Thursday, April 29, 2004


According to the media, in the build up to the war on Iraq, D.C. was a regular little hive of the best and the most hawkish, with every little cell planning – wrongly, as it turned out – for “post-conflict” Iraq. Powell’s minions in the press like to point fingers at Rumsfeld for the overwhelming failure to plan the occupation; Rumsfeld’s minions talk of Powell as a softy and – for his work for Dad Bush – pretty much a traitor. However, it wasn’t that the occupation wasn’t planned well – the problem was that it wasn’t imagined well. Or even at all. Its planners had not only never served in uniform – for all of their constant analogizing to Japan and Germany, they apparently never asked a WWII vet what it was really like.

If somebody in the Wolfowitz circle had put down Richard Perle’s latest scorcher in Foreign Policy and taken up Norman Lewis’ diary of serving as an Intelligence Officer in occupied Southern Italy, “Naples, ‘44”, here is what they would have found: looting is so bad that telephone and telegraph wires are constantly cut down for the money that scrap copper brings in, but nobody closes down the flea market where scrap copper is sold; the Germans leave behind mines that periodically destroy buildings, and saboteurs that plant bombs; gangs of traditional criminals – the Camorra and the Mafia – take over vast stretches of territory; vendettas are pursued through massive snitching; the friendliest people will betray you or your information for astonishing reasons; economic aid, which is promised, never comes through, leading to disgust with the occupiers; and everybody fucks constantly.

The latter might not be happening now in Iraq – alas, our journalists are much more hidebound about such things than the journalists of yore. But a little acquaintance with literature should surely have alerted even the most ideologically blinded soul about what lay ahead. Southern Italy was never held out as a showcase analogy by the Rumsfeld crowd – partly because the more pernicious effects of the occupation are still present. Not for Southern Italy the Werkschaftswunder. The mafia, which Mussolini – not one to countenance other centers of power – drove out, were deliberately reintroduced by the Americans. Vito Genovese, if you can believe it, was an “advisor’ to one of the chief American military men – shades of Chalabi!

Lewis is a great capturer of absurd and symbolic action. His account of trying to rescue a peddler caught with copper wire involves him in the Catch 22 of the insane American military bureaucracy. Here’s a bit I cannot resist. Lewis is in court. The judge is trying cases of pilfering. The defendant is a “typical Neapolitan sweat of the kind the pretends to be half-witted to be allowed to get away with his jokes.” The judge earnestly tries to understand what is happening in the court:

Judge: “Didn’t he just say something about the Americans? What did he say?”
Interpreter: ‘just a stupid remark, your honour. Nothing to do with the case.
Judge: Will you please leave it to me to decide what has to do with the case, and what has not. I insist on knowing what he said.
Interpreter: He said: “when the Germans were here, we ate once a day. Now the Americans have come, we eat once a week.”
Judge: Ask him if it means nothing to him that we have freed him and his kind from Fascism. How can he talk about us and the Germans in the same breath?”
The interpreter translated the judge’s remarks and the old man rolled up his eyes, let out a derisive gabble, and then went through the motions of displaying his sexual parts. A gale of laughter went up.
Judge: I’m losing all patience with him. What does he say now?
Interpreter; With respect, your honor, he says, Americans or Germans, it’s all the same to him. We’ve been screwed by both of them.
Judge: He’s off his head. Get him out of my sight. Case dismissed.”

The earnest indignation of that Judge has become the weather that hangs over the CPA – an unholy mixture of self-pity, imaginative blindness, and the absolute inability to imagine that one’s motives could ever be impugned. Americans I know are as funny as the Neapolitan clown – but I have also seen the humorless judge types. It is exactly how the upper level managers talk, exactly – that same unholy buncombe, that same shabby disguise of self-interest as team effort, that same feeling of the utter godliness of all of one’s motives, which God kindly proves by granting one loads of money.

One of the reason those New Deal occupations were more successful than this failed effort was that the men in charge had had enough of the self-righteousness cut out of them by the Depression that they could actually listen. No such luck with our contemporary crew, who have gorged like pigs on their own p.r.

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