Mickeys Amateurs. Its a 1938 cartoon based on the Major Bowles Amateur Hour, a popular radio show that featured, well, amateurs. Donald Duck comes on to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. He cant remember the third line, and explodes into his usual paroxysm of cursing. Off he goes. The next act is Goofy, who has a gigantic panharmonium that plays 50 instruments; naturally it goes out of control, and as long as I live I will never forget the sight of the machine sliding a clarinet in and out of Goofys mouth while his groin is hammered with a slide trombone.
Then Donald returns - hes wearing a fat suit and carrying a violin case. He sheds the suit, opens the case, pulls out a machine gun and fires off a hundred rounds at the audience.
Disney, old school.
Whats he doing, Daddee? Gnat asks; perhaps shes noted my slack-jawed astonishment that they didnt remove this scene.
Hes being very naughty, I said. And hes not compensating for the way the barrel tends to ride up, either.
We watched the next cartoon, which pitched Mickey against a maurading Giant. At one point the Giant looks at a pile of hay covered with a cloth, says SMOKE! and rolls a cigarette. (Naturally, Mickey is in the hay.)
Whats he doing, Daddee?
Hes . . . smoking.
He smoging Migey?
Yes, honey, he is, but Mickey will be fine.
We capped it off with a cartoon from another disc, one in which Mickey, Donald and Pluto climb a mountain. Pluto falls off the mountain, ends up frozen in a snowbank, and is revived by a Saint Bernard who pours about six quarts of brandy down his throat. This makes Pluto dopey, to use the Disney vocabulary. Pluto sees things in triplicate and he has a biiiig grin. Pluto wants to sing a song with his new dog friend.
Whats he doing, Daddee?
Hes being silly with his new friend, honey.
Yes. Yes, he is.
Gunplay, cigarettes and booze: just another afternoon with the Classic Disney DVD collections.
No duct tape at Target. Sold out. Low on bottled water, too.
Thursday morning had that oh-crap vibe I remember from the week after 9/11; damn Fox news kept GONGGGing in with NEWS ALERTS every 20 seconds or so:
School evacuated because suspicious device with blue liquid found in hallway
Man arrested at airport with grenade
Suspicious vehicle stopped on NYC bridge
Suspicious vehicle stopped at entrance to Brooklyn tunnel
Karen Clark verdict in; she's guilty of running over her husband, Al Qaeda link to murder suspected since she may have filled her car with Saudi oil
Powell continues to testify
Rumsfeld testifies, asks if he can get an Amen
North Korea announces its Long Dong Silver missile can strike Clarence Thomas old video rental store
Entire French nation explodes in spasm of self-righteousness; cloud of choking smoke from incinerated female underarm hair rolls into Germany
Over and over again. We really are expecting to get gored in the loins, arent we? But unlike the week after 9/11, I am not feeling that uneasy congealment in the bowels, that sense that the millipede approaches with oh so many shoes to drop. In those days if felt like that scene from the Indiana Jones movie where Indy stepped out into a ravine onto a bridge hidden from sight by an optical illusion. I can see the bridge under my feet, jump up and down on it. The words TERROR ALERT: HIGH on the TV crawl annoy me, because Im not terrorized. Im wary and pissed off, but Im not terrorized. I am however worried about people I know and dont know in New York and Washington. Im worried about some guy on a business trip he had to make sitting in a lousy little room in the Roosevelt hotel wondering why the travel agent put him so close to Grand Central Station, wishing he was home with his wife and kids, wondering whether he should go see Times Square or just get some postcards at the airport tomorrow, waving his hand around the window, feeling the slight cold breeze, and realizing that that the outside air comes through the cracks. Well. Worst comes to worst, he can stuff wet towels against the window. Turns out that training as a dorm-room reefer fiend had some practical application after all.
This is not unique; this is not the first time. During the first Gulf War we were worried about chemical attacks in DC. I remember ironing a shirt one night, listening to a discussion on the radio about the possibility of sleeper cells rising up like Nosferatu and setting off VX bombs downtown. I had an escape route planned out of town, and since Id be driving my scooter I wouldnt have to worry about traffic. (Imagine if the Segway had caught on by now, and there was an attack in a major urban area - the sidewalks would be clogged with hordes of people on Segways, leaning forward, hastening their steeds to give all they had. It would be the dorkiest evacuation known to mankind.)
If this war goes like the last one, itll play out like this:
Day one: attacks start around 6 PM Eastern time. The first phase is successful, and one-sided.
Day two: relief, confidence
Day three: SCUDS in Israel; horrible horrible film of people jerking on protective gear, TV correspondents with gas masks. I will never forget that sight: welcome to the modern world, it said. Or rather: welcome back. We now return you to the hideous folly of human nature, already in progress.
What I truly dont understand are the people who wish to kill everyone in Baghdad. And theyre out there. They want to drop a nuke on Baghdad. You heard me right: just take it out. Every man, woman and child turned to ash and gathered into a black pole, rising like a column that holds up the roof of Hell. Naturally, I heard someone espouse this view on talk radio.
That wasnt exactly what he said - he wasnt in favor of war at all, and believed that containment was the answer. He seemed to accept that Saddam would get the bomb he dearly sought, but he wouldnt be crazy enough to use it. (As if the leverage the bomb grants comes explicitly from using it, as opposed to having it.) But if he did use it, hey, hed get nuked.
Along with several million weeping vassals, but the caller didnt point this out.
The scenario is flawed - it assumes that a missile stamped MADE IN IRAQ or perhaps QIL-ROAY WAS HERE makes its way over the US, and we let it land, and then we retaliate. Thats hardly how it would happen. Saddams possession of nuclear weapons would have two consequences - he invades Kuwait or Saudia Arabia for all that light sweet crude, announces that he has Bombus Maximus, and dares us do anything. Or he gives one to someone wholl float it into Baltimore harbor and strike a blow for the Arab world. Or both.
Scenario #1: the chances of assembling a coalition to push him back again would be nil. Youve heard of the Amazonian butterfly whose wings set in motion a disturbance of the air that eventually leads to a hurricane off North Carolina? The fluttering of hands among EU diplomats presented with the possibility of a war against a nuke-armed Saddam would cause typhoons to swamp every island in the Caribbean. Leave him be! Let him alone! Hell be satisfied now! We can nuke him if sets one off, but he wont! Hes in the box - granted, the box has now expanded to include a significant portion of the worlds known oil reserves, but its still a box, albeit an oddly-shaped, nuclear-armed one.
Scenario #2: theres no evidence of Iraqi complicity in the destruction of Baltimore. Hence there is no response. Six months later, however, evidence surfaces. Not ironclad, but persuasive.
Anyone think the US would nuke Baghdad under these circumstances? Were we the big bully bent on EMPIRE, we would have nuked them in 91 and spent the last 12 years enjoying dime-a-gallon gas. But thats not who we are. I dont believe wed nuke Iraq after the fact if we had persuasive evidence. Thats not how deterrence works. Deterrence relies on an instantaneous, no-questions-asked response. We see your stuff arcing over the poles, we give the signal to the planes and the boomers and the crews sweating deep in the silos: swap-meet time, boys, see you in the next world. The idea of nuking someone half a year after the fact runs contrary to our nature. Mutually Assured Destruction is a horrible machine - but it only works if the other side realizes theyre the ones wholl turn the key and give it some gas.
And thats what made MAD acceptable to some, and lent a cold justification to murder on an unimaginable scale: the other side knows that the barrel pointed at the enemy is also pointed at their own temple. Shoot them, you shoot yourself.
Yes, MAD worked in the Cold War.
Bulletin: this is a hot war.
You can almost imagine how it would play out - would the US would take its evidence to the Security Council to ask for permission to nuke Iraq? Its not ridiculous to think we would, since that seems to be the squinty aperture through which we have to shove all our big hot bricks. But the idea of Colin Powell demanding that the UN sanction a nuclear reply is preposterous - never mind the automatic veto such a thing would get. Its impossible to imagine Powell calmly requesting that the world bless cold-blooded mass murder. He wouldnt do it. Bush wouldnt do it. The Congress, the American people wouldnt stand for it. The voices that insisted Its Clobbering Time would be outnumbered 100 to 1 by those demanding impeachment. MAD, in its awful way, was moral because it made the price of immorality too great to consider. But the Containment argument - hey, if he does nuke us, we can nuke him back - isnt MAD, its just crazy. It presumes we could step back, pause, sift through the intel, then kill a few million people to make a point.
Wed never do it. Wed hold televised benefits for Baltimore. Wed all remember the victims of 5/23. Wed buy the DVD compilations of news footage, archive the papers that landed on our stoops the day after. Wed find life returning to normal, eventually - but wed never feel at ease again. The worst thing ever had happened, and to our surprise the world hadnt ended. But the world had changed. Our better nature had prevailed - and we were certain to suffer again because of it, right up until the day we lashed out and became everything we never wanted to be.
The good news: thats not going to happen.
The bad news: were going to war, to make sure it doesnt.