Seeing the past as prologue
It was grand to run into the grand ladies of Georgetown while on my run. First on Rose St., in short order the “office party,” as one called it, met on the post office’s veranda where they held forth: Yes, it had been a lovely summer, pleasant temperature-wise with sufficient moisture, but a touch of fall was in the air. A bit of color in the aspen leaves could be detected, one noted. I had noticed a touch of crispness myself, hence opting for a light windbreaker, which was by then an extraneous piece of clothing.
That event took place on August 31, so timely for fall to be sensed, felt and even smelled. The night of that same day President Obama in a national address also reflected on a past season’s ending, only in context of a dark period: that of America’s war on Iraq. Listening to him induced a surge of memories, so allow me to indulge before “turning the page.”
Was it March 19, 2003 that day of “shock and awe,” the first day of “you’re with us or against us”? Magnetic bumper sticker patriotism was the rage as was spying on your neighbor to report his/her expression of terrorist sympathies.
It was a seven-year war. We actually have one so named in our history, or perhaps pre-history. Sometimes called the French and Indian War, it was fought to determine which of the two great European powers, England or France, had the right to claim hegemony over eastern North American. The outcome is largely the reason we greet another by saying “good morning” rather than “bon jour.”
James Fenimore Cooper captures the context of that story in Last of the Mohicans. It proved to be the beginning of the end for many of the tribes that hadn’t as yet been exterminated. Ironically, many of them in a sense of fealty aligned themselves with their English or French “fathers” as if they could gain from the outcome. What were they thinking?
Seven years and it seems like yesterday, but a yesterday of an eternity ago. It is likely you can recall where you were and what you were doing when it all began. War—for participant or observer, it’s hard not to have memories of particulars seared into one’s consciousness.
Logically, it serves little to wonder, suppose, or dwell hypothetically on “what-ifs”; nevertheless, it can be a thoughtful exercise. What if Al Gore had been declared the winner in 2000 and, thus, president during the September 11th attacks? Would he have ordered the invasion of Afghanistan? Likely. Would he have ordered the invasion of Iraq?
Backing up, one wonders whether the attacks would’ve occurred in the first place. Ample warnings had been posted, from counter-terrorism expert Richard A. Clarke’s siren to incoming national security advisor Condaleeza Rice through the August 6, 2003 Presidential Daily Briefing that ominously declares in its title, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the US.”
“FBI information,” the PDB avers, “indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York,” to which the president of the time, whose name is escaping me, said to the CIA briefer, “All right, you’ve covered your ass now.”
What was he thinking?
If John McCain had been elected in 2008, would he have been declaring the end of the war or might had he been announcing a surge to the surge given sectarian violence increasing anew? Would have the Tea Party organized in response to McCain’s socialism, for surely he would’ve followed a similar if not identical path as Obama with the bailouts. After all, in Republican ideology people socialism is what’s bad; corporate socialism is a respectable system of economics. Eighty-plus years ago Calvin Coolidge succinctly declared, “The business of America is business,” and since his utterance of that shibboleth, it remains the guiding mantra of his party.
The three historical events—the 2000 election, the September 11 attacks, and the invasion of Iraq—charted the course to where we are as we close the first decade of the 21st century. Throw in the massive tax cuts for the top two percent, and you have the real reasons for the season of our discontent. Somewhere in our distant past, we might’ve had a pleasant summer, but memory fails.
The phenomena of Obama, the Tea Party, and the militant New Right’s resurgence need to be seen in that context. The rest is commentary.
As it was in 1757, so it was in November 2000: Who woulda thunk? Perhaps therein lies the problem: we don’t.