Tuesday, September 12, 2006

O Captain My Captain!

The other day I read something by John Birmingham on Steve Irwin
in which he wrote that we would all always remember what we were doing when we heard that Steve Irwin was dead, and I thought, er, what was I doing? I can’t remember. But I thought for a while and eventually remembered, so that is okay.

I do not have to think very hard at all to remember what I was doing at about half past six or seven in the morning, five years ago today. I was in the bad habit of waking up and turning on the television in those days, and had an easy familiarity with the lives of Mel and Kochie, who now seem utter strangers to me. I turned on the television and there was a picture that did not make any sense: a sort of textured grey thing with a blot in the middle. I remember looking at it having no idea what it could be, and figuring out from the sounds that the television was making that it was a wall of the World Trade Center. I needed to be at work early, so I did not tarry long before the television, but I have the impression that the entire story to that point was imparted to me rather quickly. I walked off briskly towards the train station, and I remember that my main thoughts were neither Christian nor civilised.
One thought was, what an audacious thing to do!
And the other was, someone is going down for this in a big way!
The thoughts had the ‘!’ on them, and I am sure I felt almost exultant. How dreadful. I did not have a strong sense of ‘how dreadful’ then or afterwards, because I have read too much and thought so long and so often about the numerically greater tragedies of our time and other times- The Gulag Archipelago, the Hungry Ghosts, the War Against the Jews, the genocide in Rwanda and against the unborn. I rarely think about the events of September 11th without thinking also of the 100,000 villagers murdered by jihadists in Algeria, whose memory rose in my mind unbidden in those days whenever I heard any commentator seize upon the attacks on Washington and New York as startling new evidence that islamofascists were bad. Most of that day I spent worrying about one particular person who I knew was working in the Pentagon until I heard they were alright, but I never dwelled upon the day as a great catastrophe. Three-thousand is, what, 48 hours of AIDS deaths in Africa? 24 hours? 12?
So, I have never thought of that day as a particularly bad human tragedy, but it was immediately obvious as a turning point in history. Independently from any Neoconservative cabal, I could see immediately that it was an opportunity. There seemed no better moment to cast down tyrants from their thrones. Why should the world endure half slave and half free? Democracy in its essence is a revolutionary ideology.
Carpe diem.


Dave said...

I was at work when I heard about Steve Irwin, which is an entirely forgettable circumstance, and since I had and have no particular affinity for the late Mr Irwin, I will undoubtedly forget that factoid in time.

I certainly won't ever forget what I was doing on the now-branded date in question, nor the particular dread that came over me almost immediately and has never left, that this terrible thing will be turned by the far right into a weapon, and that the world will be the worse for it. Bush, up to that point merely a mediocre waste of space cynically placed in the Presidency by business interests and (I still believe and have seen nothing credible to contest it) considerable vote rigging, suddenly went from being a distasteful comment on the credibility of US democracy to being The Most Dangerous Man in the World, a righteous idiot with a gun and a cause.

My darkest suspicion, that we were a few months away from another world war, were off target, but not, I think, by as much as I would have wanted. Afghanistan was a badly-planned campaign that nevertheless came off because it had popular support owing to a credible chain of evidence linking it to the attacks. Iraq was, by any measure, a half-baked screwup of proportions so monumental only a superpower could have achieved it. It was based on a tissue of lies, misdirection and prevarication in service of an at-best misconceived, poorly-researched campaign with a range of objectives that have not borne the test of time. It didn't work because the personalities involved did not have the wherewithal to manage the operation (Rumsfeld in particular has a lot to answer for).

Okay, I'm just rehashing old ground and not arguing remotely cogently and I'm spending way too much work time on getting this rant out, so instead I'll post a challenge:

Clam - I think that had Bush & Co not stolen the election (don't bother arguing with me on this, you know I believe it fervently), and had Gore been President in 2001, America would still have gone to Afghanistan and destroyed the Taliban (and hopefully installed a stronger government, but that might be asking for miracles), but Iraq would not have happened. I think that would have sucked for the Iraqis, but not as much as what happened instead. I think that not only would the US (and therefore Australia) have ratified Kyoto, but that considerably more effort would have been exercised to research and plan for global warming. I think the world would be a better place.

What's your timeline for my proposed alternate history?

Dr. Clam said...

Great button-pressing with that Bush post! Well done. You correctly deciphered this post as a reflexive response to yours, equating Bush to Abraham Lincoln rather than to a witless simian. And it was neat- if illustrative of a certain yawning chasm between worldviews- to see that your response on 11/9/01 was the mirror image to my own 'Great! Here is a weapon we can use!'

Your challenge is accepted, but, er, not at work. Unless I feel really unmotivated after lunch. With Iraq, I will continue to cavil that 'what has happened instead' does not suck as much as leaving Saddam in power. There was, f'rinstance, a poll in the far-from right wing Devil Bunny City Morning Herald a few weekends ago where 90+% of Iraqi Shia respondents said 'it was worth it to get rid of Saddam'.

winstoninabox said...

Come now evil dr. clam, you can't really be arguing that what's right or wrong is determined by the alleviating of a little suffering of the masses?

What happened to the higher moral imperative?

Has evil dr. clam, my moral rudder, come loose while I was internetless? I fear we're steering toward the rocky shoals of humanism. (plus calling upon the might of the devil bunny press to make a point!)

Bring him back you fiend in human form!

Dave said...

I just figured you're nowhere near as intellectually lazy as me, so you're better qualified to do my thinking for me than I am*.

Question on the admittedly surprising statistic you quote: is it mostly the Shia who have been targetted by the insurgency (I assume yes) and was there any particular civilian group that has borne the brunt of Coalition action? I ask because the sample group queried seems only partly representative.

(And sure, it's hard to sympathise with Saddam's tribal-cronies-whose-name-I-forget-who-had-it-good-under-his-regieme, but they can't all have been murderous bastards, surely?)

* You, for example, might well have revisited that sentence in order to address its grammatical shortcomings, but I am much too slovenly for such face-saving revisionism.

Nato said...

Talk about alternate realities...
there's film that's just been released using digital technology to show the assassination of Bush in 2007.


Dave, your wildest fantasies can come true :-).

Dr. Clam said...

Oho, young winston, you know I have gone over the morality of the Iraq War in gruelling probabilistic detail in the past. I still think it was the best moral option at the time, and that in a nation where 'lack of security' is now the number one worry among the people, 'withdrawing the only non-sectarian providers of security' is a stupid and callous thing for anyone to advocate. It is painfully obvious that the whole occupation and reconstruction business has been right royally stuffed up by a desire to do things on the cheap, and I have only the vaguest ideas where to go from here. However, the current state of Iraq is not primarily the fault of the hyperpower which removed the dictator, but of the segments of the Iraqi population which have decided to use their freedom to kill one another, and of Iran and Syria who are stirring up trouble.
As I recall, the poll (which I can't find in any of these newspapers under my desk, alas!) had about 60% of the Kurds (who had things going pretty well for themselves in the no-fly zone before the invasion)agreeing with 'it was worth it to get rid of Saddam', while about 20% of the Sunni (Saddam's group, and the main targets of ongoing coalition action) agreed.
Hiya N*l! Will have a look at your link real soon now. :)

Dave said...

Gah! I don't want him *killed* - that would be terrible. apart from anything else, even the merest fringe possibility that Shrub could become some sort of martyr for the neoconservative cause fills me with nauseous horror.

However, I would gladly celebrate him being sued into abject poverty by a class action coalition of war widows, Hurricane Katrina survivors and Al Gore voters.

And Rumsfeld should be at forcibly removed from his position, since he doesn't have the dignity or respect for his own office to recognise that Abu Ghraid was his absolute responsibility. But accountability in government is a bit of a bugbear of mine, I guess.

Marco said...

I do have a comment to make on Dave's alternate history. I think it ignores what the leaders of several Arab countries were trying to achieve at the time, and the means by which they were trying to achieve it. Essentially, my opinion is thus, that not making war in Iraq would just delay the inevitable. The gradual empowerment of Arab governments that use terrorism as a matter of course, would, sooner or later neccessitate an ever more dangerous engagement (ie. war) in the middle east. Dave's analysis ignores the fact that subsequent to a few years of avoided conflict, the pressure of continually upped ante's in the region would almost certainly have sparked a greater one. "Nation-building" is the only real long-term strategy with some possibilities of improvement.

Dave said...

One thing I have been pondering lately is, if not for the bee in the neocons bonnet about not having finished the job and taken out Saddam back in Gulf War 1 because Bush Snr blinked, would there perhaps have been a situation - probably involving a slow buildup of tensions as Marco suggests - that would have forced the US's hand in a different direction?

Like Syria, for instance?

Marco said...

I seriously doubt that it would have been any other country than Iraq. The failing states of Iraq and Afghanistan were always the only ones on the cards for intervention. Doing nothing but sanctions against say Syria and Iran tends to maintain the political status quo. However, doing nothing but sanctions to Iraq or Afghanistan (or any other failing state) leads to ever increasing tension and manipulation by criminal forces of all kinds. For instance, the Solomon Islands would have gone down a similar path if just sanctions and isolation were used against it rather than intervention.