We all become Serbs in wartime, and most especially the media. Chris Hedges was right about that, among many other things. War is a high, “perhaps the most powerful narcotic ever invented by humankind,” as he observed.
The great bulk of our American exposure to the war in Iraq fits Chris Hedges’ picture of the Belgrade “coverage” of the long war in the Balkans: “I was wasn’t a Serb a Croat or a Muslim,” he said, “so I covered it for what it was, it was disgusting human slaughter. And the war in Bosnia as in many wars was primarily the slaughter of innocents. But if I was a Serb, I would cover it through that mythic narrative and I would have looked at the war, as people in Belgrade did, very differently. I would have gone into the town and I would have first found that brave Serb soldier who’s a hero, then I would have found that trapped Serb family in the village who waited to be served by the gallant Serb militia that came into the town and then I would have interviewed Serb refugees about the terrible atrocities by the evil Muslims and Croats, and you don’t report outside of that narrative and if you do you don’t get published.”
The flight of Iraqi vermin into the safety of complicit Syria was part of the official narrative this week… another part of the narrative that sounded tinny and propagandistic to me. I have been thinking of my late father-in-law Harry Arkelyan, who as a teenager fled the Turkish massacre of Armenians in 1915 and was grateful to Syrians to the day he died for the welcome that his surviving family got in Aleppo. By the standards of our media today, Harry Arkelyan and Armenians in general might easily have been classified as part of a pro-Russian, anti-Turkish terrorist movement taking refuge in Syria–and he would have been targeted for vilification or even death.
The sobering up, the testing of the “liberation” narrative about Iraq, the recovery of some wider human perspective are all just beginning. I like Robert Fisk’s cautionary piece here, and his steady skepticism on the street in Baghdad.
The New York Times had a stunning piece–another warning flare–on the fury of the American-trained director of a looted arts center in Baghdad. Click to feel her rage.
Now about Doc Searls and the Barn-Raising for the Baghdad Museum: The sentiment behind this links it to the venerable peacenik bumpersticker: “Bakesales for the Pentagon, Higher Taxes for Schools.” That is, there’s a notion here that we’re forced to confront Official Destruction with Volunteer Re-Construction, and maybe someday think about turning around the priorities. In this barn-raising case, the idea might be for 4H Clubs, Ladies Auxiliaries and the Little League to come to Baghdad and clean up the mess that US military forces did in the Cradle of Civilization. I think it’s a nuttily cheerful evasion, first, of what happened. We said it wasn’t about oil–and rejected the slogan “Operation Iraqi Liberation” –oops, that acronym. But when it came to it, we had US tanks surrounding the oil ministry and the oil fields, and left the record of 8000 years of human civilization to the entirely predictable frenzy and greed of cultural vultures.
“How could it have happened?” as Richard Nixon asked about Watergate. It could not have happened if American public culture had not conditioned us to see Arabs in general and Iraqis as sub-human non-persons–terrorists, towel-heads, lost bedouins, a played out people, a mixed tribe of Islamists, fedayeen and idiots. It could not have happened either if the Bushniks had given a moment’s broader discussion to what we’re fighting about, and for, in the longer term. If Saddam ruled perchance Rome, we might just possibly have decided to go get him; but somebody would have said: oh, by the way, we have to save the Sistine Chapel! If Saddam or somebody like him ruled Jerusalem perchance and we decided on regime change, somebody would have said: oh, by the way, we’re not taking over Just Anyplace–it’s the capital and core and repository of the cultural and spiritual legacy for all time of the Jewish people: protect the Western Wall!
It tells us more than we want to know, more than we’ll ever admit, that in the case of the Fertile Crescent, the Mesopotamian Garden of Eden, it was strictly: Bombs Away! And afterward, the damage to the memory of the species got Rummy’s blithe dismissal–just a little untidiness, guys, after a dust-up. All thousand of Papa Bush’s thousand points of volunteer light won’t undo the damage, and why in the world should they be expected to? The mission is make the Vandals recognize and admit what they did, as we all prepare to deal with the consequences.