Well, thats it. Wars lost. Its amazing how fast things change; in Afghanistan, it took three weeks before someone whispered Quagmire and all was forsaken; this time it took but five days before an intrepid reporter stood up at a briefing and asked the military spokesman whether the specter of Vietnam loomed again over the swaggering, clay-footed giant of American power. Right now on TV some reporter is interviewing some bulky pink ex-general about BLACK SUNDAY, noting that everything was going magnificently on Friday, and now were meeting - are you ready for this? - resistance.
The BBC (about which I will say more later) is reporting that the mood at CentCom is morose and dispirited; I get the impression that Tommy Franks has retired to his bunk in tears, and most of the officers are are 24-hour suicide watch. Ten Marines dead. No one expected that. The plans called for zero casualties, after all. This changes everything. Rip up the war plan.
At Normandy ten men died every second. Up and down the coast. All the damn day long.
Apparently when the war plan was presented to the brass, they studied every detail, every contingency, every worst-case scenario, and signed off on it. But there was a dissenting voice at the table: shouldnt we have a plan that allows for - well, I dont mean to be a gloomy gus here, but, uh, well -
Spit it out, man.
Well, shouldnt we be prepared for the fact that they might shoot back?
Its in the plan. We assume a certain amount of shooting.
Yes, but in the plan the shooting is almost entirely from enemy soldiers so eager to surrender that their trigger fingers start jerking uncontrollably. Shouldnt we assume that some soldiers might actively oppose our forces?
(Mutters around the table.) Dont quite see where youre going with this.
Im just saying, what happens if they shoot back on purpose?
(Laughter) Oh, that doesnt happen. Weve softened their resolve with leaflets.
Yes. They have coupons good for extra cheese at Subway.
You know, I dont think it works that way. I know nothing of war besides what I read and study, but I suspect they factor resistance into the war plan. Not to say they arent busted up over ten, twenty, forty, two dead - Im sure they are, which sets them apart from the Cabal of Bastardry theyre up against.
Its the same old problem with running the event through the rapacious grinder of the news cycle; everything must have a tone, a timbre, a tempo, and this makes for Stunning Advances and Sobering Setbacks, as though war really consisted of the progress of one giant red arrow you could see from space.
Im not disheartened by the sight of what those motherless sons of bitches did to the captured troops - not in the sense of wishing we would curl up and whimper Mommy and scamper back home. My first reaction was to wish that wed identify the location of a Special Republican Guard unit, replace the B in MOAB with P, and drop the Mother Of All Payback on them. This intemperate emotion conflicts with the advice of lumbering pseudoprole Michael Moore, seen earlier this week wearing a button that said Shoot Movies, Not Iraqis. Well, Mike, the Iraqis shot a movie about the shooting of Americans; what now?
Part of my problem, of course, is my new-found & utterly perverse fascination with the BBCs coverage. Saturday afternoon I tuned in at random, and heard the usual hand-off:
That was Samantha Pryce-Smythe, in Dubai. We now go to Linda Prithee-Wombat, in Jakarta.
Or something like that. Whatever her name was, she began her dispatch with this sentence:
Indonesier has seen protests all across the country everyday since the woh begahn.
Meaning, what? Every island in this vast archipelago is aflame with bobbing throngs, or there have been sparsely-attended protests on the easternmost point, the exact center, and the tip of the far west island? No matter; we get the idea. Eight hundred million Muslims cant be wrong. The entire nations economy has been redirected to felling acres of teak trees and converting the lumber to sticks to hold placards. The forests are dying for Bush's war! The interviewer found a protester who spoke perfect English, and he laid out some novel points: the Iraq war is worse than the WTC attack, and Bush is a terrorist.
The Beeb interviewer concluded:
That sort of language may seem extreme, but the feelings are genuine.
How very odd. I dont associate extremity of language with insincerity - in fact the more moonbatty the language, the more I think the speakers very marrow vibrates in sympathy to the idea. But the reporter wanted to flip a particular switch that makes right-thinking people nod sagely: the passionate idealist cliché. Its one of the interminable resonances of the class of 68, an echo that pings forever around their dusty skulls: passion and conviction are the hallmarks of the anti-establishment conscience, its most potent source of moral authority. Nevermind the specifics; never mind that a fellow might passionately, sincerely believe that Bush gets transfusions from cloned Jewish patriarchs from the 7th century. If its not true in the literal sense, his passion surely demonstrates how the idea is a metaphorical certainty for millions. And therefore we should do whatever we can to accommodate this view. (Dont piss them off! Draft an amendment to the UN cloning guidelines that specifically prohibits cloning rabbis.)
This only works in one direction, however. We must respect & incorporate the genuine feelings of an Indonesian student who believes that a 1 AM raid on Saddams palace is the equivalent of driving passenger jets into the WTC on a workday morning. But we must be deeply troubled by an Administration official who doesnt bleed copious quarts of agonized equivocation on the tiles whenever he addresses the media, and - worst of all - seems untroubled by his own certainties.
My favorite Beeb quote from Saturday afternoon:
All the signs are that the Iraqi government remains strong and resolute in the face of the advancing troops. But what is Saddam thinking?
Possibly: Surely Osama and I will not be forced to gnaw each others erupting buttocks for all eternity. Qusay! You take the next shift!
Sunday, 8 PM Beeb. Top of the hour roundup. Keep in mind that the key stories in America have been the POW tapes, last nights televised battle, the rapid advance, and the Muslim member of the 101st who rolled grenades into an officers tent. Foxis reporting a chemical factory has been discovered, and two bridges over the Euphrates have been secured.
Overview at the top of the ahhr: Heaviest fighting of the woh, and the Arab world is rallying to Iraqi cause. (The audio backing up the latter assertion is from the Iraqi foreign minister. Surely I misheard this; surely they said that Iraqis insist that the Arab world is rallying." I must have suffered Temporary Yank-Centric Deafness, but maybe not; the Beeb runs more Iraqi responses than any other network. While driving around on Saturday, the Beeb ran a clip from a Brit spokesman describing a battle, then ran the Iraqi blabberjaw insisting that Iraqi forces were still engaged in battle, killing the enemy, and that the Loser Zionist Rumsfeld tongue should be accursed and struck with shoes, and we should all hope that monkeys defecate in his moustache, etc. Then came a guest from Warshington, and the presenter said so who should we believe, then? A charitable listener would ascribe the brief, stunned pause that followed to the natural lapse in transatlantic communications.)
First story at the top of the hour: heaviest fahting of the woh.
Second story: Bush condemned the showing on television showing the interrogation of the prisoners. No details on the interrogation given. A reply from the Iraqi minister, whos quoted as saying says American forces will not be harmed.
No mention of the photos of Americans shot in the forehead. An irrelevant detail, it appears.
Third story: discovery of a chemical facility. A Beeb commentator is skeptical, and counsels patience, since we dont know if this is indeed a chemical plant - and if it is, we dont know what sort of chemicals it produced. No mention of the fact that it was surrounded with electrified wire, shielded with sand-colored camouflage and controlled by an Iraqi general. Even if it is a baby-milq factory, these would seem to be relevant details.
Fourth: Oscars story. And here is the most beautiful moment of this grim day. The announcer flubs a word, and in doing so she birthed a term of surpassing perfection. She was talking about the Holeywud ectors, their deseyah not to seem out of sync with the mood of the times. Two words must have appeared in her brain simultaneously: frivolity and privileged.
And so she said of the actors who declined to appear:
They fear the ceremony will appear friviledge.
Was there ever there was a better description of the lives of the Oscar celebrants, and our betters in the entertainment word? Friviledge.
Bless the Beeb for that, however inadvertent it might have been. Ill use the word. And just to annoy, Ill sound passionate and ever so genuine when I use it.