Tuesday, March 18, 2014

President Strangelove

or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bushes

I von an Oscars 2003. You party vit me?
It was 19 March, 2003, and I had traveled to Los Angeles, where, being concerned about such things, the townspeople were abuzz at the prospect of having the Oscars cancelled; secondary was their concern about the forthcoming, doubtless very brief occupation of Iraq, for being a place whose more-than-occasional bread and butter was made by sequels, Gulf 2 promised all the same quick mechanized victories as the first, but given the advances in technology, the cinema haute couture recognized this skirmish to be more of a television production (indeed, one wonders if this is the quickly marketed response to Waugh’s comment that he does “not expect to see many travel books in the future,” (qtd in Fussell 215).  Throughout the day, concerns continued at the frightening prospect that Mr. Bush’s war would prevent the Academy (here used to refer to the film league rather than the higher Academy explored soon enough in this essay) from giving out awards.  (Incidentally, they were not prevented; the dead Conrad L. Hall, the rapper Eminem, and the convicted statutory rapist Roman Polanski all won, though none were present at the ceremony.)  Yet as day turned to night over the Pacific, and as the first wartime night in a decade settled over the Atlantic and Potomac, the President spoke to the nation.  I turned to my traveling companion and smugly said, “Here’s the start of the Bush 2004 Presidential Campaign,” and, alas, I meant it!  Such was my ignorance, an ignorance which has been so rightly fixed by the perspective of those who have traveled more and written better than the meager offerings of this writer, for by exploring the conventions used by the giants who have come before me, I have been able to understand how they achieve their pursuits of clarity, of vision, and of the honest truth of Mr. Bush’s war.
It was with Byron that I realized the great truth of what Hollywood types may have called Gulf 2 but I prefer to call The Great and Holy War Against the Aggressors Who Perpetrate General Evils (though I shall henceforth refer to it as Mr. Bush’s war, for the sake of maximizing these few pages with literary reflections).  Byron saw that the first notable feature of Iraq was “the Mosul pipe-line,” followed most secondarily by a Baghdad which he described as “desolation increased” (46).  Byron further explains that it was “little solace to recall that Mesopotamia was once so rich, so fertile of art and invention, so hospitable,” and that the entire region has had but one “prime fact,” and that from the thirteenth century when irrigation systems were destroyed, “and that from that day to this Mesopotamia has remained a land of mud” (46).  How silly I was to doubt our appointed leader, for Byron’s frank talk about this insignificant place, with its “mud-coloured” people who wear “mud-coloured” clothes topped off by a “national hat [that] is nothing more than a formalised mud-pie” (sic, 26) shows to me how right and just we of peach-colored skin (or, perhaps in the case of our British allies, snow-colored skin?) were to brandish flags over statues and claim the land for ourselves.  (Indeed, had one thought that Byron hated the place by using the word “mud” nine times in a single paragraph, then we should be very grateful that Iran was designated as a member of the catchily-named Axis of Evil, for his traveling companion Christopher called Iraq “a paradise compared with Teheran.” (47) With such words one certainly can hope that Mr. Bush’s war can become a global venture.
Surely, those inclined to say their nays will cry out such vague arguments as “But Iraq had no connection to the 9/11 attacks!” or “Were there not intelligence lapses concerning the existence of weapons of mass destruction in the country?”  I am of course reminded of the subtitle of the Twain book here explored, which is “The New Pilgrims’ Progress” (emphasis mine).  Surely those filled with piety and having lived lives of virtue are best set to become the newest pilgrims, and Mr. Bush highlights this fact.  Now, naturally, the existence of a few paltry sums of oil do sweeten the deal, but this is a war of enlightenment.  Twain noted that “the Koran does not permit Mohammedans to drink” but that “their natural instincts do not permit them to be moral” (368).  Perhaps this is owed to some sort of geographic flaw, for Twain too comments on “the God-forsaken barrenness and desolation” (455) and “leagues of blighted, blasted, sandy, rocky, sun-burnt, ugly, dreary, infamous country” (456) whilst in the region.  Indeed, the verbiage that this master author implies, certainly, that the territory is so in need of metaphorical white picket fences and curtains in the windows that he can but muster rather clunky language.  Language indeed, for he finds himself frustrated at one point that his guide cannot stomach the “unspeakable humiliation” (381) at being renamed, as all guides on Twain’s journey are, Ferguson.  (One is of course reminded of the impartial need by stabilizing forces in the American frontier to take Native American children, ship them from their ancestral lands, and send them to English-only schools in a modestly successful attempt to purge from them their wicked heathen ways.)  Twain punctuates his point by noting that such renaming “can not be helped.  All guides are Fergusons to us.  We can not master their dreadful foreign names” (sic, emphasis mine, 381).  Dreadful indeed, for who among us longs not for the day when the weary names which so confuse us can be replaced; who among us does not look eagerly for the day when the far-flung corners have such easy and convenient names like Georgetown, or Donaldsville, or Arbusto? 
Arbusto!  Whats that mean in English?
Indeed, Swift too sees so clearly the natural state of things in the grand alliance with the British who have been so kind as to help here and there in Mr. Bush’s war.  Was it not Swift, who in his wonderful metaphor, described those whom might fall under the helpful thumb of the Empire, as “human Creature[‘s] not six Inches high, with a Bow and Arrow in his Hands, and a Quiver at his back?” (5*)  Indeed, does not his Gulliver first gaze upon the fertile and quaint land of Lilliput and describe its cuteness for a quite short paragraph, then feel the press “by the Necessities of Nature” and then discharge his “Body of that uneasy Load?” (6)  I must stress that I do not mention Gulliver’s movements in order to be cheeky; rather, that in the ways of war I merely mean to point out that Swift recognizes, as do our leaders, that sometimes one must get one’s hands dirty.  But such is the way of spreading enlightenment; indeed, we are reminded that all are naturally inclined to be shown the way, for already in Lilliput “the Learned among them confess the Absurdity of [their burial] Doctrine; but the Practice continues, in Compliance to the Vulgar” (36).  The lesson taken is that the process has already started; we simply are speeding the process up, as one might use and need oil to lubricate a squeaky wheel.  But who can best do this?  Ah, once again, Swift’s glorious words provide us the right light.  This member of the British Isles casts his gaze to a “course [that is] East North-east” (60) and his metaphor becomes an America whose power compared to our wee British friends is like that of a man “as Tall as an ordinary Spire-steeple” who takes “about ten Yards at every Stride” (61) compared with a normal man.  (How right indeed Mr. Bush’s war must be when one views Swift’s metaphor as some sort of Christian Paul Bunyan!) 
Together... forever!
Given the obviousness to Swift of this partnership which, of late, has so helped to reshape lands in our Anglo-American (but, naturally, mostly American) image, one cannot help but be relieved that travel literature makes so clear the case for what can complimentarily be called recent Yankee imperialism.  Fussell seems to chunner and chunter a bit, saying that after the Great War “the British did awake… to a different world, one in which the idea of literary traveling must seem quaint and a book [or essay?] about it a kind of elegy” (227).  Perhaps such was the case many years ago, but how lucky we are, as thinkers, as writers, and as Americans, to have been given such a wonderful opportunity by Mr. Bush to travel of late—and to share it with our Anglo friends!  Indeed, all the authors that have been explored in this modest essay have shown me the ill of my ways, that the notion of dogged determination to reconstruct crude, backwards lands is not new.  I am struck, in fact, at a bit of a metaphor of my own: just as America is the more powerful child of its British parent, just as America is the rough-and-ready cowboy to the British sense of reserved elitism, and just as America is the younger, and more successful product of the traditions and ways of the British Empire, so too is the happy, smiling partnership between what those in the know refer to as Forty-Three and Forty-One, or the junior and senior Bushes.  Indeed, in summation I must reflect on the just ways in which the words of the authors quoted above have so improved my perspective.  Believing, as I once did, that there was no precedence, or justice, or explanation for Mr. Bush’s war, I see now that Byron and Twain and Swift and Fussell knew, each in his own time, that there is precedence and justice and explanation.  In closing, how grateful I am to them for fixing my view from someone who was once left lost, but now is quite right. 
Works Cited
Byron, Robert. The Road to Oxiana. New York: Oxford UP, 1982.
Fussell, Paul.  Abroad: British Literary Traveling Between the Wars. New York:
            Oxford UP, 1980.

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels and Other Writings. Random House, 1958.

Twain, Mark. Innocents Abroad: The New Pilgrim’s Progress. Hartford, CT:
            American Publishing, 1869.  Digital Edition. Scituate, MA: Digital
            Scanning, 2001.

* All quotes from Swift hereby use his capitalizations unless otherwise noted.

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