Presented by Lapham's Quarterly and the Institute for the Future of the Book

Comments by

Curtis White

Go to Text
President Bush's Address, paragraph 19

Like Howard Zinn, I’ve wondered about the raw psychology of Bush’s situation. The possibilities are limited and terrifying. What does it feel like to be told that you’ve made stupid decisions over a period of years that have led to the deaths of thousands, the mutilation of ten times that, and psychological trauma to…just about everybody involved? How does that lead you to decide: send more? It is strictly unfathomable to me. Not human. I cannot project anything I know about my own inner life on Bush. He is as inscrutable to me as a character from Greek tragedy: Agamemnon slaughters his own daughter for the good of the cause and then sails home looking for the hero’s welcome? Psychologically, Bush feels to me like something that has fallen from outer space. I don’t know what the hell it is, but I can’t deny it’s there. He seems to me to have the self-awareness of one of those Easter Island monolithic heads. It’s terrifying. One falls back on cliche: he’s in denial, he’s doing his job, he’s a man without conscience. The question is what do those of us who are captive to his rule do about someone who is commander in chief, the Decider, and with all the psychological plausibility and responsiveness of the Sphinx? “We will seek and destroy.” Is that something that a human being without neurological damage can say with a straight face? Or is it merely ritual incantation coming from a block of stone?

Go to Text
President Bush's Address, entire page

I find Raghida Derghan’s analysis brilliant and illuminating. What’s most unexpected is the suggestion that the Bush administration is thoughtful. It is capable of strategic misdirection, a sort of politics of irony. “I seem to do this and mean this, but I’m really thinking and anticipating something entirely different.” Of course, the thoughtfulness of strategic analysis requires that the entities it analyzes must be at some level thoughtful too. Otherwise, what’s the point? Where’s the fun in analyzing the strategic thinking of people who really aren’t capable of thought? What if they are just stupid and arrogant and willing to move from blunder to blunder? The Athenians, in their war with Sparta, were stupid and arrogant and willing to move from blunder to blunder, and they were a hell of a lot smarter than Bush.

I would be entirely persuaded by Derghan’s analysis, her way of thinking, if it weren’t for the fact that I can’t accept her basic unspoken premise (indeed, the unspoken premise of all realpolitik) that the players involved (nation states) have moral legitimacy. Of course, realpolitik wants to argue that we have no choice but to accept its premises because—they’re real. But it seems to me that a real interest in the real would first want to unpack the fiction that there is something called a nation that has strategic purposes and national “interests” (as a certain class of murderer likes to put it). It would be more “realistic” to look at the situation our strategic thinking has produced and say, as Dostoevsky said of his prison in Siberia, “This is the House of the Dead.”

What if we looked at the war as a relation of human bodies and not of nation states? On this side we have bodies that live through machines. TV, computers, cell phones, etc. Our bodies have become the ghost in the machine, while our real bodies come increasingly to look like the fatted animals we breed to eat. Genetic mutants with no real capability for life in the natural world. Nothing else in the world gets as fat as we do without being eaten. To maintain this charming state of affairs (often referred to as our “lifestyle”) we need the carbon energy compressed over eons and then discharged in an instant by us as if we were children letting the air out of balloons just for the thrill of watching it zoom recklessly around the living room. But we don’t have much of this carbon based stuff of our own (or not enough for all of the balloons we intend to launch), so we have to control the stuff of others. 85% I think is the figure for Iraq. That is their tribute to our Empire: 85% of their oil at our price.

But what of the bodies of the Iraqis? Their reality is not mediated by cell phones. Their reality is mediated by shrapnel and what their body might run into on its way to buy groceries. It is as Pablo Neruda put it:

“Bandits with planes and Moors,

Came through the sky to kill children
And the blood of children ran through the street
Without fuss, like children’s blood.”