Drivel from Drabble
My initial reaction to Margaret Drabble's rant in the Telegraph today
was the same as Stephen Pollard's
: just go away, you tiresome little woman. However, on reflection I think it best to confront this woman head-on and ask her the difficult questions here spohisticated friends will not. So here goes. So here comes my first ever Fisking:
My anti-Americanism has become almost uncontrollable. It has possessed me, like a disease. It rises up in my throat like acid reflux, that fashionable American sickness. I now loathe the United States and what it has done to Iraq and the rest of the helpless world.
It's an emtional, not a rational reaction, then, Margaret. Glad to see you staking out the basis of your argument so early on. And what America -- and Britain -- has done for Iraq is to rid it of an evil tyrant who gassed and shredded his own people, who suppressed dissent brutally and who stood ready, when the opportunity was right, to sponsor terrorism in Israel, America and probably Britain too by financing and arming the terrorists. And for the helpless in the rest of the world, it has held out the hope that they too might be freed by people who recognize their suffering. Tyrants the world over sleep less easily in their bloody beds. If you think this is a bad thing, you are possessed.
I can hardly bear to see the faces of Bush and Rumsfeld, or to watch their posturing body language, or to hear their self-satisfied and incoherent platitudes. The liberal press here has done its best to make them appear ridiculous, but these two men are not funny.
Again, an emotional reaction. And you are happy to see them ridiculed rather than see their arguments addressed. Oh, this is a firm basis you're building here...
I was tipped into uncontainable rage by a report on Channel 4 News about "friendly fire", which included footage of what must have been one of the most horrific bombardments ever filmed. But what struck home hardest was the subsequent image, of a row of American warplanes, with grinning cartoon faces painted on their noses. Cartoon faces, with big sharp teeth.
It is grotesque. It is hideous. This great and powerful nation bombs foreign cities and the people in those cities from Disneyland cartoon planes out of comic strips. This is simply not possible. And yet, there they were.
How hideous that men o'war should have figurines of naked women attached to their fronts. How horrible that army regiments should have affectionate nicknames. How inhuman that soldiers, sailors and airmen should seek to add some little personality to their scientific machines of death. If war is dehumanizing, here is evidence that some airmen, who probably play with their children affectionately among cartoon images, are attempting to resist that. It's happened throughout history, from the Greeks who painted intricate designs on their arms and armor to the RAF who painted sharks' teeth on their planes
. This is avariant of that, not something new the Americans have invented.
We are accustomed to these sobriquets; to phrases such as "collateral damage" and "friendly fire" and "pre-emptive strikes". We have almost ceased to notice when suicide bombers are described as "cowards". The abuse of language is part of warfare. Long ago, Voltaire told us that we invent words to conceal truths. More recently, Orwell pointed out to us the dangers of Newspeak.
Not quite sure what you mean by the suicide bomber bit, Margaret. Are you perhaps implying that people who go into pizza parlors or school buses and blow up families and children are somehow brave? In any event, "friendly fire" describes such incidents perfectly and exactly. Would you prefer "accident"? I thought not.
But there was something about those playfully grinning warplane faces that went beyond deception and distortion into the land of madness. A nation that can allow those faces to be painted as an image on its national aeroplanes has regressed into unimaginable irresponsibility. A nation that can paint those faces on death machines must be insane.
Okay, now we're really going off the deep end. You accuse an entire nation -- all the children and elderly, left and right, black and white, unemployed and plutocratic -- all of them, without distinction of being insane because of something soldiers have been doing throughout history? There is no rational basis for this accusation, Margaret, which rather draws us to the conclusion that it is you, not America, that has gone off her rocker.
There, I have said it. I have tried to control my anti-Americanism, remembering the many Americans that I know and respect, but I can't keep it down any longer. I detest Disneyfication, I detest Coca-Cola, I detest burgers, I detest sentimental and violent Hollywood movies that tell lies about history.
Well, I suppose someone else could have said "I detest the omnipresence of the BBC, I detest Vimto, I detest bangers, I detest sentimental and violent Ealing movies that tell lies about history" and thereby have damned Britain as well. But let's leave that aside and ask the question, Margaret, "why? Why do you detest these things?" I suspect it might be because they're popular the world over, and therein lies the clue. You detest these things because of their popularity, don't you, Margaret? You detest them because they're, well, vulgar
"The language of Shakespeare," the commentator intoned, "has conquered Vietnam." I did not note down the dialogue, though I can vouch for that sentence about the language of Shakespeare. But the word "dollar" was certainly repeated several times, and the implications of what the camera showed were clear enough.
The elderly Vietnamese man was impoverished, and he wanted hard currency. The Vietnamese had won the war, but had lost the peace.
Just leave Shakespeare and Shakespeare's homeland out of this squalid bit of revisionism, I thought at the time. Little did I then think that now, three years on, Shakespeare's country would have been dragged by our leader into this illegal, unjustifiable, aggressive war. We are all contaminated by it. Not in my name, I want to keep repeating, though I don't suppose anybody will listen.
Dollars, of course, appear in Shakespeare:
Sweno, the Norways' king, craves composition:
Nor would we deign him burial of his men
Till he disbursed at Saint Colme's inch
Ten thousand dollars to our general use.
Macbeth, Act I, scene ii
That aside, it seems from her objection that Drabble is ignorant of both the shared history of the Anglo-American language (perhaps Bill Bryson might like to sit her down for a cup of tea and remind her that a lot of 'quintessentially English' expressions are in fact American in origin) and the realities of economics. How dreadful that the free market should reduce a man to want to hold money that's actually worth something
America uses the word "democracy" as its battle cry, and its nervous soldiers gun down Iraqi civilians when they try to hold street demonstrations to protest against the invasion of their country. So much for democracy. (At least the British Army is better trained.)
While Drabble has a smidgeon of a point about the relative crowd-control capabilities of the British and American armies -- one that Americans have been happy to concede -- this is a dreadful distortion of what has happened. Americans have allowed demonstration after demonstration to go ahead, allowing Iraqis the freedom that have been denied so long. Unsurprisingly, they have exercised it. When things turn ugly, however, I don't think there's a government in the world that has not used force to suppress potential riots. Sometimes this goes badly wrong, as it did at Amritsar, but that doesn't invalidate the overall approach. Democracy is a different thing from ochlocracy, the rule of the mob, and Drabble should know that.
America is one of the few countries in the world that executes minors. Well, it doesn't really execute them - it just keeps them in jail for years and years until they are old enough to execute, and then it executes them. It administers drugs to mentally disturbed prisoners on Death Row until they are back in their right mind, and then it executes them, too.
They call this justice and the rule of law.
Oh, this old canard. "America" does not execute minors. Some states do, some states don't. The Federal nature of the Constitution allows that. large parts of the country think execution of minors and the mentally infirm is wrong, others think it is just punishment for dreadful crimes. Don't accuse America of something it is not guilty of.
America is holding more than 600 people in detention in Guantánamo Bay, indefinitely, and it may well hold them there for ever. Guantánamo Bay has become the Bastille of America. They call this serving the cause of democracy and freedom.
Britain held Napoleon offshore in case some idiot lawyer tried to serve a writ of habeas corpus on him. Churchill resolved that similar tactics would have to be used for senior Nazis, too. War is not something to which normal rules can be applied, especially when the enemy refuses to abide by the most basic rules established by civilized nations. Defending democracy and freedom against the truly evil is a worthwhile proposition. Yes, there may be innocent parties held in Guantanamo, although I doubt it, but mistakes, unless systemic, do not invalidate the overall approach.
As for the point about minors held there, at what age does a boy become a man in the relevant culture? Or should we impose our cultural imperialism by defining men back into boys? (Perhaps we should, but Drabble doesn't appear to have considered this point).
A great democratic nation cannot behave in this manner. But it does. I keep remembering those words from Nineteen Eighty-Four, on the dynamics of history at the end of history, when O'Brien tells Winston: "Always there will be the intoxication of power… Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - for ever."
We have seen enough boots in the past few months to last us a lifetime. Iraqi boots, American boots, British boots. Enough of boots.
"There's no discharge from the war..." Yes, indeed, enough of boots. Enough of Saddam's boot stamping on a human face, which it -- or one of his dynasty's -- would have done for ever if certain brave nations had not cried enough. Drabble actually seems to be in favor of boots stamping on human faces as long as she doesn't have to hear about them, in countries far away of which she knows little.
I hate feeling this hatred. I have to keep reminding myself that if Bush hadn't been (so narrowly) elected, we wouldn't be here, and none of this would have happened. There is another America. Long live the other America, and may this one pass away soon.
Long live splendid isolation, long live moral relativism, long live navel-contemplating idiocy! Saddam had been killing his people for a quarter of a century. September 11 would have happened even if Bush had lost. The causal chain of events seems to have got wrapped around Drabble's neck, cutting off the oxygen to her brain.
There is no argument here. A dislike of vulgarity combined with a patronizing view of the world have led a great author to reveal her stupidity in public. I can cope with rational, well-thought out arguments against American actions, but this is beneath contempt. In the end, I revert to my original reaction: go away, you tiresome woman.