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The Absence of War

Life these days in the United States is marked by a peculiar phenomenon. The absence of war.

For a nation at war the streets are peaceful. There are no bombs destroying major cities, disrupting water supplies, and forcing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians to pack their bags, fill their gas tanks and flee.

Enemy aircraft is hard to spot. There are no tanks rolling down the streets of Jacksonville Fl., or Burlington Vt. No one has been decapitated and it’s quite clear the president of the United States is still alive. If he weren’t there would be cause to celebrate. Arundhati Roy put it well in a recent piece in The Guardian. “It may well be that if Saddam’s regime falls there will be dancing on the streets of Basra. But then, if the Bush regime were to fall, there would be dancing on the streets the world over.”

The ports and harbors are operating without hindrance. Phone lines have not been affected and bystanders have not been caught in crossfire. There’s plenty of food even if some are hungrier than others are.

There are reminders that we are at war. The daily newspapers exhibit photos accompanied by headlines detailing the previous days assault. Many headlines are plainly offensive and hard to take seriously. Television provides a twenty-four show. (I’ve heard that if you sit in front of the TV long enough it’s possible to achieve the sensation that you’re in Iraq. It’s very difficult however, and not recommended.)

The distance from war allows for much speculation. It’s easy to talk about reconstruction, democracy, and the fate of people’s lives when one is concerned with profit making and not with other more fruitful and productive aspects of human existence. War is business and for the current operatives it is business as usual.

War is just another activity, an enterprise. It has its risks, as do all investments but in the end, we are told, it is worth it. If for some reason the investment fails altogether we’ll pack up and try again somewhere else. Diversify! (The current portfolio we can be sure includes Iran, Syria, and North Korea.)

But in the case of the current war failure is not an option.

We will not deviate from our chosen path. The prophet tells us that the outcome is clear. And because the outcome is clear the means by which such an outcome will be achieved must also be clear. That is what much of the media and the administration are telling us.

In the latest Pentagon press briefing Donald Rumsfeld and General Myers defended the war plan. General Myers referred to criticism of the plan and its implementation as “bogus.” Rather than choosing to engage with the question by defending the current plan and explaining why criticism of it is misguided General Myers dismissed such criticism as “unhelpful.”

“I think for some retired military to opine as aggressively as some have done is not a — is not helpful,” he said. “I mean, it’s one thing to have an opinion; it’s another thing to express such dissatisfaction with, quote, “the plan,” that it’s just not very helpful. I mean, when you have troops in combat, as most senior military would know, that’s not the time to start putting, you know, different opinions, especially from senior people, on the table, particularly if they are not familiar with the plan.”

He emphasized all that has been achieved and did not mention a single setback. And he called for patience. What a novel idea and one that would have been useful when weapons inspectors were making an effort to disarm Iraq.

Rumsfeld repeatedly referred to the plan as an “excellent plan” and was visibly agitated when reporters pressed him to explain his own role in coming up with it. “The war plan. What happened there was rather natural,” he remarked. With the way things are run these days I suppose it was natural.

Rumsfeld and General Myers were both eager to emphasize the nature of war and its unpredictability as a way of showcasing the brilliance of the current “activity.” (It is interesting that Rumsfeld referred to the war twice as an activity. Unless this is military speak for devastating an impoverished country it appears Rumsfeld still views war as a game to be played out on battlefields far away, with little or no repercussions for those of us residing here in the Untied States. And with little regard for the lives of those actually doing the fighting.)

In the United States the absence of war is more palpable than the war itself. At least for now. The “moment of truth” that the president promised is revealed for the chimera that it is.

We are not a nation at war but rather a nation that has brought war to the doorsteps of the Iraqi people. It is a subtle difference but one that should not go unnoticed.

ADAM FEDERMAN can be reached at: adam@incamail.com

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Adam Federman is a contributing editor at Earth Island Journal.He is the recipient of a Polk Grant for Investigative Reporting, a Middlebury Fellowship in Environmental Journalism, and a Russia Fulbright Fellowship. You can find more of his work at adamfederman.com.

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