On May 22, 2004, Counterpunch published a piece of mine simply titled “Turnaround.” This piece was a faux newspaper article written as if a freelance reporter sent it from Baghdad’s Green Zone. The article itself detailed a confession from Coalition spokesman Dan Senor that acknowledged that the US version of events regarding its recent attack on an Iraqi wedding that killed over forty people was a lie. It ended with Senor telling the assembled media that he had been willing to lie for the US because he thought that Saddam Hussein should be removed, but he couldn’t stomach lying about the murders of children. In the parody, he was then taken away by security contractors in mid-sentence. I thought I had made it clear that the piece was a parody by making the following the last sentence of the piece: “The White House went further, suggesting that Senor had either lost his mind or forgotten who was signing his paychecks.”
Imagine my surprise then, when I opened up my email late Friday and found a half-dozen emails from various readers asking me for verification of the story. Apparently, (and to my great surprise) many people thought the story was true. In fact, it was more than a half dozen. By Monday morning, I had received close to fifty emails asking me to verify the story. I responded to each email with the news that the piece was not true and was intended to point out that the people who run this government and its wars are shameless liars. They gladly lied about the WMDs, the invasion’s aftermath, and the nature and scope of the prisoner abuse, so why should we believe their version of the wedding attack? Once informed, the majority of the readers laughed at themselves and moved on. Others took offense at my work, calling the piece “not funny,” and irresponsible.
To be honest, I considered adding a disclaimer to the piece before I sent it in to the Counterpunch editors. After the first six emails, I considered such a move again, but decided against it, after a brief discussion with Jeffrey St. Clair. After all, how could someone not recognize the article for what it was-fantasy of the grandest order (grand because the scenario it suggests is grandiose, not because of the writing or anything)?
At first, this series of events reminded me of songwriter Randy Newman and the city of Boston. In the late 1970s he released a song titled “Short People” that poked fun at prejudice and discrimination based on appearances. The song was subsequently banned in Boston because the city government failed to recognize satire, taking the song at face value instead. (Boston had another comparable experience with Newman’s song “Rednecks.” This song poked fun at the redneck mentality and was taken up in all sincerity by some of the most racist elements of the white-skinned Bostonians who opposed school busing in that town). In short, the censors in Boston had no understanding of the mechanics of satire. One could argue that they didn’t even know what the word meant.
As I think about the responses to what I thought was quite obviously satire, I began to realize that something deeper was at hand. My piece attempted to point out that rulers are by the nature of their position liars. Furthermore, when they are put in the position of defending a war, they become even greater liars. However, the responses were based on something different. Some of the folks who emailed me were curious as to the article’s truth because it confirmed their worst fears: the US had truly become the police state that they feared. Most however, were coming from a different direction. They wanted to believe that Senor had finally seen the folly of his ways and was distancing himself from the murderous debacle in Iraq. The government of the United States is capable of salvation and it just takes a few conscientious people in positions of power to return that government to its providential place. Interestingly, it was pointed out to me that a good number of these responses came from a listserv set up by and for supporters of former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean. This makes sense. These folks held out the hope that if their man became president then this country would be a “good” country again. It would carry the mantle of US enlightenment and liberalism to those people in other lands who haven’t seen the light. Redemption of our role in the world is possible.
Of course, this perception fails to take into account the fact that the war in Iraq is not Dan Senor’s war, nor is it George Bush’s. It’s not Donald Rumsfeld’s, no matter how much I want to blame it on him. It is America’s war and we have been fighting it since before 1990. The two major candidates in the 2004 presidential elections are not debating why the war was started or how to end it. They are debating only how it was “managed.”
Despite the obvious unreality of my piece, many readers assumed it to be real. In other words, the times we live in have become so unreal that fantasy has become reality and reality is the stuff of fantasy. It’s as if we walked into a Philip K. Dick acid trip on Bob Dylan’s Highway 61.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is being republished by Verso.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org