Sometimes the liberal bloggers remind us of so many untrained coon hounds out on the hunt, baying for anything – skunk, squirrel or sparrow – except coon. So it seems at least with the Berube post over at Crooked Timber and the resulting comments rush, in which LI elbowed into the queue, hollerin’ for a stake.
Now to my mind there’s one and only one coon in the hunt: the war culture. Since the whole thing started on the level of a feud between Cockburn and Berube on the credentials of Berube’s anti-war stance (about which Cockburn is wrong, apparently) this was probably a rush that was gonna go wrong from the beginning. And in fact Cockburn’s fucking point, at the beginning of his article, doesn’t get a look: “Pick almost any date on the calendar and it’ll turn out that the US either started a war, ended a war, perpetrated a massacre or sent its UN Ambassador into the Security Council to declare to issue an ultimatum. It’s like driving across the American West. “Historic marker, 1 mile”, the sign says. A minute later you pull over and find yourself standing on dead Indians. “On this spot, in 1879 Major T and a troop of US cavalry “
So the point is the American normalization of the war culture, and its effects. But in the liberal anti-war coon hunt, the whole notion that it is somewhat crooked and downright fucked that the U.S. spends the sums it does on war, engages in so many wars, encircles the globe with its troops, and keeps trying to jimmy the rules so that its missiles dominate this planet with the threat of cruel annihilation goes and sits on a log and has a beer while we all bark all over the woods. In place of an honest discussion of the war culture there is always a discussion of the perfect war, the one we all like to imagine where nobody can say it isn’t right and good and just the thing to do. It’s the Beach Boy’s immortal hit, wouldn’t it be nice if we were married, except not about marriage, but about war. This alluring possibility remains, of course, a little abstract, and none of the participants or promoters have the slightest inclination to actually get into one of these dreamy wars or even look at the gross pictures of people fucked up by it – the scoriated torsos, extruded eyes, the wriggly spill of bowels in lovely pixel.
I’ve been reading Edmund Wilson’s Patriotic Gore this week. The preface was written in 1962. By this time, Wilson was in his mandarin autumn. He’d been there in 1932, voting communist. He’d been there in the fifties, swatting down Agatha Christie in the New Yorker book section. At this point he could take a long squint at the course of American history, and he saw: wow, a lot of war. And the abiding delusion that all these wars were forced upon a peaceseeking Columbia – even, as some senator said before we invaded Mexico in 1845, it was the non-aggressiveness of the Mexicans that had forced our hand. Wilson disposes of the question of right and wrong with an image that he boosts, perhaps unconsciously, from the beginning of Dreiser’s the Financier. “In a recent Walt Disney film showing life at the bottom of the sea, a primitive organism called a sea slug is seen gobbling up a smaller organism through a large orifice at the end of its body; confronted with another sea slug of only a slightly lesser size, it ingurgitates that, too.” Wilson sees the repression of the Southern states, the war against Mexico, the first World War, etc. – all the way up to the recent hostility to Castro – as part of the same blind pattern of expansion. With that idea, he sees Lincoln as a figure like Bismark and Lenin. He ends the intro with a survey of the harm done by the cold war to our fundamental liberties. It is a nice thorough job.
The liberal in me protests, though, against the sea slug. Surely we can put that god damn sea slug on a vegetarian diet, dip that orifice into... g-green technology! or some damn thing if we really try. Although the realist thinks that, most likely, the slug is in a phase of fatal overstretch that will set much harsher limits to its very ability to continue this insane thirst for lesser sea slugs.