Monday, 30 June 2008

Knowing the rest of the story is half the battle The reason I'm an historicist instead of an historian—besides the obvious, like being in an English department—is because I'm a bit of a romantic when it comes to my history. For example, to appropriate a line from (of all things) Elizabethtown, I'm a connoisseur of first looks. When, I ask myself, did this figure of future historical significance first enter the national consciousness? Who, for example, is buried in this paragraph from the 30 July 1967 edition of the LA Times? The flames quickly spread to the hangar deck ... setting off bombs, rockets and other ordnance, while touching off many jet planes, all of which were fully loaded with fuel and heavily laden with ordnance. You can almost picture him in one of the "many jet planes," "bombs, rockets, and other ordnance" exploding around him; but as of 30 July he has no name, no face. For the moment, this anonymous pilot sits alone, as yet undisturbed by history, on the burning pitch of an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Tonkin Gulf. The next day, the New York Times provided a fuller, albeit tentative, account of the fire that took the lives of more than 130 US sailors: For some unknown reason, a plane parked near the carrier's island, midway up the 1,045-foot flight deck, experienced an "extreme wet start." This malfunction, comparable to what happens when a cigarette lighter is ignited after having been filled too full, occurs about once a week on attack carriers, but almsot never so severely as as it did yesterday. A thick tongue of flame lashed backward from the parked jet, igniting a missile on one of the dozen or so planes parked near the fantail, their engines turning over in readiness for a strike launching scheduled for 11 A.M. The rocket "shot across the deck," Captain Beling said, "and by a quirk of fate smashed into a fuel tank under a plane on the port side." No one aboard the Forrestal seemed to know today which plane the missile had hit — but it was probably either the Skyhawk whose cockpit was occupied by Lieut. Comdr. John S. McCain 3d or the one immediately to his right. He is become historical, mentioned by name in the paper of record. Not that this is the first time his name has appeared, as the father and grandfather with whom he shares it appear regularly in Vietnam and WWII reportage; but this is our first glimpse of the man who will lose to Obama in November—alone, almost exploded, surrounded by the agonized screams of the likely dead. What can I say? I'm like Paul Harvey. (Only macabre.)
Reverse Torture Porn (X-posted over the Edge of the American West.) I challenge anyone currently being critical of Wesley Clark to disprove his point on its face. I don't want to hear anything about Clark's own military record or Barack Obama's lack of one.* I want you to list the specific executive qualities cultivated by twenty-three bombing missions and five years in a POW camp. Yes, I'll hold. Zoom zap a do do walla do dop diddly do dum dum dum dap da dap da doom— Hi, I was waiting to—yes, I'll hold. Do do do doop da da dap dop dop diddly do dapa dapa dapa dap zoom a zoom— Hello? No, I don't want to be transferred to—yes, I'll hold. Bam bam biddly bam dop dop bam oof oof zoom zoom boom a dam dam dam— I don't need to speak to your supervisor thank you very much. But I would like an answer. Because you know what I think? Your addiction to torture porn has become so all-consuming it now encompasses its opposite: reverse torture porn. For almost six years, you've drifted off to sleep play-acting Jack Bauer. A dark foreigner planted a ticking bomb in a Major American City and only you can discover its location before millions die. You tumesce at first thought of the necessary force this mission requires. Which method will you use? You weigh the pros and cons of all the law allows, but the bomb is ticking, so you consider those it forbids. You delight in cataloging the sadistic acts the situation necessitates. Your decision made, you apply the screws, water, electricity, heat, cold, Manilow, &c. You save America. You are a hero. Men want to be you, women to be with you. You fall asleep. But just as legal coercion lost its luster, so too have the techniques implemented outside the law. You can do no more harm to these imagined bodies without imagining yourself a murderer, so you shift from the torturer to the tortured. Where before the tortured man made war upon America, in John McCain, mind and body are broken in its service. Your heart swells with pride when you consider his sacrifice. Your beloved car battery acquires menace, as the means by which you once saved America nightly becomes the means by which they would have you betray it. You are now addicted to reverse torture porn, and John McCain is your enabler. You are incapable of thinking about politics outside a primal scene of human suffering. You shape your policy in rooms whose walls perspire, on improvised furniture carelessly shat on a bloodstained concrete floor, and you ignore the damnable hypocrisy of it all.** Whatever McCain learned in a hole like this qualifies him to lead the free world. We teach terrorists something different. What exactly? I don't know. You don't either. But it's categorically different than what McCain learned, whatever that was; and whatever that was, it is now a quality desired in a President; and because...

Become a Fan

Recent Comments