Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Keep off the Grass

When I was but a wee lad I saw a politcal cartoon that I did not understand at the time, but it tickled my funny bone so much that I have never forgotten it. It was a picture of then-President Jimmy Carter furiously pounding a sign onto the White House lawn saying, "Keep off the grass". Behind the oblivious Carter the White House itself was quietly levitating into the air.

I think you could draw a similar cartoon about George Bush and the war on terrorism (or the war on drugs). Bush is all huff and bluster, putting up a sign on the White House gate saying, "Trespassers will be prosecuted" while behind him inside the white house two terrorists look at him and say, "I wonder what the sign says."

The fundamental problem with trying to fight a "war on terror" is that most of the time you can't tell who the enemy is until it's too late. Terrorists don't wear uniforms. They look just like everyone else. The entire historical development of "war" is predicated on the assumption that you can tell who it is you're suposed to be fighting. One of the reasons that Viet Nam went south (so to speak) is that it was the first "war" where this assumption didn't hold.

No one in the Bush White House recognizes this, and as a result they are running scared. I could hardly believe my ears when I listened to Bush in the wake of five coordinated terrorist bombings in Baghdad yesterday say with a straight face that this proves we're winning the war on terror because it shows that the "enemy" is getting increasingly "desperate". (I was reminded of the opening scene of Terry Gilliam's movie "Brazil" where the following exchange occurs between a reporter and the Deputy Minister of Information: Reporter: "The bombing campaign is now in its thirteenth year." Minister: "Beginner's luck.") Then there's this little gem: "Bush vowed to hunt down the "cold-blooded killers, terrorists" who are conducting the attacks." Hello! You can't hunt them down, Dubya, they're already dead. That's what "suicide bomber" means. And the image of a levitating White House returns to my mind's eye.

It would be funny if it weren't so tragic, because one of the inevitable consequences of insisting on fighting a war against an unseen enemy is that innocent people have their lives destroyed because if you're trying to fight a war and you can't find the enemy you are left with no alternative but to manufacture one.

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