I don’t really think the internet needs yet another post on the War in Iraq. Yet, I want to say just a little bit, which is as much about two news stories as it is about a place in the Middle East. What a sad and no-win situation this whole “adventure” has become, no? Sometimes stories converge in compelling ways; today is one of those days. The new issue of the online The Onion is out today and – perhaps unsurprisingly, perhaps surprisingly – its lead-story is too perfectly suited to the online edition of The New York Times.
The Onion’s lead story this week has the amazingly instructive, parodic headline: “Study: Iraqis Feel Sadness When Relatives, Friends Die.” The Onion is consistently hilarious, to my mind and my sense of humor, and this was yet another case of how The Onion is able to address real tragedy and sadness with humor. Humor that is often politically instructive, but also humor that is nearly always exactly the right affect. I’m thinking of the issue after September 11, 2001, which read, simply: “Holy Fucking Shit!” Indeed. That summed it up, right there. Or even better: “God Angrily Clarifies ‘Do Not Kill’ Rule.”
At The New York Times’ online edition, the current lead story is another bombing in Iraq. What is distinctive about this one is that the bomber selected a crowd of Iraqis celebrating the national soccer team’s victory in the Asian Cup. By chance, I checked the NYT online just as Iraq won their game. It made me happy, not because I am much of a soccer fan or a fan of things-Iraq, but because I, like the headline writer, think Iraq needs some escapist pleasure. Some celebration of something not connected to constitutions, conflict, Parliament, and, well, bombings. I checked the story again, just a handful of moments later, so I could email the soccer victory story to friends and there it was: “Bombings Mar Iraqi Soccer Victory.”
Now, one is humor, the other is serious news. Both are instructive of something, though. In particular, I’m thinking about what war has done to both places – and how easy it is, on these shores, to forget so much.
In the U.S., we’re in the midst of debating kinds of retreat. I know the President is entrenched, but everyone else is backpedalling. I suspect Bush is retreating as well, though it is clouded in other kinds of talk. Everyone is tired of this war. So, it’s really about how this is all coming to an end: what timetable, what conditions, what consequences we can and cannot accept from our withdrawal. In the end, it’s all about retreating from the war. Ending it. And, why? A lot of reasons. I think the two main reasons are cash and soldiers. This is a really expensive war. The U.S. is tired of paying for it, from the side of the citizens. And we’re short on soldiers, both short in terms of numbers and short in terms of tolerance of dead and wounded. Just too many dead and maimed men and women. It’s hard to justify the war these days.
So, we need The Onion’s headline to remind us of that other reason, maybe the reason we should have front and center in discussing how and when to end the war: the sadness of Iraqis. Perhaps because war is far away for most of us or perhaps because we’re obsessed with our own pains because of this war, I fear we’ve forgotten how much Iraqis suffer in this conflict. Iraqis feel sadness when relatives and friends die.
The two stories in The New York Times remind us here in the U.S. about just how bleak wartime is onsite, especially this incredibly layered war, with so many shadings of bitterness and violence. There is first the moment of, not hope, but respite-like elation. Soccer victory! This is a country that needs a victory, we’re thinking as we read. Within few minutes, really, it is all over: bombing, again. This time it is a bombing against elation itself. Because war kills people and destroys property, but it also kills what makes it possible for humans to flourish. Joy. Pleasure. Escapism. Celebration. You know, those things that are most smile-makingly human about our lives.
So, we need The New York Times to remind us that war is about a whole form of life. A whole form of life has been altered, shaped now by what is worst about us as human beings, namely, the ability to destroy community life en masse at the same time we slay individual bodies.
Both stories made me just so sad. I know the issues are deep and complex, but sometimes it is important to just register sadness. And sit with it. The Onion made me laugh, but only in the laughing-to-keep-from-crying way one finds in good satire. The New York Times just made me sad, but only after making me smile – almost, even, laugh with a cross-ocean and culture solidarity.
And so there we are, with so much to learn and reflect on in just two headlines.