Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Forsaking Valhalla

Now the death toll passes 1000.

This is just the count of American deaths in the most recent newsworthy conflict. The ongoing crusade to destroy the evil oppressor and bring our people freedom and safety.

It doesn't count the allies, civilians and enemy soldiers dead.

I watched Live from Baghdad two nights ago, a film about the CNN newscrew who kept coverage in Baghdad the last time we waged war in the city. Trucks of troops, shipped off to battle to fight the enemy in the hope that God Will Prevail. "Do you believe in paradise?" asked the nervously ecstatic taxi-driver.

What mark on a conscript's uniform makes his death legitimate? What myth enables young men to be torn from their loved ones at gunpoint and sent off to death or glory? I could be gone in a flash, my family destroyed for the ego of my leader.

Of course, we are the good guys in this war. Many things distinguish our leaders from Saddam Hussein. But our myths are the same.

To die in defence of ones country, ones clan, ones gods, in Crusade or Jihad: the young warrior goes straight to heaven, paradise, Valhalla, to feast in glory till the world is remade. The Knights of the Round Table who fell on Camlann field - their names are immortal, their glory lives on. Maybe they might have beaten the invaders. Maybe insurgents in Iraq will still defeat the world's most powerful nation. It happened once in America.

Old legend dishonours a peaceful death. In English cathedrals the graves of those who died in battle have a Lion at their feet: the graves of those who died peacefully a Dog.

I wish for a Dog's death. Quietly, old, beside the fire. May my glory be the way I loved and cared, not the way I died.

All honour to those whose lives have been taken in the service of freedom. And many conscripts to tyranny: their deaths too are honourable within the old myth. But a horrible waste. I do not know if they go to Valhalla, but they leave their families to weep and their lives unfulfilled.

The thousand dead died not to save our skin from the terrible weapons that the evil one held ready against us. Some of us suspected this to be a tall tale before the war started: all of us know it now. The dead are dead because our leader decreed that he save us in this way. George Bush has been given no better vision of greatness. When his people were attacked, he knew only one way to defend them.

We need new myths. We are humanity. No race of people is my enemy, and I need no ancient King to rise and fight them. There are evil fanatics: but they are not a people, they are not a religion, they are desperados of the old myth clinging to the coherence we have given them. They must be fought precisely, tenaciously, without distraction, exposed to the whole world, left with no mythical enemy to unite ordinary citizens against.

No more glory in violent death. No greatness in ordering war and promising paradise for the killed. Such myths are for the past. We need new leadership.

Friday, September 03, 2004

And what of the Republicans?

So I watched a fair bit of the Republican convention - partly as a newcomer and fly-on-the-wall to America, I felt it important, though I fully expected the spectacle to be more informative than the speeches.

I was not disappointed. By God, they're a class act. The confidence, the strength of the claim "we are for America" and "we are 100% right" carries such conviction. None of the Democrat's simpering worry that someone might suspect them of having principles that might interfere with government - the Republicans have principles and they don't give a damn if you disagree with them. They don't even give a damn if those principles are inconsistent, ill-educated, insular, and dangerous - all those appelations are just so many long words spouted by girlie-men liberals who, like me, are out of touch with the American mainstream and easily brushed aside.

All forgotten is the importance of weapons of mass destruction. Now it's the Republicans pointing out that a boxcutter can be a weapon of mass destruction, so Iraq was clearly still dangerous. According to General Tommy Franks, we all believed, like the President, that weapons of mass destruction were there, so the President and his Republican Guard can't be blamed for an honest mistake (in spite of the warnings of the United Nations, the arms inspectors and millions of protestors around the world - see July 20th posting We told you so!!!). The General also moved the crowd to cheers with his claim that "we can fight the war here or we can fight the war there" as a justification for invasion. The bravado, the machismo, the raw strength! By contrast, the Democrat whimper that "there" is a pretty big and varied place and it helps to be more specific about where and who you fight sounds weak and indecisive - just too picky and after-the-fact to be properly American.

Speeches from the lady whose travel business is booming thanks to government contracts - more cheers, even though most of the delegates should have been cringing at the thought of a Republican government spending its way out of recession. The lady hosting a meeting in Pennsylvania - she's black, she's Republican and proud of it, and tax-cuts "du-uh - I like more money in my pocket, raise your hand who doesn't!" Of course I like more money in my pocket, but I don't take out a pay-day loan every month to create the illusion, I budget and spend within my means to make sure that the money in my pocket is real and stays there. However, it did give me the idea for a new business venture - "COMPASSIONATE CONSERVATIVE PAYDAY LOANS", the idea being that people take out a loan that their children are liable for in order to be able to spend more in the short term. Would you ever do this as an individual? Of course not. Would you vote for a government who does it for you? Well du-uh, of course you would.

Now John Kerry - he's in favour of big taxation and big spending, and in spite of the President's promises to get more people into school, more people into college, more people into adult education and more people into healthcare we know that the President is in favour of keeping spending tightly under control - low taxation and the economy depend on it. Except for money for war. Unlike wanton spending on WELFARE which is fuelled by TAXATION, wanton spending on WARFARE is fuelled by PATRIOTISM. As the President put so clearly, John Kerry's questioning of the wisdom of this spending and the use to which it is being put is not a sign that he's willing to be careful with the people's money, it's because he is not a patriot - and this desire for checks and balances proves that he is also not a conservative.

And so I rant on. As far as I could tell, not one piece of Republican rhetoric stood up to scrutiny if considered as part of a supposedly coherent whole. Of course, one expects that in politics - every leader will give you a stronger, safer, more caring country and all for less money, and any leader who fails to promise this will not be elected. However, this was extreme - I have not heard such wanton inconsistencies glossed over, such follies cheered, and yes, such flip-flops endorsed, in a long time. The President's speech even legitimized the invasion of Iraq claiming that the United Nations resolution had provided for it - after spending months failing to get such a resolution and then saying "what the hell, we don't need the UN anyway!" it seems that the UN was willing all along. The policy of courting allies is despised as weakness, while at the same time the credit is taken for having so many allies.

But the Republicans are strong - they know their business, they know that the electorate will put truth and reason to one side and vote with images and totems, and those they provide. President Bush's speech was a keystone and a marvel. With the death-toll mounting, with 17 more civilians killed by an American bomb in Iraq that day, with the freedoms America rebelled from Britain to protect suspended, and with the number of Americans in poverty and without healthcare increasing steadily, his call to follow him in bringing continuing freedom and posterity to America and a grateful world rang clear as a bell. Standing alone but among the cheering multitude, he is the beacon of democratic freedoms, a first among equals, a man of simple faith and firm conviction, no more than an American citizen but capable of spreading God's liberty to mankind like no other. He has no pretensions, and no other man on earth could do such a fine job. Four more years.