‘The War’ and the war

I have sat transfixed through nearly every gruesome and heartrending hour of Ken Burns’ telling of “The War” this past week. It’s almost been enough to take my mind off the war; I mean that one our administration wants to call the war on terror. Unfortunately, the last world war didn’t make history of all war. Loss of limbs and lives continues unabated in places we Americans choose to fight and in plenty of other spots around the globe we choose to ignore.

Today I find myself looking to compare the war my father fought in with the one our soldiers are ordered to contest in Iraq. But I stop short. There really is no comparison, aside from the individual bravery, sacrifice and brutality common to all wars. Still, I can’t help but observe the Iraq news backdrop to the 15-hour airing of “The War” — BlackWater, the mercenary, ahem, private security firm coming under harsh criticism for a recent tragic confrontation in Iraq. I suspect many other Americans go to the same place I do as they hear about the involvement of Blackwater and other private profiteers of war: cynicism. We grow even wearier. What else can we expect from an administration for whom the invisible hand of the free market belongs to God. Of Blackwater, Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich remarked:

“If war is privatized, then private contractors have a vested interest in keeping the war going. The longer the war goes on, the more money they make.”

And therein grows the cynicism of the day. If it’s good for business in America, it’s good for America. Chalk up war as another commodity to be bought and sold. Of course Corporate America benefitted tremendously during World War II. But Americans then were not afforded the luxury of cynicism. The war could not be won without the all-out efforts of business and every other institution. Whatever it took, whatever the cost to win the war was what Americans signed up for. They had little choice. Those who would destroy us had to be destroyed.

When I imagine Baghdad, I don’t see the tyrants of Berlin or Tokyo. I picture the civil war leaders of Hanoi and Saigon. I don’t find towering figures like FDR and Churchill to take comfort from. I seethe over the deceit of Bush and Blair. And I don’t witness the sacrifice of all Americans. I see volunteer soldiers from the ranks of our most disadvantaged families and a depressingly large swath of our citizenry more concerned with Britney Spears’ wellbeing than that of our warriors.

So how will filmmakers years from now look back on America’s war of 2007 and counting? You can easily guess my prediction. What’s yours?

October 3rd, 2007

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