At risk of belaboring a point …
I ran over this yesterday, but today’s Susan Sontag op-ed in the New York Times got me going again. Since I’m on vacation, I have time to critique the entire argument of this has-been.
Since last Sept. 11, the Bush administration has told the American people that America is at war.
Ah-hah. The Bush administration did this! How could we the people have been so easily led? Could we have … agreed? Been angry? Something like that.
But this war is of a peculiar nature. It seems to be, given the nature of the enemy, a war with no foreseeable end. What kind of war is that?
Obviously it is Orwell’s 1984 given cruel life. Just come out and say it, hon’.
There are precedents. Wars on such enemies as cancer, poverty and drugs are understood to be endless wars. There will always be cancer, poverty and drugs.
And Susan said to the apostles: You will always have the poor, but you won’t always have me.
And there will always be despicable terrorists, mass murderers like those who perpetrated the attack a year ago tomorrow ï¿½ as well as freedom fighters (like the French Resistance and the African National Congress) who were once called terrorists by those they opposed but were relabeled by history.
Speaking of always having poverty, the ANC has done a wonderful job of promulgating that in South Africa. But Susan is preaching to the choir. Obviously, she is changing the way we think about terror.
When a president of the United States declares war on cancer or poverty or drugs, we know that “war” is a metaphor. Does anyone think that this war ï¿½ the war that America has declared on terrorism ï¿½ is a metaphor?
Um … no?
But it is, and one with powerful consequences. War has been disclosed, not actually declared, since the threat is deemed to be self-evident.
Someone buy this woman a subscription to the Congressional Record. It might hurt her ability to make a point with sophistry, but she could use it.
Real wars are not metaphors.
“And the award for distinguished commentary in military history goes to …”
And real wars have a beginning and an end. Even the horrendous, intractable conflict between Israel and Palestine will end one day.
And it won’t be any thanks to thinkers like Sontag.
But this antiterror war can never end. That is one sign that it is not a war but, rather, a mandate for expanding the use of American power.
Very clever argument, this. Sontag has said the war will go on for ever. Next she figures out the real mission of the war. How does she know? Because the war will go on forever.
If I handed this into a freshman seminar I’d be expelled. And I’d deserve to be.
When the government declares war on cancer or poverty or drugs it means the government is asking that new forces be mobilized to address the problem.
Or in the case of the war on drugs, it means we use the military. Oh, sorry. Go on, Susan.
It also means that the government cannot do a whole lot to solve it.
Even poverty? Where was Susan when LBJ needed her?
When the government declares war on terrorism ï¿½ terrorism being a multinational, largely clandestine network of enemies ï¿½ it means that the government is giving itself permission to do what it wants.
I’m sorry – does this make sense to anyone? What kind of government of government does not do what it wants? Throw me a bone, here.
When it wants to intervene somewhere, it will. It will brook no limits on its power.
Again, Sontag reverts to assigning big, nasty Orwellian teeth to her subject in lieu of actual proof or a point.
The American suspicion of foreign “entanglements” is very old.
“And the award for distinguished analysis of history goes to …”
But this administration has taken the radical position that all international treaties are potentially inimical to the interests of the United States ï¿½ since by signing a treaty on anything (whether environmental issues or the conduct of war and the treatment of prisoners) the United States is binding itself to obey conventions that might one day be invoked to limit America’s freedom of action to do whatever the government thinks is in the country’s interests.
This is radical? Has Sontag ever heard of “the history of U.S. foreign policy between 1789 and 1941”? And that Kyoto accord reference is a low blow. By mentioning it in such a la-de-da way, Sontag makes the Kyoyo accord look like a just, workable policy that we were foolish not to sign onto. This must be news to the 95 Senators who voted against it in 1997. Do they count as members of the Bush administration?
Indeed, that’s what a treaty is: it limits the right of its signatories to complete freedom of action on the subject of the treaty.
“And the award for distinguished commentary in political science goes to …”
Up to now, it has not been the avowed position of any respectable nation-state that this is a reason for eschewing treaties.
Examples, please. This smells like a strawman.
Describing America’s new foreign policy as actions undertaken in wartime is a powerful disincentive to having a mainstream debate about what is actually happening.
Hello? Mainstream? You’re in the New York Times! This couldn’t be a more “mainstream debate”!
This reluctance to ask questions was already apparent in the immediate aftermath of the attacks last Sept. 11. Those who objected to the jihad language used by the American government (good versus evil, civilization versus barbarism) were accused of condoning the attacks, or at least the legitimacy of the grievances behind the attacks.
Ah, here we go. Obviously, Sontag is grousing about the way her September 24 New Yorker piece was kicked around by pundits of the right and left. To Sontag, oppression is when people disagree with you.
Under the slogan United We Stand, the call to reflectiveness was equated with dissent, dissent with lack of patriotism. The indignation suited those who have taken charge of the Bush administration’s foreign policy.
Boo, hoo, hoo. Poor Susan. To read this you’d think the government repossessed her swanky New York home and her writings – excuse me, texts – were burned en masse. At least you’d think she’d be unable to get her author photo taken by Annie Liebovitz. No such luck. Sontag is moneyed, renowned, and not lacking a steady stream of work and exposure. Oh, and her semi-coherent conspiracy theory is the most e-mailed and discussed article in America’s paper of record.
Wow. If this is how President Bush supresses dissent, he really is a moron.
The aversion to debate among the principal figures in the two parties continues to be apparent in the run-up to the commemorative ceremonies on the anniversary of the attacks ï¿½ ceremonies that are viewed as part of the continuing affirmation of American solidarity against the enemy.
And this is wrong because … ? National politics aren’t like a high school debating club. Tom Daschle isn’t legally bound to take up Osama bin Laden’s side when the president beats up on him. Of course, the closest Susan Sontag gets to the real world is when one of her “texts” makes it on the shelf of a Barnes and Noble.
The comparison between Sept. 11, 2001, and Dec. 7, 1941, has never been far from mind.
“And the award for distinguished commentary in military history is – a tie!”
Once again, America was the object of a lethal surprise attack that cost many ï¿½ in this case, civilian ï¿½ lives, more than the number of soldiers and sailors who died at Pearl Harbor. However, I doubt that great commemorative ceremonies were felt to be needed to keep up morale and unite the country on Dec. 7, 1942.
Yeah. This is the sort of thing you check on before you write a nationally reproduced op-ed.
That was a real war, and one year later it was very much still going on.
As opposed to this war? Is this the same piece, or did Sontag mix up her “Asinine Op-Eds” file?
This is a phantom war and therefore in need of an anniversary.
Yes, therefore. Obviously.
Such an anniversary serves a number of purposes. It is a day of mourning. It is an affirmation of national solidarity. But of one thing we can be sure. It is not a day of national reflection. Reflection, it has been said, might impair our “moral clarity.”
Oh, yeah. I remember hearing this. It was from the loudspeaker next to the Big Brother poster, wasn’t it? That was a good Two Minutes Hate.
It is necessary to be simple, clear, united. Hence, there will be borrowed words, like the Gettysburg Address, from that bygone era when great rhetoric was possible.
Where in this moronic age can we find someone who knows good rhetoric? Hey, what about that brilliant cultural critic Susan Sontag?
Abraham Lincoln’s speeches were not just inspirational prose. They were bold statements of new national goals in a time of real, terrible war.
How the hell would she know what a “goal” is?
The Second Inaugural Address dared to herald the reconciliation that must follow Northern victory in the Civil War. The primacy of the commitment to end slavery was the point of Lincoln’s exaltation of freedom in the Gettysburg Address. But when the great Lincoln speeches are ritually cited, or recycled for commemoration, they have become completely emptied of meaning. They are now gestures of nobility, of greatness of spirit. The reasons for their greatness are irrelevant.
Um … they are? Just because a speech is popular doesn’t mean the great unwashed don’t understand it. “We cannot consecrate this ground” has a pretty long shelf-life.
Such an anachronistic borrowing of eloquence is in the grand tradition of American anti-intellectualism: the suspicion of thought, of words.
Oh, thank you Susan. Thank you for rescuing us from this … anti-intellectualism!
Hiding behind the humbug that the attack of last Sept. 11 was too horrible, too devastating, too painful, too tragic for words, that words could not possibly express our grief and indignation, our leaders have a perfect excuse to drape themselves in others’ words, now voided of content. To say something might be controversial. It might actually drift into some kind of statement and therefore invite rebuttal. Not saying anything is best.
Hey … Sontag is saying something controversial! Can we infer that she’s a hero? I think we can!
I do not question that we have a vicious, abhorrent enemy that opposes most of what I cherish ï¿½ including democracy, pluralism, secularism, the equality of the sexes, beardless men, dancing (all kinds), skimpy clothing and, well, fun.
You … don’t? We … have an enemy? What ever happened to those terrorists-cum-freedom fighters?
And not for a moment do I question the obligation of the American government to protect the lives of its citizens.
Except when it has to avoid signing a treaty to do so.
What I do question is the pseudo-declaration of pseudo-war. These necessary actions should not be called a “war.” There are no endless wars; but there are declarations of the extension of power by a state that believes it cannot be challenged.
Who besides Sontag is saying this war is endless? She’d have done well to read the Sept. 20 speech she’s probably writing about. The White House has said people should be ready for a long war, but it’s misrepresentative to say it will be “endless.” Read the speech.
America has every right to hunt down the perpetrators of these crimes and their accomplices.
Oh, can we, please?
But this determination is not necessarily a war. Limited, focused military engagements do not translate into “wartime” at home.
Who started this conflict, exactly? How much of the national feeling that makes Sontag so antsy comes from a few speeches, and how much comes from the fact that thousands of Americans were murdered?
There are better ways to check America’s enemies, less destructive of constitutional rights and of international agreements that serve the public interest of all, than continuing to invoke the dangerous, lobotomizing notion of endless war.
Sontag and her Blame America First cohorts have had a year to come up with a “better” solution to Islamic fascism. We’re still waiting for it.