The guy on the street will ask you for a “fuckin’ dollar for smokes.” The guy at the bar will say, “Big fuckin’ deal.” The woman in the church pew will not only tell you to shush, but she’ll say, “Leave me the fuck alone.” You can persist with each of them if you want, not that it will do any good. If there’s anything Americans don’t want to talk about these days, it’s the war in Iraq. Not that they ever did. At least, not seriously. You know that’s true because the voices most eager to invade Iraq showed their willingness to give their fullest in the name of saving the world from Saddam Hussein’s terror regime by giving up french fries.
We are at the five-year anniversary of the Iraq invasion and also on the cusp of reaching 4,000 war dead in those five years. Yet, the Iraq war has been bumped so far from our collective consciousness that it would take Sigmund Freud himself to discover the root core of our national state of denial. Heck, with all of the bimbo blurts and sex scandals to cover, not even the normally dependable war channel Fox News can be reliably counted upon to deliver news from Iraq these days. That’s understandable. Nearly all the media is doing likewise. It’s over.
Most daily newspapers in the country pushed Iraq news from their pages long ago. Usually, the scale for front-page prominence is predicated on the old saw of, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Not with blood from Iraq, though. Now it’s, “If it’s news from Iraq, put it in the back.” At this point, if a Utah soldier dies in Iraq (and don’t forget Afghanistan!), you might miss it altogether in the local dailies where it’s now standard to just lay out the basics: Call him or her a true American hero, perhaps identify the soldier’s unit, slip in something casually factual yet intentionally touching, like, “He died while patrolling the war-torn streets of southern Baghdad where, just days before, he and his unit passed out school supplies to local children.” Talk to his neighbors and friends, snap a picture of a mourning parent, child or spouse and call it a day. Then run it on page 18. Maybe even with a thumbnail photo.
It’s the same with our local broadcast media, except someone is reading the weepy script to you and the pictures are moving. Then it’s off to the weather desk: “Oh, that was so sad. You just hate to see that,” says Mr. News Anchor, “but I’m guessing things are a lot more sunny up in Park City. Right, Mrs. Weather Person?” In 1967, local news icon Dick Nourse reported for KSL News on the Vietnam War from the jungle itself. Today, the war will have to come to KSL. Since it isn’t, there must not be a war. It’s over.
All that’s left for us to do is decide who won and let whoever did declare victory. The Iraqi army lost in record time, so that parts easy. But this wasn’t a territorial war, and it was never going to be decided by military battles. From the onset, it’s been about ideology—good vs. evil, rich vs. poor, educated vs. non-, Christian vs. Muslim, Sunni vs. Shiite, East vs. West, America lovers vs. America haters, democracy vs. theocracy and on and on. Pick your sides and then decide who won—us or them? And realize that we are, nearly all of the time, both us and them.
It’s hard to decide who wins a battle over ideology and harder still to walk away from such a fight. So we stay even though it’s over. Grown tired of debating it for so long, Americans now just ignore that war requires more commitment than choosing pancakes over french toast. Plus, as learned via comments to this column last week, Americans are quite comfortable doing their fighting and bidding anonymously these days. That’s the spirit. We can change the world or end this war if enough of us just go online and make anonymous complaints from behind the girded walls of our home computers.
Some people think that anonymity—particularly of the anonymous variety found on the Internet—is great for democracy since it gives voice to the little guy. Bunk. It may be great for criticizing authors or points of view, but thank God there was no wireless Internet at Boston Harbor. I concede anonymity may have an element of usefulness. But, ultimately, anonymity makes cowards of little guys. It makes big cowards of big guys. People must believe, when they create an anonymous post like “Bush lied, kids died,” that the universe quivers. It doesn’t. No one ever followed an anonymous general into battle.
The war in Iraq is over—it’s ripe past its American patience use-by date. Did the 4,000 die in vain? Yes, because now we fight ourselves and all things trivial. Will more die in Iraq? Sure. No one ever followed an anonymous crusader out of a war, either.