January 10th, 2010 10:27 EST
The Press is a Part of Our Political Theater
Theater is like conspiracy theory; it rearranges the furniture in your head and before you know it your script might as well be gospel. I think that`s what happened in Nazi Germany. We`ll see one of these days if it`s what happened with Washington`s 9/11 scenario.
Theater is heady stuff. Since 9/11 we have been a captive audience to intoxicating security theater. It has little to do with our real-world security, but it has been believable enough to take us into two wars. There have been high and low alerts, color codes, alarmist operas, orgies of punditry and think-tank schmaltz.
Truth is hardly the only casualty when a culture gives itself over to 24-hour theater. All its ideals and priorities fall victim, too. Nazism was theater. That is what the German generals knew when they were sent to war without adequate preparations. They played their role. They looked scary. But they knew a Wagnerian opera when they saw one.
Health care, education and jobs have all become theater, because a nation, even a nation as resourceful as we are, can`t afford to fight two endless wars and indulge in nation-building while at the same time seriously attending to such matters. The debate in Washington and our state capitals about health care reform, jobs and education is a puppet show. The people pulling the strings know damned well there is no money for real reform, no money and no will. But the press covers the show as if it were a real debate because the press is a character in the show.
Who pulls the strings? Who profits from war? Bankers do. The interest charged on war debt is almost inconceivable. So the profiteers who brought us the disaster we euphemistically call a recession are profiting from war more than Al Qaeda: we are, after all, killing terrorists, but we`re not killing any bankers. And then there are the contractors and their political stooges who listen more to lobbyists than they do to voters, because our election campaign laws have loaded the dice against democracy.
And to make matters dicier, we are engaged in nation-building in two countries that are proving themselves incapable of deciding they want to be nations as opposed to an assortment of tribes.
Students of Nazi Germany, myself included, have long marveled at Germany`s tenacity in fighting a war it lost at Stalingrad in February 1943. I think it was because Germany believed in its own theater, the myth of its superiority, its exceptionality. Many of its generals didn`t, but realism didn`t get them any promotions and it isn`t getting our generals any either.
And exceptionalism is what has gotten us into our current mess. We have believed that we are immune to the ills that brought down great empires before us. We have believed in our superiority and therefore think we don`t have to play by ordinary rules.
This is theater. It plays day after day, night after night, to standing-room-only audiences, but it has little to do with our real circumstances or our position in the world. George W. Bush was inclined to say he would follow the advice of generals who knew the conditions on the ground. " He knew this was a charade. We all did. But it sounded patriotic, and in our fear of terrorism we failed to distinguish patriotism from jingoism.
Barack Obama is following suit. But what ground is that? What conditions? The Taliban in Afghanistan are prepared to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely. Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is prepared to stay in Iraq indefinitely. Are we? Can we? Do the bloody conditions on the ground in those countries today have anything to do with the overall reality of their predicament? And cannot Al Qaeda operate as well from Yemen or Somalia or Nigeria or Algeria as it can from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq? We`re fighting fanaticism, stupidity, not geography. We can win a war in one or two places, but not all the places from which terrorists might set forth.
The conditions the generals are talking about are a handful of pieces of a much larger puzzle. It`s not up to the generals to put that puzzle together. That is the job of the civil government in Washington. It`s a job Washington is demonstrably not up to. Washington has opted for theater, the pretense of addressing problems of security and health and education and employment.
The war in Afghanistan is a bankrupting pretense.
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.
He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.
Hear me read poems and talk about writing at From The Fishouse.