I have no predictions on the war, but I'm smelling a frightening trend in the cultural forces that are building up around it, back here in the West. I'm getting a strong sniff of the late sixties here, and not a pleasant one.

The reason I'm not going to make predictions about the war is that, like the people who started it, I was convinced that as wars go, it would be quick and easy, and that seems to have been seriously stupid.

“The Whole World's Watching” · When I was a kid, twelve or so I think, I was watching live TV coverage of the famous riots in Chicago around the Democratic national convention. Thousands of people chanting for peace, hundreds of policemen beating them bloody with great big sticks, the politicians inside the convention, who had the choice of war or peace in their hands, living manifestly on another planet. I was only a kid, but it had a profound effect on my understanding of the world that lingers till this day.

I think we'd like to avoid having that happen again.

“My Dad Says That's OK” · Was it just then, or another one of those late-sixties summers, when gunfire broke out at a Kent State University protest and four people died?

I and the other kids were talking this over while hanging out, and one of them said “My Dad says these troublemakers have to stop, and those kids getting shot was OK. There's a war on and you have to get behind it or else.”

I think we'd like to avoid having that happen again.

Guarding the Pentagon from the Hippies · The day in 1991 that the last Gulf War broke out, I was in Washington DC on business, and that evening strolled down by the White House. I was standing by that park across the street watching a small circling procession of antiwar candle-bearers, and got talking to this other middle-aged guy standing beside me.

He'd seen serious combat in Vietnam, and when he got transferred home in 1968 it turned out that there'd been some administrative fuckup, and he still had to serve a few weeks before he could be discharged. He ended up on routine duty in the DC area, and found himself assigned to stand outside the Pentagon as a bulwark against the surging thousands of peacenik hippies.

“You can't imagine,” he said, “you can't imagine what that felt like.” Indeed.

Tribal · What I remember from that time is that the western world had become, on the subject of Vietnam, very tribal in its behavior. There was little or no middle ground; you were either an imperialist warmonger or a commie-loving traitor. One of the (many) reasons why Vietnam was so tough to resolve was this fact, that the people on the two sides of the issue pretty well completely lost the ability to talk to each other. And I see this happening again in the developing coverage of the current war.

The language being used to describe the US leadership, even by mainstream anti-war folk such as Robin Cook, is getting pretty harsh (for the moment his op-ed piece is online):

It is OK for Bush to say the war will go on for as long as it takes. He is sitting pretty in the comfort of Camp David protected by scores of security men to keep him safe.
It is easy to show you are resolute when you are not one of the poor guys stuck in a sandstorm peering around for snipers.

And on the other side, the language and tone of the pro-war constituency has veered into frankly scary territory. Since we quoted Cook, let's stay in Britain; here is Julie Burchill in the Guardian, which normally tends to the left of the spectrum:

Anti-war nuts suffer from the usual mixture of egotism and self-loathing that often characterises recreational depression - an unholy alliance of Oprahism and Meldrewism in which you think you're scum, but also that you're terribly important, too.

If you think that's strong, check out the commentary on it from prolific author, columnist, and blogger Andrew Sullivan:

Amen, sister. The day of reckoning is not just coming for Saddam Hussein. It's coming for the anti-war movement.

Er, was that a death threat? How close are we to more corpses on campuses this summer, and to kids telling other kids that their Dad thinks that's just fine?


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March 30, 2003
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