The Truth about the War II 5/13/05

Every once in a while, I sit down on a Friday night and decide I'm going to write another Truth. Something upsets me or rubs me the wrong way, and I say to myself, "Dammit, Self! I'm going to make my opinion about this subject known!"

I usually plug my ergonomic keyboard into my original iBook for these events. (You remember the original iBook ... it was likened to a clamshell by kind writers, and to a toilet seat by those less inclined to be kind.) I plug my optical mouse into the USB port on the back of the keyboard. I position my pint of whiskey to the left of the iBook. My Diet Pepsi and my ashtray sit on the right, the cord of the mouse weaving delicately between them.

And for a few hours, I type.

Generally, about two hours into the exercise, I go back and re-read what I wrote. And in the last two months, I've found that I only have one of two reactions at that point.

1) Wow, is THAT ever crap. You call yourself a writer? Maybe you should trade in that shot of Jack Daniels for a shot of Draino. It couldn't possibly make you worth less than you are now. At least dead someone could boil down your body parts and make some use of them. I'll bet there's enough iron in you for a ten-penny nail.

or

2) Wow ... where'd that anger come from? Here's a hint, schmucko--anger all by itself isn't funny. Anger all by itself is just anger. Take a fuckin' pill.

I've written several Truths over the last few months. The reason I haven't offered them to you for your reading pleasure is because there's no pleasure to be had in them. They are bereft of joy. Even those of you who enjoy anger for anger's sake would have a hard time reading this drivel.

And then an email came to me of such great importance that I couldn't ignore it.

Mr. Steele:

I am relying entirely on your timeless and boundless knowledge to solve one of the greatest mysteries of the universe:Are peanut M&Ms actually harvested living organisms? Or do we believe the widely held public view that they are mass produced candies created by some greedy corporation?

I speculate, because at times I have gotten M&Ms that are strangely combined, like siamese twins sharing the same color and candy coated shell. It is readily apparent that the M&Ms could be splitting and reproducing much like the amoeba. I am anxiously awaiting your thoughts.

J.M.R. - Concerned Citizen of Maple Shade, NJ 

Yeah ... that wasn't the email. But it's good, right? It's the sort of email I used to pray for. I'm tempted to place a Midnight Call to the Dorito Guy.

(Inside jokes, there--I'll link those words to past Truths so that those jokes can be appreciated by more than three people. Don't click on those links yet, though. Read the rest of this first. Then go back and read those and come back and re-read this. You'll laugh and laugh.) (Or, you could take that half-hour and watch and episode of Scrubs, which'll be a much better way to spend your time.)

I was absolutely desperate to write a funny response to that email--for several reasons. First, I lived in Hackettstown, NJ until the 1st Grade. Never heard of Hackettstown? Shame on you ... haven't you ever read your bag of M&Ms? You mean you just eat those M&Ms without having a clue what's in them? For all you know, it could say right on the bag, "You're totally eating bug-parts, dude! Tasty, huh? Hah-hah-hah!"

Yup, used to live right in Hackettstown. It was a nice little town when I lived there. I drive through it every once in a while. It's changed a lot--built up--but it's probably still a nice little town. You know what's funny about nice little towns? NOTHING.

The other reason I really wanted to write a funny response to this email was that the 'J' for the first initial of the guy who wrote the email stands for 'Joe.' Joe R. I don't know what his middle name is--I never asked him when we were going to high-school together. My memory of him is that he was genuinely a good person. We had a few classes in common, but we never hung out together. He had his friends, and I ... well ... he had his friends. I think we may have even had a few interests in common, at the time. I think he may have played Dungeons and Dragons. I distinctly remember that he was a writer. He tells me he's doing accountant-stuff now. He also tells me that his 20s were a waste like mine. I'm not entirely sure I believe him. My twenties didn't leave me with a resume that would allow me to qualify for work as an accoutant. My twenties left me with two unpublished novels and no desire to live. I'm pretty sure if he and I had a Loser 20s contest, I would win.

Anyway, he sent me this letter, and I really wanted to sit down with a bottle of Jack Daniels and write a funny response. I even emailed him back and told him I would write a funny response because this was a dream-letter. And then weeks passed. And more weeks passed. And I divided the weeks by four and discovered that months had passed--like they always do when you divide weeks by four.

Joe--you're absolutely right. M&Ms start as organic creatures. I vaguely remember large M&M hunts as a young boy growing up in Hackettstown, New Jersey. Men with flashlights would form a line and tromp through the woods, frightening all of the wild M&Ms into the waiting nets of other men.

I was never allowed to go on these hunts, of course. I was too young. A frightened M&M can be a dangerous thing. I'm sure you've all heard the stories of M&Ms ending up in the nostrils of small children. They're all true--and the child is at fault less than the fine citizens of Hackettstown, New Jersey would be comfortable with you believing. Every school child in the region knows of the M&M's innate love of warm, fuzzy holes.

(And I could very easily go further with that line of humor--but I think I'll move on.)

I actually got another letter this week. This letter is the one that forced me to get off my ass--or on it, as it were.

And I'm gonna have to respond to this one line-by-line.

I do that, sometimes.

I noticed that back in 2003, you were all for the war on Iraq. Have you since changed your mind somewhat, and begun to realize that our leaders in America are not as good-hearted as you once thought?

I never thought they were good-hearted. I thought they were doing the right thing by accident. I never imagined that they were doing the wrong thing on purpose.

I'm gonna have to come back to that point. My answer to your question is that Yes, I have changed my mind somewhat.

The war on Iraq sure opened my eyes. I believed in the hidden nuclear weapons theory.

I did too. Mostly because Colin Powell told me so. I no longer believe that he believed there were any such weapons to be found in Iraq. I think he was doing what the Bush Administration told him to do. They came up with all that crap hoping the UN would buy into it and back us. If they'd been telling the truth, they probably would have allowed the UN time to be convinced. Instead, they failed to get the knee-jerk reaction they were hoping for from the UN. So they leapt in and invaded before the UN could say, "Gosh, we looked into this and it turns out you were dead wrong about everything" and really make villians out of us.

Good thing they did, too. As it stands, we just look incompetent. They saved us from looking like a bunch of shoot-from-the-hip-cowboy vigilantes. Close call, that.

Oh--this is the part where the writer of that letters starts to go a little Whack.

I believed that 9/11 was really caused by Arabs using little box-cutter knives, and that one of their passports miraculously survived in the collapse of the towers, and that a small fire could have melted enough steel in the towers to force them to collapse, and that the passage of freedom-stripping laws would provide us with a sense of security, and that the planes were not shot down by NORAD because there was a drill happening at the same time, and that we would never actually implement a plan like that in the Operation Northwoods documentation...

Whoa! Settle down there, Sparky!

First of all, periods are a sign of sanity. Use. Them. Often.

Second of all--with airport security being what it was, you don't think that five of your closest friends couldn't have pulled off the same thing? It might be marginally harder to swing today, granted. But do you honestly think that the Powers that Be would sit back and allow the World Trade Center to be knocked down? Even Michael Moore didn't make that leap--and I'm sure he would have if he could have found anything to back it up.

Have you wised up like me, or is it still "God Bless America" and "Support Our Troops"?

I have a leather jacket. It's one of the most beautiful jackets you've ever seen--trust me on this. It's looking a little weathered these days, but there are few things in the world that I would punch a hole in the lapel of this jacket for.

After 9/11, I punched a hole in the lapel of this jacket to sport an American Flag.

Let that sink in for a second.

It's a really nice jacket.

After Bush won the last election, I calmly removed that flag from my lapel and set it in a brass dish on my dresser. I hope I don't wear it again--because if I do, it'll mean that something God-awful has happened. I think that only some new tragedy could make me proud to be an American again--and maybe I wouldn't be proud even then.

No, I don't honestly believe that we could have stopped the attacks on 9/11. How could you think we could have? Have you seen the people in charge? Have you ever heard them speak? Do you have any reason to believe that these are minds that act quickly? If Bush were better at using fancy words (fancy words like 'nuclear,' which his inability to pronounce gave us 'Weapons of Mass Destruction') I might suspect that he was smart enough to say, "Let the attack play-out--it'll be good for us down the road." If he'd handled the aftermath of 9/11 better, I might think he was smart enough at the time to have seen the possibilities.

George Bush is a moron. He hasn't been pretending to be a moron for his entire life in anticipation of this moment. He is legitimately and measurably stupid. It would have required a certain amount of foresight to have seen the galvanizing effect 9/11 would have had on the country--and if Bush had that much foresight, he wouldn't have thrown away the short-lived phenomenon of American Pride quite the way he did.

So ... do I still say, "God Bless America" and "Suppport Our Troops." I'll have to take those one at a time.

"God Bless America." Well, I don't actually have any faith. George does, though. And everyone I was able to find who voted for George said that they were voting for him because he was religious. I don't generally like to trash religion--because I see religious people not as rubes who don't know any better, but as fortunate humans who have a peace-of-mind that I don't--but I'll trash religion a little bit here because those fuckin' rubes gave us another four years of Bush.

"God Bless America" to my ears sounds like "Oh, Mighty Imaginary Being, Please Con a Majority Into Voting for a Proven Jackass," I'd have to say that it seems to me that God has truly blessed America.

Hallelujah. Can I get an Amen?

"Support our Troops." This is a tricky one. In fact, this one is so damned tricky that I'm not even sure I can explain it well enough for Michael Moore or Bill Maher to understand.

(I'm a fan of Michael Moore and Bill Maher, by the way. I just think in their positions they could have handled this differently. Better.)

During World War II, the American Soldier was a hero. Young men committed suicide over the fact that they couldn't get into the army and fight the Nazis. That is a country that's wound-up to fight. Having that sort of morale on your side makes you capable of incredible things. Ask any professional football player about the difference between playing a home-game and an away-game. It's a big deal.

Now, instead of playing football, pretend those players were being asked to put their lives at risk every single day.

For a second, let's ignore the fact that the boost in morale would help them do the terrible things they're asked to do. Let's ignore the fact that a soldier with this morale boost does his job better, and a soldier who does his job better does a better job at keeping both himself and those around him alive. We'll just ignore that for a second.

Let's look at them five or ten years down the road. Do we want them looking back at that two year chunk of their lives and thinking, "I did a lot of fucked-up things, but it was for a righteous cause,' or do we want them thinking, "I did a lot of fucked-up things ... man, did I enlist at a bad time."

I desperately tried to support Bush--at the time--because the brave men and women serving in Iraq are going to have to live with what they're doing for the next fifty years (and that's just the lucky ones). World War II gave veterans a reason to be proud of themselves for the rest of their lives, and that pride showed in the spirit of the nation for two decades after the war ended. In stark contrast to that are the blemishes from the Vietnam Conflict thirty years ago--mishandled as that was by both the politicians and the hippies. That was the America most of us grew up in.

If this nonsense had stopped in Afghanistan, we might have recovered from that a little. In fact, for a few short months between the attacks on 9/11 and the beginning of the war in Iraq, we were on the right track. We had the sort of pride, nobility, and dignity that hasn't been seen in this country since the attack on Pearl Harbor. As traumatized as we were by those events, it felt good to be an American for a little while. Everyone in this country woke-the-fuck up and did everything better during those months. People even drove their cars better. I saw turn-signals being used by vehicles that--before 9/11--I had reason to doubt had even been manufactured with the devices.

Cynicism over Iraq put the American people back to sleep. It's sad that we lost so much on 9/11. To me, it's even sadder that we threw away the opportunity to gain what could have been gained. Those three thousand people could have at least been remembered with purpose. Their passing could have been associated with a change.

Instead, their passing is associated with a passing fad that was patriotism. Thank you very much, Georgie. Keep up the good work, you short-sighted, opportunistic fuck. Enjoy the money earned with your actions. That Bible you enjoy so much says right in black and white that it's easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than get a rich man into Heaven. Where do you think you're headed? Even if Christ forgives your sins (which, as I understand it, he's obligated to do) I'm sure he's going to want to punch you in the nuts for the thousand souls you sent to him before their time.

I understand Christ has quite the wicked nut-punch. It doesn't say so in the Bible, but I read between the lines.

I'm over-simplifying it, a bit. I just reread the above, and realized that I'm making it sound as though I never had any faith in Bush or Powell--that I was only in it for the soldier. That's not true. I was duped. I belived the lie, and believed it whole-heartedly. Bought it hook, line, and sinker. I don't want anyone thinking that I'm trying to portray myself as smarter than I am. I'm only so smart. But I didn't want to jump onto the 'Criticize the War' bandwagon months ago, because I didn't want to damage the morale of the soldiers--or the family of soldiers--by being One More Voice Against the War.

In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have given it any thought at all. I should have come right out and criticized the war on Day One. After all, I'm practially anonymous. I'm not a Baldwin. Robbins and Sarandon don't live in this house. I should feel free to say whatever I want ... how many people are stumbing across these Truths, anyway? A couple hundred a month, maybe?

And it wasn't as though my silence kept the War in Iraq popular. It didn't do a damned thing. Had no effect whatsoever. The War in Iraq went ahead and became unpopular without my permission.

Sadder than the tragedy of 9/11 is the folly that the aftermath has become. The widows and widowers of 9/11 deserved better. The NYFD deserved better.

I wish I could have done more for them. I wish this stuff I type on the occasional Friday night could have done more for the soldiers who are right now fighting in Iraq. But even if my voice were bigger than it is, I don't think it would have made much of a difference. Voices louder than mine have lost.

All I can offer is a few words of text that may or may not be read by our serving or returning solders--a few words of text from some anonymous smart-ass who never served in the military.

Thank you for your sacrifices.

You changed the lives of millions of Iraqis.

God will remember what you did, even after the American People have decided that Brittany Spears getting knocked-up and Jessica Simpson's messy divorce (just a matter of time--what man could stay married to someone who says, 'plata-ma-pus?') are more interesting.

At this point, that's the most I can do.

Wish I could do more.