Sunday, May 16, 2004

Today's column on the Bush Family

Still another knock-em-dead author who is finally channeling her acid tongue towards the good of the universe. (In my humble opinion, of course!)

May 16, 2004
The Springs of Fate

Oblivious of the consequences, the impetuous black sheep of a ruling family starts a war triggered by a personal grudge.

The father, a respected veteran of his own wars, suppresses his unease and graciously supports his son, even though it will end up destroying his legacy and the world order he envisioned.

The ferocious battle in the far-off sands spirals out of control, with many brave soldiers killed, with symbols of divinity damaged, with graphic scenes showing physical abuse of the conquered, and with devastatingly surreptitious guerrilla tactics.

Aside from dishing up a gilded Brad Pitt with a leather miniskirt and a Heathrow duty-free accent as he tosses about ancient insults, such as calling someone a "sack of wine," "Troy" also dishes up some gilded lessons on the Aeschylating cost of imperial ambitions and personal vendettas.

The Greek warriors question their sovereign's reasons for war, knowing that he has taken an incendiary pretext (Paris' stealing Helen from Sparta) to provide emotional acceleration to his real reasons — to settle old scores and forge an empire through war.

When Mars rushes into Achilles' soul in his battle with Hector, as Alexander Pope wrote in his translation of Homer's "Iliad," "the springs of fate snap every lock tight."

But Barbara Tuchman, in her book "The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam," observes that while the Trojans reject advice to keep that dagnab nag, as Rummy might put it, out of the walled city, "the feasible alternative — that of destroying the Horse — is always open."

Cassandra and others warned them. (The always ignored Cassandra is left out of the movie, but she must have sensed that was coming.)

"Notwithstanding the frequent references in the epic to the fall of Troy being ordained, it was not fate but free choice that took the Horse within the walls," Ms. Tuchman writes. " `Fate' as a character in legend represents the fulfillment of man's expectation of himself."

A State Department official noted last week that if any of the Bush hawks had read Ms. Tuchman's dissection of war follies, her warning about leaders who get an "addiction to the counterproductive," they might have been less rash.

"The folly" in Vietnam, she writes, "consisted not in pursuit of a goal in ignorance of the obstacles but in persistence in the pursuit despite accumulating evidence that the goal was unattainable, and the effect disproportionate to the American interest and eventually damaging to American society, reputation and disposable power in the world."

The Bush team, working on divine right, doesn't bother checking human precedent.

The president and secretary of defense boast about not reading newspapers, presumably because they don't want any contrary opinion or fact to shake their faith in the essential excellence of their policies.

It's astonishing the amount of stuff these guys don't bother to read, preferring to filter their information through their ideology. They certainly didn't read enough Iraqi history. They delayed looking at photos and reports on Americans abusing Iraqi prisoners. Paul Wolfowitz clearly wasn't bothering to read updated casualty reports.

The deputy defense secretary got cuffed around at a Senate hearing on Thursday when he admitted that he had first read a document that morning detailing questionable rules of engagement for confronting Iraqi prisoners.

As Ms. Tuchman notes, wooden heads are as dangerous as wooden horses: "Wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs."

President Bush's Achilles' heel is his fear of wimpiness, and Dick Cheney and Rummy played on that, making him think he had to go to war once the war machine was revved up, or he would lose face and no longer be "The Man."

Maybe the president and vice president will catch "Troy" on their planes as they jet around to fund-raisers. But the antiwar message will probably be lost, except on the official who is both a snubbed Cassandra and a sulking Achilles, Colin Powell. "Wooden-headedness," Ms. Tuchman said, "is also the refusal to benefit from experience."



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