IN ANY CASE, THE WAR IS OVER and there are scores to
be settled. Rest assured they're being settled in decidedly unpleasant
ways in the streets of Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul and Jalalabad; back at
home, they're being settled with the querulous press, with the "looney
left" and the insufficiently prescient or patriotic -- in the light of
our unexpected victory, they're the same thing, anyway.
The press, after weeks of increasingly dour reports from
the frontlines, were mostly happy to pronounce mea culpa and get
with the program. Ismail Khan and his Tajik-Sunni army in Herat? Amazing
news; a military triumph on the order of Monty at El Alamein. Never mind
that Khan is only slightly less unsavoury than most of his Northern Alliance
cohorts, or that the citizens of Herat have already demonstrated against
Khan's support of Burhannudin Rabbani in favour of the old king, Mohammed
Zahir Shah; for the moment, we have palpable results, regardless of their
worth in the long run, and new footage to air.
In any case, the authors of defeatist tracts have been
duly noted. A year ago, writer Andrew Sullivan was fighting for his reputation; the famous figurehead of the gay conservative movement was discovered to be fond of "riding bareback", that is to say, favouring sex without condoms, and had indiscreetly advertised his preference. Today, he's publishing a list of the insufficiently outraged and the foresight-handicapped on his website.
I'm no great fan of the left, even if my own voting preferences have never strayed from left-of-centre. Intellectually, much of the writing that's come from the left has been unable to grow out of paranoid fantasies of malevolent corporations, soul-mortgaged politicians and the stygian business of government, abetted by nauseous generalizations about the "working class" and the "oppressed" that dehumanize as they turn everything they touch into an abstraction. Even worse, sensitive souls stricken by dismal
readings of history have evolved a theory of moral equivalence that easily
manages to equate shortsighted, unhappy American foreign policy -- as formulated by sinkholes like Dr. Henry Kissinger and put into action by the mostly mediocre agents of U.S. intelligence agencies -- with an open invitation for the oppressed to kill thousands of innocent civilians in economic wholesale batches, a kind of schoolyard tit-for-tat on a monster scale.
Personally, I've never been less than conflicted by this
new war. A few days after the attack, I sat in a bar with the priest who
would marry us, an American by birth, who was fighting unhappily with an
urge to see swift, brutal revenge. I told him that, were America a truly
Christian country, it would merely express it's sorrow for the attack and
its loss of life, pray for the souls of the perpetrators, alive or dead,
and announce that it would not answer murder with murder. It would take
inhuman strength, the kind less possible in a country than in a single
man. Perhaps a few million people, Christian, Muslim or otherwise, would
see this for what it was -- proof that while America was morally righteous,
true to the religion that inspired its founders, and that its enemies and
anyone who celebrated the death of innocent civilians were not. That Usama
bin Laden is a bad Muslim seems unquestionable to me; that George Bush
and his war cabinet are bad Christians seems, sadly, just as true.
At the same time, I live in the real world -- a fallen
world, ultimately -- and I knew that there was no way this was going to
happen. We made the first step down this sorry road of retribution the
moment the first man decided to attack another man, and when that man hit
back. Perfectly reasonable actions that mitigate everything noble about
us and our capability as a civilization.
On the whole, the most reliable voice I've read over the
whole of this sad autumn has been Christopher Hitchens. Hardly a right-wing stalwart, Hitchens has nonetheless been confronted by everything from the erudite piffle of Susan
Sontag to the outright looney horseshit of Oliver
Stone. Hitchens has been able to grasp the depth of meaning of the "evil" at hand that the president is content to reiterate as if the profundity of the concept had only just struck him. Hitchens knows that no one deploring the human waste of American air strikes would have wanted to live in Afghanistan at any time before or after the bombs came down. He appreciates the rich, curdled irony of seeing some public intellectual deplore the very existence of the only society in the world that lets them voice their petulance, outrage, and moral squeamishness without fear of anything besides looking ridiculous.
MY FRIEND ALAN has just put a diary entry, an account
from his perspective of the week of my stag and the wedding. For those
who appreciate a "Rashomon" diary experience, it's right here.
It's funny -- gratifying, but a bit unsettling -- to read
about yourself from another person's perspective. I'd like to think that
I maintain as few illusions about myself as possible, but it's still a
bit of a strong wind in the face to read something like:
|"Rick is an eccentric. By his own admission."
Which is, by my own admission, true. But you still run
the sentence through your mind, testing the feel of it, the weight of its
truth. Yeah, I am a weird guy. Not unsociable weird, or dangerous weird,
but definitely not most people's cup of tea weird. But how am I weird?
Perhaps my opinions are a bit too strongly held for small talk, or my interests a bit unconventional, not perverse, or morally questionable, but perhaps a touch too enthusiastically pursued. I'm a bit confrontational, perhaps, and my language tends to be...colourful. I any case, there it is: "eccentric". Fair enough.
And then there's one of those things, one of those statements, a compliment with a bit of steel in it, more than just nice words; a sharp hint of the context in which the nice words fit:
|"He literally found the person who was made for him.
He was lucky. But (unlike the jazz musician) he deserves it. I wouldn't
have been surprised if it hadn't happened but it's nice to know that sometimes
No, it might not have happened. It almost didn't. K. and
I met three times before we finally got together, and each time it didn't
"take", despite the subtle attempts by friends to bring it all about. The
first time, K. was in a nasty mood (with good reason), and I walked out
of the party with Greg and Vicki sarcastically thanking them for introducing
me to such a surly girl.
The second time, I was in the weird mood, eding on hostile,
at a party with too many strangers, and I didn't connect K. -- the pretty
girl in the gold cocktail dress serving drinks with the host -- with the
surly girl at the cigar bar a month or so previous. In any case, I thought
she was with the host, an obviously gay man. Well, perhaps not that obvious.
I mean, who can tell these days?
The third time, I was at a bar. We were introduced. I
thought she was cute. I went over to say hello to a friend. I excused myself
to come back to K. She'd left. I actually remember standing there, feeling
a bit of a pang. Another opportunity blown. Opportunities, I knew with
some certainty, that were receding and finite.
Three strikes. I should have been out. But then I got
a fourth swing. Home run. Imagine that.
Actually, there was no reason why I should have met someone
who could put up with me. By the time we'd met, I was eding into the terminal.
Too solitary, too self-sufficient, too...weird, I guess. (Which is, by
the way, not a description I'd apply to Alan, despite his own agonizing.)
Alan had every reason to expect nothing to happen with me. I was lucky.
I have no other way to explain it. I'm a very lucky guy.