During Gulf War One people called the conflict a video game war, and this always made me grind my teeth, because the sort of person most likely to use the term was least likely to have played a video game. When you saw that nosecone footage of a cruise missile dropping down, homing in and entering a dryer vent - someone said its just like a video game! you recalled the herkyjerky pixel-jumble on your PC and thought, I wish.
Fast forward ten years. Ive played three games in the last ten months, each a first person shooter with all the usual flaws and uncomfortable moral dilemmas. I had no moral qualms with Return to Castle Wolfenstein - frankly, Nazis who are attempting to build an army of cyberzombies are just asking for some of that sweet, sweet lovin you only get from a Tesla-coil powered energy weapon. With Wolfenstein, Dark Forces 3 and Soldier of Fortune, theres the same curious insta-decomp feature: clear out a room, leave your foes heaped in a pile, leave the room, return -
. . . and the bodies are gone.
Every day I watch the news, hours and hours of news, and Ive yet to see one dead Iraqi soldier.
Now its a video game war.
Last night I saw some footage from a bunker some Marines had discovered - ammo, rockets, mines, all sorts of goodies. A secret area!
Now its a video game war.
But Im serious. Where are the bodies? Or, more to the point, why arent we seeing them? One of the most remarkable shots I saw Friday was a slow roll down a broad modern highway; on the verge, a truck with some sort of machine gun fastened to its bed. It was just charred metal - but still, youd think that if anyone had been manning the gun or sitting behind the drivers seat, there would have some human remains visible. Then you saw a long black patch blasted in the road. The truck had been hit by a missile and knocked back with such force that anyone inside may have been thrown out, or just plain converted to something that burned without leaving a recognizable shape. Thats just something the camera caught while passing by. Imagine what it would see if it went looking.
I think we should see the casualties, but not to serve any particular pedagogical purpose. I get irritated when told that we should see the dead so we understand what war is really like - as if the idea that people die in horrible means would be a surprise. You mean they dont freeze up, shout AIIEEE, or grimace and crumple over? I saw a T-72 take a hit the other day, and it was one of those classic examples of the flaws of Soviet design - an armor-piercing round set off the munitions, blowing the turret high in the air. If there was anyone inside, the end was fast. But you can imagine the nature of that quarter-second between life and death- and you should. Men died. In the time it takes you to wink the irreplaceable worlds these men held in their heads vanished. One shell, four men, eight parents, 20 siblings, a hundred friends, a thousand details lost for good. One second in war echoes for a decade.
Show the carnage. Rope it off, show it in the late-night hours when the kids are in bed, but show it. I feel the same way about the 9/11 footage. Show it. Dont presume we cant take it or must be shielded, like children, from the truth of the thing we have unleashed. Im not suggesting that the news should be nothing but Death on Parade, or linger with unwholesome glee on the injuries done to our soldiers or theirs. But you cannot edit death out of war; to do so defames those experience it. How can we understand the soldiers who return home without understanding not just what they saw, but what they did?
As I mentioned before, I feel sorry for the conscripts, and this makes me detest all the more the men who throw them into the grinder. I dont feel sorry for the elite Republican Guards, or the super-elite Special Republican Guards, or even the Very Special Republican Guards, who provide security for Iraqi sitcoms that deal with serious issues. About the Lion Cubs, the childrens brigade Uncle Saddam bent from birth to do his will, I think their vaunted fierceness, their robotic devotion, will crumple fast, and I hope to God a good lungful of tear gas takes the fight out of them - if they ever show up.
Suicide bombers, armies of boys - took Tojo and Hitler five years to get to that point. Took Saddam two weeks.
Passed the TV this morning, and heard an Arabic-accented voice passionately denouncing the war. He was Western in appearance, telegenic, articulate, and he described the Iraq War as a catastrophe for the entire Arab world. I stuck around to see what he meant - catastrophic in the sense that another series of illusions were being destroyed before their very eyes? Allah will help them! But Allah has declined the invitation. The Americans will never fight a ground war! But there they are, on the ground, more methodical and efficient than one could have ever imagined, and they are losing one soldier for every 1000 Iraqis they kill. The combination of training, technology, dedication and lethality is worse than the Arab world could have possibly imagined - and the soldiers' primary motivation is getting the job done well so everyone can go home. Imagine what they would do if they were truly, deeply pissed.
The lesson of Mogadishu: dont draw any lessons from Mogadishu.
The guest, it turned out, was the ambassador from Syria, a nation whose bootheel has been pressed against the Lebanese jugular for how many years now?
It reminded me again of an interview I heard a few weeks ago with the CEO of some big Middle-eastern Internet company; he said that Arabs hate the US because of the oppressive governments we support. The host asked if people were pleased when the Taliban was deposed, and he said of course not - the US was attacking a Muslim nation!
At some point the entirety of the American Streets reaction to Arab concerns will be: whatever.
Except, of course, for those who regard the enormity of the Administrations perfidy as worse than anything that springs from foreign soil. I heard again on the radio today a series of talk-radio callers who believed that Bush could be as bad as Hitler, and they all pointed to his unnerving combination of religious faith and willingness to use military power. It makes me laugh, really - one of my favorite clips I saved from the TiVo is some tall scary Iraqi guy in a uniform, replete with meaningless medals, insisting that God is on their side - and hes waving an automatic rifle at the assembled journalists. Has the President ever done this?
Well, not literally, but metaphorically, hes -
Whatever. I remember what Robin Williams, the intermittently amusing hairy-backed hyperbabbler, said last week about Bush: He's like 'We have to get rid of dictators,' but he's pretty much one himself.
If someone invaded America tomorrow, how many big public posters would they have to tear down? How many airports and hospitals and highways would they have to rename?
How many statues would they have to topple?