, the last Gulf War was popular; and of course, those who opposed it were a small and generally disregarded minority; but they were thought of more as misguided fools in the cultural shorthand of the time than vile, traitorous terrorist-collaborators they are so often labeled today. It seems to me that the tenor of the times resembles that of the Viet Nam War than it does the first attempt by the Bush family to get Saddam Hussein out of office.
Of course, there are a number of reasons for this. First, the right wing in America has been hugely emboldened. Unlike in 1990, they are in a position of strength in the media; they have scored a number of huge election victories, they have a compliant congress that they numerically dominate, and they have been given courage by these things; and the general cultural meme has swung far to the right in recent times. The terror attacks of September 11th has a lot to do with it as well; it provides a convenient symbol for those wishing to prosecute the war to unveil in the face of opposition, suggesting despite all evidence to the contrary that a disinclination to war with Iraq equates to a disregard for the victims of that horrible day. And, of course, this has not worked particularly well; the left (as well as a goodly portion of the American public) has been unwilling to let the equation of 9/11 with Iraq stand unchallenged. From Europe to Asia to the heart of America, many people are unconvinced that war with Iraq will to anything to retard terror. This is no doubt irritating to the opinion engineers of the right, and they have certainly cranked up the heat on their rhetorical machines in light of their frustrating failure.
But in the end, it's still frightening and confusing to me. I was in the streets, shouting slogans, confronting policemen and accusing the government of murder the last time around; this time, I'm just sitting quietly at home, writing my opinions in an electronic journal read by no one, and hoping that no one blows me up. So why is it that I feel a lot more like an enemy of truth and goodness and freedom today than I did 12 years ago?