August 14, 2002

A China Journal

That's what moving about, this traveling is; it's this inexorable glimpse of existence as it is during those few lucid hours, so exceptional in the span of human time, when you are leaving the customs of the last country behind and the customs of the next one have not yet got their hold on you.
--Louis Ferdinand Celine
Journey to the End of the Night

In a hotel room in Beijing I am watching a news broadcast on the DW network, the Deutsche Welle network from Germany ( Its announcers are British in this version, though the network comes in 31 languages. A sharp-faced woman just reported that Saddam Hussein offered to have American congressmen come to Iraq and see if they think the country has weapons of mass destruction. The Americans called the offer a joke. From the report we would gather that all members of Congress are in agreement that there has to be a war against Iraq. They just disagree on details.

Donald Rumsfeld, in his unsurpassed wisdom, said congressmen would never be a substitute for weapons inspectors. Is that the question?

According to the report, Tony Blair is behind Bush's war plans, though only 40% of the British people are allegedly are behind it. I suspect 40% is a grossly inflated number.

The announcer is a woman. She is clearly supporting the American/British war agenda. She herself seems to have bloodlust in her eye as she promotes the war. Every move to avert war by the Iraqi government is painted as a sleazy way of avoiding the just punishment being arranged by the Bush administration. The war is portrayed as a foregone conclusion.

Doesn't everyone, including her, know that many innocent Iraqi civilians will be slaughtered in this bombing, and mass destruction will be wreaked upon a historic and precious city? Does anyone care? Certainly not this woman who takes a very large salary for looking pretty and reading clearly whatever she is told to read.

As I see this on a television so far from home -- in another world -- it makes me sick. It makes me feel ashamed to be an American. In this foreign country I wonder if people think Americans are all vicious, cold supporters of mass slaughter.

Maybe I can be one good ambassador for my country, at least for a few of the people I encounter.

People I meet are cautious talking about it. They are anxious. They don't want war. They like Americans. They like having Americans come visit and spend money. When there is war, Americans are more fearful of traveling. Humanitarian issues aside, it's bad for business.

I met an American on a plane who used to be a staffmember of the Bush I administration. What America is doing in the Middle East is crazy, she said. If the Americans attack Iraq, she is afraid it will lead to World War III. I asked her how she thinks the alignments will form in such a war. "It will be us against everyone else," she said. "Who will support us? It will be Armageddon."

In an airport I came across a copy of the Financial Times. On the editorial page there is an arcanely legalistic argument justifying a U.S. attack on Iraq (see Financial Times). The legal logic is okay, if seen in a world of logic alone, undisturbed by the real-world facts of the slaughter of innocent men, women and children and the destruction of a historic city.

The subtitle sums it up: "By breaching the terms of the 1991 ceasefire, Saddam Hussein has given the US legitimacy under international law to attack…"

These kinds of arguments are always framed as though it's all about Saddam Hussein, ignoring the fact that Saddam would probably not be hurt himself until hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are killed, or forced to leave their homes, their country further destroyed. By focusing on Saddam, who is personally deserving of about any horrible fate that might come his way, it's possible to justify the killing of women and children without ever having to discuss the bloodshed, or to name it, or evoke images of it.

The author, John Chipman, director of The International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, builds his ivory tower case with the cool detachment of one who has never suffered at the wrong end of a bayonet. "The war was ended not with a treaty, but with a ceasefire," he proclaims. Eureka. The crucial distinction that gives George W. the justification he longs for to satisfy his bloodlust and settle the score with the man who embarassed his father.

Outside of the glass-house construction of Mr. Chipman, what we are seeing in clear terms is the familiar behavior of the bully, one who needs a justification to exert the superior force he longs to demonstrate to everyone. "What was that? What did you say? I heard what you said. You insulted my mother! I don't think I'm gonna stand for that. No decent man can stand aside and let someone insult his mother!"

It's odd that the author is so aptly named: Chipman. He provides the rationale for Bush, the chip on the shoulder of the bully.

-- By David Cogswell

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