Washington went to war just to boost the white male ego

May 05, 2003

THE key question remains – why did we go to war? It is not yet answered. In the end, it is likely that a host of responses will produce a cognitive stew, which does, at least, open the way to offering one's own notion. We went to war, I could say, because we very much needed a war. The US economy was sinking, the market was gloomy and down, and some classic bastions of the erstwhile American faith (corporate integrity, the FBI and the Catholic Church, to cite but three) had each suffered a separate and grievous loss of face. Since our administration was probably not ready to solve any one of the serious problems before it, it was natural to feel the impulse to move into larger ventures, thrusts into the empyrean war!

Be it said that the administration knew something a good many of us did not – it knew that we had a very good, perhaps even an extraordinarily good, if essentially untested, group of armed forces, a skilled, disciplined, well-motivated military, career-focused and run by a field-rank and general staff who were intelligent, articulate and considerably less corrupt than any other power group in America.

In such a pass, how could the White House not use them? They could prove quintessential as morale-builders to one group in US life, perhaps the key group: the white American male. If once this aggregate came near to 50 per cent of the population, it was down to . . . was it now 30 per cent? Still, it remained key to the President's political footing. And it had taken a real beating. As a matter of collective ego, the good white American male had had very little to nourish his morale since the job market had gone bad, unless he happened to be in the armed forces. There, it was certainly different. The armed forces had become the paradigmatic equal of a great young athlete looking to test his true size. Could it be that there was a bozo out in the boondocks who was made to order, and his name was Iraq? Iraq had a tough rep, but he was old and a blowhard. A choice opponent. A desert war with no caves in sight is designed for an air force whose state-of-the-art is comparable in perfection to a top-flight fashion model on a runway.

So Iraq was chosen. Our good people on high would rush to claim that our putative foe possessed a nuclear threat. Along the way, they presented President Saddam Hussein as the closet architect of 9/11. Then they declared that he ran a nest of terrorists. None of that held up on close examination but it did not have to. We were ready to go to war anyway. After 9/11, and the absence of Osama bin Laden's body in Afghanistan or anywhere else, why not choose Saddam as the evil force behind the fall of the twin towers? We would liberate the Iraqis. Wantonly, shamelessly, proudly, exuberantly, one half of our prodigiously divided America could hardly wait for the new war. We understood that our television was going to be terrific. And it was. Sanitised but terrific – which is, after all, exactly what network and good cable television are supposed to be.

There were, however, even better reasons for using our military skills, but these reasons return us to the ongoing malaise of the white American male. He had been taking a daily drubbing over the past 30 years. For better or worse, the women's movement had had its breakthrough successes and the old, easy white male ego had withered in the glare. Even the mighty consolations of rooting for your team on TV had been skewed. There was now less reward in watching sports than there used to be, a clear and declarable loss. The great white stars of yesteryear were for the most part gone, gone in football, in basketball, in boxing, and half-gone in baseball. Black genius now prevailed in all these sports (and the Hispanics were coming up fast; even the Asians were beginning to make their mark). We white men were now left with half of tennis (at least its male half), and might also point to ice-hockey, skiing, soccer, golf (with the notable exception of the Tiger), as well as lacrosse, swimming and the World-Wide Wrestling Federation – remnants and orts of a once-great and glorious centrality.

On the other hand, the good white American male still had the armed forces. If blacks and Hispanics were numerous there, still they were not a majority, and the officer corps (if the TV was a reliable witness) suggested that the percentage of white men increased as one rose in rank to the higher officers.

Moreover, we had knock-out tank echelons, Super-Marines, and – one magical ace in the hole – the best air force that ever existed. If we cannot find our machismo anywhere else, we can certainly settle in on the interface between combat and technology. Let me then advance the offensive suggestion that this may have been one of the cardinal reasons we went looking for war. We knew we were likely to be good at it. In the course, however, of all the quick events of the past few weeks, our military went through a transmogrification. Indeed, it was one hellion of a morph. We went from a potentially great athlete into a master surgeon capable of operating at high speed on an awfully sick patient. Now, even as the patient is being stitched up, a new and troubling question arises: have any fresh medicines been developed to deal with what seem to be teeming infections? Do we really know how to treat livid suppurations we were not quite prepared for? Or would it be better to ignore the consequences? Mightn't we keep trusting our great American luck, our faith in our divinely protected can-do luck? We are, by custom, gung-ho. If these suppurations prove to be unmanageable, or just too time-consuming, may we not leave them behind? We could move on to the next venue. Syria, we might declare in our best John Wayne voice: You can run, but you can't hide. Saudi Arabia, you over-rated tank of blubber, are you out of gas? And Iran, watch it, we have eyes for you. You could be our next real meal. Because when we are feeling this good, we are ready to go, and go again. We must. We have had a real taste. Why, there's a basketful of billions to be made in the Middle East just so long as we stay ahead of the trillions of debt that are coming after us.

Be it said: the motives that lead to a nation's major historical acts can probably rise no higher than the spiritual understanding of its leadership. While George W. may not know as much as he believes he knows about the dispositions of God's blessing, he is driving us at high speed all the same. He is more of a white male by at least an order of magnitude than any other boyo in America. Yes, we have this man at the wheel whose most legitimate boast might be that he knew how to parlay the part-ownership of a major-league baseball team into a gubernatorial win in Texas. And – shall we ever forget? – was catapulted, thereafter, into a mighty hymn: All Hail to the Chief!

Reprinted from The Australian