The Moment of Truth — February 24, 2001

Good War Syndrome

Hi, I’m mejeffdorchen and welcome to the Moment of Truth, the one moment in the broadcast week that gives hope to the hopeless.

First of all, in a dream I had, an inside White House source revealed that, since his administration began, George W Bush has woken up in the morning four times having wet the bed. So he’s already broken Calvin Coolidge’s record.

Can you believe it? I’m sure he won’t be stealing the presidential mattress when he leaves office.

The second half of Christopher Hitchens’ article outlining the case for bringing war crimes charges against Henry Kissinger is in this month’s Harpers. I was sincerely hoping for a letter to the editor from Kissinger refuting the charges, although deep down I knew there wouldn’t be any. Hitchens has tried to contact Henry for the article but has received no response. Not that Henry hasn’t responded indirectly. Since part one of the case against Kissinger came out, the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, or is it McNeil? I forget. One of them’s dead. Or something. Anyway, on the News Hour with the one who’s still there they did a story, a kind of follow-up, or a checking-in, as it were, on the continuing process by which the Chilean public is trying to sort out the murderous history of the regime of Augusto Pinochet. I say Pee no shay because that’s how we always pronounced it back in the old days when he was still dictator and dissenters were tortured and killed by the Chilean military in a climate of visceral intimidation that lasted long beyond the initial massacre in Santiago Stadium.

Anyway, in this report, the News Hour interviewed Kissinger, who said amazingly self-serving and shocking things, and the interview itself was such a softball interview, it was just appalling. As a friend said, they were giving Henry the Elder Statesman treatment. They were asking him questions like, well, do you feel you should have done more to stop Pinochet from violating human rights? As if Kissinger hadn’t himself been responsible for Pinochet’s overthrow of the elected government of Salvador Allende. And they let Kissinger respond with something like, Well, you have to remember in those days human rights weren’t thought of in the same way, and one didn’t criticize a leader on his human rights problems, it would have been unthinkable to do so. You have to realize what it was like during the Cold War.

And they followed up with nothing. Which pissed me off, because I DO remember what it was like, and I remember Kissinger’s famous quote about why should we stand by and let a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. And for News Hour to sit there and present the whole Chilean situation as if Henry weren’t responsible for destroying that nation, for thwarting democracy, which I believe WAS a word in the Cold War lexicon, forgive me if I’m wrong, if my creaky old memory of those ancient times deceives me, amounts to News Hour allowing Henry to make an indirect response to some of Hitchens’ charges. Whether they’re aware of it or not, they’re aiding in Henry’s effort at spin control. And they must at least have been aware that they were aiding Henry’s general spin of denial of responsibility for the Chilean coup and its aftermath, whether they were aware of the Hitchens article or not.

And if you think Henry isn’t slyly on the make to do damage control on his image, I ask to wrack your brains to remember whether Kissinger ever appeared on the David Letterman show. My feeling is that he generally limited himself to the more serious arena of Charlie Rose’s dining room table in the void when plugging his book or his ideas on most favored nation status for China – in spite of their human rights record, I might add. In spite of the phrase human rights having passed into the post cold war lexicon, Kissinger is still against them. Anyway, my feeling is that Henry’s people contacted Letterman’s people and said, can Henry come on your show and do something funny? And so this past Thursday they had him read the top ten excuses for kids missing school. Isn’t that cute? Isn’t he just the cuddliest little guy? Remember that cuddly, lovable Kissinger? Wasn’t he behind the illegal and indiscriminant bombing of Cambodia? Gee, I don’t know. But I think he had sex with Jill St John. Oh, Henry.

I’m not suggesting any media conspiracy. The media don’t conspire to support corporate and government terrorism, they just do it by instinct cuz they know who keeps them in the loop and thus in their jobs. The terrorists won’t allow the reporters access to their world if the reporters’ reportage of that world includes coverage of the terrorism that is pivotal to that world. And so we have interviews that treat Kissinger as if he were a helpless bystander as Pinochet held Chile under the boot of fascism. All I’m saying is, watch for Kissinger to take any opportunity to present himself as innocent if not adorable. Any opportunity, that is, besides confronting the facts presented in Hitchens’ case against him, which he will not do simply because the charges are true, the case is solid, and the time is right to bring Henry before a tribunal at the Hague or wherever they’re gonna do that stuff.

There has always been a battle in the US for the national interpretation of the domestic and overseas events of the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War is the blood on the hands of every Lady Macbeth of the Cold War, and the Cold War will never be rehabilitated as long as the Vietnam War remains the Vietnam War and not WWII. Because WWII was the good war. The Vietnam War, with its collateral destruction of the rest of Indochina, is all that stands between the Cold Warriors and a persuasive rationalization for their crimes against truth and humanity. The attempt is important not only for the specific goal of legitimizing US foreign policy for most of the last half of the “0th century. The attempt is also the broader one of making war popular again. Making war heroic. De-vietnamizing it.

Hence we have Tom Brokaw and his book The Greatest Generation, lauding the WWII generation in a way so cloying that even some WWII vets think it’s a piece of crap. The key word in the title is, of course, “generation”, with its implicit evocation of a contrasting generation that didn’t measure up. Like, maybe, a generation that DIDN’T think the war fought during their tenure was particularly glorious? Hmm. Eat butt jam, Brokaw.

Hence Saving Private Ryan. Hence the upcoming movie Pearl Harbor. Hence last week, in the wake of the British and US bombing of Iraq, amid all but unanimous international condemnation of the bombing and of the no-fly zone and of the sanctions – NPR sees fit to air Public Radio rightwinger Neil Conan interviewing a Gulf War veteran tank commander about what it was like to drive one of those cool tanks during Desert Storm. Yeah, cuz that’s what its all about. Not the destruction associated with US policy towards Iraq, but the heroism, the down-to-earthness of the American soldier, and the niftiness of his or her weapons. It was like reliving the nauseating media coverage of the Gulf War all over again. And, interestingly, it was to Neil Conan, I think he was guest hosting Talk of the Nation, I’m not sure, but it was a call-in show, and some woman called up and chewed Neil a new one for being such a fascist and lambasted NPR in general for their spineless boosterism of the Gulf War, and said what many soon-to-be former public radio supporters were thinking, that she was dissappointed in them and angry at them and was going to take money she would normally have pledged them and give it to the Peace Project or something instead. So last week here was Neil Conan reinacting that boosterist crap again, somehow thinking that this was some kind of relevant response to the bombing and the international condemnation, as if to say, Hey, wait, remember how great the Gulf War was? All you nations. All you Americans?

Because let’s not let Desert Storm become the new Vietnam War, okay? Let’s make it WWII, cuz Saddam is Hitler, right? Let’s not be a bad old antiwar generation. Let’s be like the Greatest Generation. Right?

Oddly enough, one of the best loved antiwar satires during the antiwar movement was the late Joseph Heller’s Catch-“”. Oddly enough, because it was WWII seen through the lens of the Vietnam War. Heller was himself a WWII veteran. And he presented a WWII not so unlike the Vietnam War of Apocalypse Now – insane, surreal, bloody and pointless. And the amazingly still alive Kurt Vonnegut, also a WWII vet, brought us Slaughterhouse Five, or the Children’s Crusade, a book about the Allied bombing of civilian Dresden that is nonetheless definitely of the Vietnam War era. Gunther Grass’s trilogy of The Tin Drum, Dog Years, and Local Anesthetic comprise a deep rumination on armed conflict, society, and individual responsibility from WWII to the Vietnam War. I’m not sure how Tom Brokaw stands up in comparisson.

All I’m saying is, watch out. If you feel yourself longing for the days when men were men, when war was hell but you fought it anyway cuz your country called. If you feel a swell of joy and pride in your heart as you salute old glory flapping over Arlington Cemetary. If you find yourself forgetting that we supported Saddam Hussein, built him up militarily and economically, and even gave him permission to invade Kuwait, only turning him into the new Hitler when it became clear how helpful such a villain would be in justifying continued military spending after the fall of the Berlin Wall – if you feel yourself succumbing to Good War syndrome – just remember the phrase, it may not have been Kissinger who said it, but it might as well have been: “It became necessary to destroy the country in order to save it.” And think what would have to happen for some future, non-US elder statesman to one day say that about us.

If we never deal honestly with our own crimes against humanity, we’ll continue to be a threat to the rest of the world. So let’s not let Kissinger off the hook. No matter how cute he thinks he is.

Four times George W. wet the bed. Can you believe it?

I’m mejeffdorchen and that was the Moment of Truth.