Antiwar.com columnist Chad Nagle sends this special report from
Panel Rushes to Join the (War) Party
political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles,
manifestoes, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries
do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike
in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade
turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform
mechanically repeating the familiar phrases – bestial, atrocities,
iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand
shoulder to shoulder – one often has a curious feeling that one
is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling
which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches
the speaker's spectacles and turns them into blank discs which
seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful.
A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance
toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises
are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as
it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the
speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over
and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying,
as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced
state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable
to political conformity."
George Orwell, Politics and the English Language (1946)
BANALITY OF THE WAR PARTY
Arendt's immortal phrase about the banality of evil seems especially
apt right now. Those lining up behind war with Iraq look so hackneyed
and dull in their conformism that any dissent whatsoever from
the halls of government, whatever the motive, almost seems like
humanity at its finest. Early on Wednesday afternoon, when President
Bush had appeared in public flanked not only by House and Senate
leaders, but also by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman
(D-CT), a small group of senators that couldn't be relied on to
function like good machines were conspicuously absent from the
Party, including Robert Byrd (D-WV) and John Kerry (D-MA). Our
head of state managed not to mangle his speech completely, pointing
out that Saddam Hussein was a "student of Stalin" but
naturally neglecting to mention that "Amerrca" was once
the Soviet despot's staunch ally. Still, as embarrassing and divorced
from reality as the speech was, it successfully set the tone for
the Congressional farce to come.
the end of the first day of the House International Relations
Committee's mark-up on giving President Bush pre-emptive war powers,
it was clear this was going to be a "slam-dunk" exercise.
Based on their opening statements, a little over 20 members would
definitely vote in favor, 13 would vote against (2 Republicans,
11 Democrats), and 2 were undecided (one of each). Although a
division of such proportions in the committee still held out the
hope that the administration wouldn't get the sort of overwhelming
congressional stamp of approval it wanted in a final vote in the
House, it would still be a landslide victory for the War Party.
in the committee room added a dimension to the spectacle that
couldn't be captured by C-SPAN. It's often more interesting to
watch not the dummies who are speaking, but their colleagues looking
on, fidgeting, with eyes darting around. When most of the dissenters
spoke, their voices and gestures contrasted starkly to the miserable
droning of the War Party hacks who – many reading from some excruciatingly
dull staff-prepared script – couldn't wait to get the whole business
over with, put these faraway war unpleasantries behind them, and
get on with more important matters.
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) for instance, a man who sports a Marine-style
haircut even though – if Lt.
Col. Kilgore gave him the choice between surfing and fighting
– he would almost certainly choose to surf. Mr. Rohrabacher asked
that he be allowed to make his statement later than scheduled,
and sat there listening to the speeches of the war's opponents,
furrowing his brow and making facial expressions to show just
how "totally gnarly" he thought they all were. As Ron
Paul (R-TX) set forth cogent, well-thought-out arguments against
adopting the war resolution – not least that it would essentially
amend the Constitution by transferring the authority to declare
war from Congress to the President – Mr. Rohrabacher sat almost
directly behind Dr. Paul, making faces to show how misguided he
knew these ideas to be.
Rohrabacher piped in soon after Dr. Paul, and went on to assail
anyone who would dare engage in "unconstructive
nitpicking" of President Bush. His chest thrust forward,
he boomed that the "gangster regime in Iraq" had a "blood
grudge against the people of the United States." It was "ridiculous"
to "suggest we should wait." In fact, we should all
"tip our hats to the President of the United States."
This "nitpicking" was "definitely not appreciated
on this side of the aisle," because Iraqis would be "dancing
in the streets and waving American flags" when we came to
"liberate them." "This is a liberation,"
he thundered. Whoa, tough guy. Then he sat back, content with
his powerful arguments, before soon getting up and leaving the
room to return to his surfboard.
mood of hopelessness had already set in much earlier, very soon
after Tom Lantos (D-CA), the first to speak, announced that no
one's "patriotism" could be questioned regardless of
how they voted, since everyone would be voting his or her "conscience."
Surely – if questioning whether "conscience" was dictating
votes was banned when the issue at hand was as serious as whether
or not to go to war – there was little point in being a "people's
representative." What if your constituents had serious questions
about the motives of your colleague, Tom Lantos, for example?
Wouldn't they want you to raise those questions in Congress? If
everyone in the "club" was going to assume everyone
else was completely honorable and above suspicion, then nothing
separated this committee from any other elitist talking shop.
And sure enough, no one questioned anyone else's purpose in voting
the way they did.
the usual gaggle of war protesters was ejected from the hearing
room under threat of arrest for shouting during Benjamin Gilman's
(R-NY) tedious pro-war monologue, it was almost all downhill.
Among those expressing their misgivings before giving the resolution
a thumbs-up, not once did I hear regrets based on the fact that
innocent people would die as a result of US intervention. The
pro-war faction members' doubts were exclusively based on things
like how invading Iraq would hinder our effort to fight the "war
on terrorism," or how unilateral war would be contrary to
"national security." About the inherent evil of war
itself: not a peep.
McKinney (D-GA) calmly pointed out that if America "really
cared" about "Iraq's neighbors," we wouldn't have
given Saddam Hussein all those weapons during the period "when
we allowed him to be our friend." "Now we claim to care,"
she said. The President was "manufacturing an international
crisis to justify war," while American veterans of past wars
were sleeping on grates in the sidewalk and opponents of war "suffered
a tidal wave of recriminations."
were treated to varying displays of rage as well. On the one hand,
Robert Menendez's (D-NJ) anger at least seemed somewhat genuine.
There was supposed to be no graver decision a member of Congress
could take than authorizing war. No "compelling case"
had been made as to "why the United States right now
has a clear and present danger," he said in a chilling tone,
and there was "no sense" that Saddam Hussein now had
a plan to "strike America or its allies or interests abroad."
What would be the consequences for the government in Pakistan?
What would be the cost of occupation? How would America get out?"
the other hand, the fury of Robert Wexler (D-FL) had a rather
more "faux" feel, as if designed to distract attention
from his intention of giving the war resolution every bit as enthusiastic
an "aye" vote as Joe Lieberman and Tom Lantos. So Wexler
yelled his entire opening statement as a way of showing how "mad"
he was. It was "painstakingly clear" that Iraq was "the
epicenter of conflict throughout the Middle East." This must
have been news to a lot of people, especially journalists covering
the West Bank. The President had shown "poor leadership,"
said Wexler, but "I will vote in favor because I strongly
support the policy of regime change." So what's not to like
for other dummies with blank disks for eyes, the last time I saw
such impressive non-emotion as Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) displayed
in her statement – explaining how "proud" she was to
support the resolution because "the British dossier detailed
Iraq's activities" – was in a video of Soviet prosecutor
Andrei Vishinsky in court in the 1930s' Moscow show trials. Dan
Burton (R-IN) must have felt he was highly compelling when he
pointed out that "the Likud and Labor parties all agree that
we have to do something now," which certainly reassured me
as an American voter. Cass Ballenger (R-NC) attempted to put on
a "good ol' boy" act by reminding everyone that he was
one of the few people there who could "remember a fella named
Adolf Hitler," and that many politicians wondered then "whether
he was a threat." How amazing that no one has yet
to express outrage at the regular comparison between tired old
Saddam and one of the most dangerous men in history.
far as I could see, most of the members of this ghastly, Soviet-esque
committee didn't seem as if they were even "there" in
any sense but the most unsavory physical one. The only notable
exceptions, apart from Paul, McKinney and Menendez, were Barbara
Lee (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jim Leach (R-IA), William Delahunt
(D-MA), Jim Davis (D-FL) and Tom Tancredo (R-CO). Davis and Tancredo
did a decent job of appearing flummoxed by their colleagues' treatment
of the war resolution as a foregone conclusion, though in the
end they both voted yes. Eliot Engel (D-NY) looked like he might
be genuinely grappling with some sort of moral issue on a grade-B-actor
level at first, speaking slowly and solemnly without the aid of
notes – but then he went right ahead and endorsed the resolution
anyway. Apart from a few William
Shatners like Tancredo and Engel, almost everyone who voted
in favor just went through the familiar, revolting motions of
Orwell's "machines" – "bestial, atrocities, iron
heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder
to shoulder," etc. – without showing the slightest emotion
the proceedings on the second day, Committee Chairman Henry Hyde
(R-IL) told his fellow committeemen they could offer all the amendments
to the resolution they wanted, just as long as it was understood
that there would be no amending the resolution. The committee
wasted an entire day hearing proposed amendments that would never
be adopted. Presumably this was meant to be a kind of "group
therapy" to make people feel as if they were playing some
sort of important role in a democratic process. In response to
Rep. Paul's concerns about violating the Constitution, Hyde had
this to say: "There are things in the Constitution that have
been overtaken by events." Indeed. When Paul suggested that
Congress vote on a declaration of war instead of approving the
war resolution, Hyde said that the problem with war declarations
was that they were inconvenient because they affected existing
contracts, insurance policies, etc. In other words, we can't allow
such a trifling matter as the slaughter of thousands of people
to get in the way of something as important as commerce. Tom Lantos,
who had earlier said that no member's conscience was to be questioned,
hypocritically turned and accused Paul of being "frivolous
and mischievous" with his proposal. The final vote was 31
in favor, 11 against. Barbara Lee was right when she said that
"it doesn't take leadership to go and drop bombs on people,"
but when it came time to vote neither she nor Diane Watson (D-CA)
showed up. It was over. The Party had spoken.
it were done when 'tis done, then 'twer well
it were done quickly. If th' assassination
trammel up the consequence and catch
his surcease success – that but this blow
be the be-all and the end-all! – here,
here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
jump the life to come. But in these cases
still have judgement here, that we but teach
instructions, which, being taught, return
plague th' inventor. This evenhanded justice
the ingredience of our poisoned chalice
our own lips...
Shakespeare, Macbeth (Act 1, Scene 7)
Mencken once said: "Every decent man is ashamed of the government
he lives under." After watching the performance of the Committee,
it was clearer than ever what he meant.
is a policy position as obscene as advocating a pre-emptive war
against a country that has never attacked the United States so
resilient? It's very difficult to believe that polls showing a
majority of Americans in favor of war reflect widespread enthusiasm.
But even assuming the official polling data is correct, and the
overwhelmingly antiwar mail coming into congressional offices
from constituents just represents a few kooks out there whistling
in the dark, why would Americans be so easily convinced that a
policy of sending US forces to shoot their way into distant Iraq
and topple its sovereign leadership is in the "national interest"?
current situation in Germany may offer a clue. When a minister
in German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's government compared President
Bush's tactic of whipping up war fever to Hitler's technique of
saber-rattling to distract attention from economic problems, the
White House was outraged. The minister had to go. Condoleezza
Rice said German-American relations were indefinitely "poisoned,"
and Richard Perle went so far as to recommend publicly that Schroeder
– the democratically elected head of a foreign sovereign state
– resign! So I'd like to take this opportunity to reiterate how
Bush's attitude toward war on Iraq is reminiscent of Hitler. As
Hitler famously wrote in Mein Kampf:
the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility;
because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily
corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than
consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity
of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie
than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small
lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale
Bush administration's Big Lie is that Iraq must be invaded because
its leader, Saddam Hussein, poses a clear, present and imminent
danger to America and its people. Some members of Congress, such
as Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), actually detailed some of the smaller
lies within the Big Lie, saying "we know that Saddam
Hussein is a supporter and sponsor of international terrorism"
and "we know that al-Qaeda operatives are hiding [in
Iraq]." In fact, "we" (i.e., "the People")
know nothing of the sort, and as Rep. Delahunt said on Wednesday,
"Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda are natural enemies," because
Islamists view Saddam's secular regime as having "corrupted
Islam." Nor do we know that, as Rep. Edward Royce (R-CA)
said, "Saddam Hussein could have his first nuclear weapon"
as soon as he has "forty pounds of enriched uranium,"
or that "people in Africa" and "other shady characters"
would "sell anything for five million dollars." We don't
even know that the Iraqi regime attempted to assassinate President
George H.W. Bush in 1993, as the perjurer Bill Clinton told us
when he ordered a volley of cruise missiles fired at Baghdad.
We only know that officials like War Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
and Vice President Dick "Secure, Undisclosed Location"
Cheney say danger is imminent, people like Chabot and Royce accept
this as fact, and very few Americans in high places have questioned
the party line. Personally, I don't believe any of it, and I'd
love to visit Iraq. People who have been there tell me the food
is fabulous and the people are charming, and I see no reason to
doubt them any more than government officials who have never been
there but rely on information from the CIA and other un-elected
how do you know it's a lie?" the answer goes. Well, see,
in a "democratic republic" you're supposed to question
everything the government tells you. You're supposed to be suspicious
of the government because "the price of liberty is eternal
vigilance," remember the old saying? I'm not supposed to
be burdened with proving the government's assertions are lies,
because the government is supposed to prove what it says is
true. Blair's flimsy "dossier" and Bush's stale,
"magnificent speech" to the UN never proved a thing,
and so far no single statement has sickened me as much as Rumsfeld's:
"The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence."
By Rumsfeld's reasoning, we ought to shoot our way into the Kremlin
to make sure Vladimir Putin isn't hiding a doomsday weapon under
the couch in his office. After all, where's the "evidence
evidently, the Party is "always right," much as the
"Führer" once claimed to be. On September 24th
I attended an appearance at the University of Virginia by former
National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and ex-Secretary of
State Lawrence Eagleburger. Neither of them was going to set the
house on fire with brilliant oratory, but since they were elder
statesmen coming out against the war (for whatever reason) I figured
it was worth hearing what they had to say. Both made worthwhile
points about the folly of attacking Iraq, and Scowcroft even explained
why it was scientifically unlikely Saddam Hussein was anywhere
near acquiring a nuclear weapon, to say nothing of the delivery
system necessary for launching an ICBM. But then Scowcroft came
to the heart of the matter by saying that "of course"
if the President decided to go ahead with war, he would support
him, and Eagleburger assented. At that rather sad moment, the
hollowness in the eyes became especially pronounced, and Scowcroft
even bowed his head and raised a hand when he said "I will
support him," as if taking an oath. Why? Because, as Orwell
wrote in 1984,
"There will be no loyalty except loyalty towards the Party,"
and a lot of people are desperately afraid not only of being perceived
as setting themselves up against the Party, but of simply
being excluded from it. Herein lies the truth of what Lenin
bequeathed to the world: the Party is forever. "Humanity
is the Party. The others are outside, irrelevant." If you
leave the Party, you are despicable, vile, beneath contempt.
OUR 'LITTLE BUDDY'
Lantos on Wednesday said that about twenty years ago "our
ally Israel" had "spotted the danger" posed by
Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor. Now, he said, Iraq was again
"on the verge" of developing nuclear weapons, and "enough
is enough." Well, the last time Israel "spotted the
danger," the Israeli air force destroyed the reactor quickly
and easily with a strike that killed one person. And, just like
today, at the beginning of the 1980s America wasn't imminently
threatened by Iraq. So why does Uncle Sam have to get involved
now? If it's because Israel says it feels threatened, this makes
little sense. Largely thanks to Uncle Sam, Israel now has the
power to make sure any country that uses a "weapon of mass
destruction" (please, God, make them stop using that expression)
against it will be incinerated in nuclear fire columns. If the
Israelis really believe they're in imminent danger of attack from
Iraq (and I don't think they do), let them do the same thing they
did then. It was simple then, and it would be a hell of a lot
easier now that Iraq is a crippled basket case. Besides, exactly
what use is Israel as an "ally," anyway?
columnist George Will, in his utterly craven and contemptible
slavishness toward Israel, has implied that it is somehow treasonable
for three combat-veteran congressmen – one of whom was awarded
a Purple Heart – to go to Iraq to try to avert war. What a shame
Mr. Will won't suit up, pick up a pack and rifle, and jump out
of an airplane into Baghdad. Surely Gen. Sharon would cheer him
on from afar as the first paratrooper to wear a bow tie into action.
The columnists like George Will who advocate this obscenity don't
exactly personify Orwell's "boot stamping on a human face."
They're more like the face that peers out from behind the boot,
smirking from a position of safety and security while Iraqi civilians
are being blown to bits by cluster bombs. They have brute force
on their side, along with all the people who harass opponents
of war for Israel by sending them hate mail and accusing them
of anti-Semitism. It's much easier to put people down when you're
on the "winning side." And you get to stay "happy"
too. Here's an announcement circulated by some staff members of
the International Relations Committee right after the war resolution
HIRC Dem LAs [House International Relations Committee Democratic
Legislative Assistants] have organized a post-Iraq resolution
happy hour at Tortilla Coast tomorrow night and have cordially
extended an invitation to the [Republican] Las The festivities
will begin at 6.
All you have to do is sign up to join the Party, and in the period
before you're granted full membership you get to "hang out"
at the "festivities" with bright young congressional
staffers in a neon-lit bar on the Hill, eat a few nachos, get
smashed at "happy hour," and maybe go home with another
someone for some sloppy, drunken sex between visits to the vomitorium,
forgetting for a little while that you're just another little
climber hoping to one day be a leader of the Party itself. You'll
have all weekend for the nausea to recede, and by Sunday night
you'll have recovered enough to look in the mirror again and prepare
for another week of telling yourself you're one of the "beautiful
people." Those ugly antiwar people, meanwhile, will have
to continue living with their own nausea about the smug evil of
the War Party, without the benefit of any "festivities."
to Chad Nagle
Nagle is a professional writer and lawyer. He has been published
in the Wall Street Journal Europe, the Washington Times, and several
other periodicals. Mr. Nagle traveled extensively throughout the
ex-USSR from 1992-97 as a research consultant. Since mid-1999,
he has traveled widely in the former Communist bloc on behalf
of the British
Helsinki Human Rights Group.
articles by Chad Nagle
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