So George W. Bush addressed the nation tonight, to announce the beginning of what one letter writer to the New York Times this week called his "shoot first and ask questions later" plan. It was an uncharacteristically solemn performance by the President; I'm guessing he'd had his smirk muscles Botoxed for the occasion. Bush only addressed the one nation, of course - 'cos everyone else can just kiss his grits - and emphasized his personal desire to bring freedom to the Iraqi people without sacrificing too many Americans or "innocent" Iraqis. (See this timely column by Thomas Friedman on how, if the worst happens, as it has, the US might make lemonade out of the lemons that Bush and Rumsfield and co. are handing out -- i.e. how they might make a Marshall Plan out of a sow's ear and a devastated Baghdad).
Meanwhile, Saddam Hussein continues to play his part in the absurd wrestle-mania performance of it all, by twirling his moustaches and allegedly rocketing a couple of Kurdish villages. Nice one. He's a nasty bastard, of course, no disputing that. But in his speech tonight, Bush continued to perniciously conflate Saddam Hussein and 9/11, saying that it was important to fight this war Over There With Soldiers before we have to fight it "on the streets of our cities, with firefighters, police, and doctors." And you wonder why something like half of all Americans believe that Saddam was responsible for the September 11 attacks. Have a lookie at the transcript of this press conference - look down the page for a question from a guy named Adam, read Bush's answer to his question, and wonder what else is being creatively reframed to justify this so-called war (thanks to Matt in Munich for that link).
War brings out the worst in mealy-mouthedness. Whoever's writing Bush's speeches has a strange way with words, from the nasty vagueness of "target of opportunity," to the sadistic relish of "at a time of my choosing." I actually heard a military spokesman say on TV tonight that targets had been "serviced" this morning in Baghdad. The word has both a nicely efficient white-aproned waitery ring to it, and a slightly more sinister whiff of animal husbandry. Which reminds me, this excellent (and scary) piece in the New Yorker on the journalists invited to accompany elite Marine units to the front may be the first time the words "We're fucked" have ever appeared in that magazine.
Speaking of Marines, last night we flew back into New York from North Carolina, and the airports were crawling with young military men en route to various destinations. They all looked alarmingly young, and not all were as brawny as you might think, although a couple had necks as thick as my waist and arms resembling (as Clive James once memorably wrote about Arnold Schwarzenegger) a condom full of walnuts. It's suddenly highly relevant to me that I'm the mother of a draftable boy, albeit he's got another sixteen years up his sleeve before the recruiters come calling. There are soldiers in my family – not my generation, but certainly the two before me, so it's hard for me to feel unequivocally anti-military, per se. They're just doing a job, and in this country in particular, many of them have few other career options or chances of affording university. It's a very class-based occupation (see Michael Moore's comment on how many of the 535 members of Congress have children in active service: exactly one). A poster I noticed all over the place in Chapel Hill said it nicely: "Support our Soldiers: Bring Them Home." Now we get to wait and see exactly how long that will take.
North Carolina, by the way, looks like it might be a very nice place to live, although the population boom down there over the last decade or so means that most people seem to live in strangely uniform gated communities -- scattered in and among forests some distance from the town itself -- that resemble the set of The Truman Show, or possibly The Prisoner (sans giant bouncing balls). Optimistically, I'm still hoping for a charming wee cottage within walking distance of downtown Chapel Hill and the UNC campus, which is dignified and picturesque, especially with the magnolias in flower. While checking out the town, we caught up with good friends from New York and New Zealand who now live down that way and are flourishing. And hey, The Datsuns were playing the local alternative music venue the night after we left, on their way back through from a highly successful visit to the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. All good signs.
Odd thing, though -- you'd think I'd be heaving a sigh of relief at the chance to live in a wee town that's not a designated possible target of weapons of mass destruction. After all, this week New York is once again under the grip of tighter security measures. Helicopters overhead, armed National Guardsmen on the streets, bomb-sniffing dogs in the subway (I have to admit, I first heard that as "bum-sniffing dogs," and wondered what was so special about them). But flying in last night over the vast glittering tapestry of greater New York - for a full twenty minutes I was looking out for Manhattan, but it was just miles and miles and miles of New Jersey, the mere outlying circle of this great city - I felt like I was coming home. And tonight, walking the toddler up and down 112th St to get his wiggles out before bedtime (and to get away from the bad news on TV), we bumped into friends from over the road and some kids from our building, and stood there chatting for a while and admiring the moon. Funny how a megalopolis can feel more like a village than a small college town.