CLEARWATER, FLA. -- Just now I'm watching the tanks march into Iraq, flipping between Aaron Brown and Peter Jennings, when I stumble upon, yes, TBS and its showpiece program, whatever rumble thing the WWF calls its prime time show. Obviously, this is prime time, cause I tune in just in time to see an in-ring scuffle between Vince MacMahon (the boss guy, isn't he, of the wrestling world?) and The Hulkster himself, evidently in comeback mode. (Hogan, btw, lives in a grotesque 30,000+ sq ft Norman mansion on the bay here in Clearwater, about a quarter mile from where I sit; it's part of the folksy little show-and-tell we do for newcomers to our spring-training group; just yesterday we drove by and saw two barrels of trash outside, and debated for a while whether we would be criminals if we rifle through it to find some eBay-worthy Hulkobilia.)
But I digress. On the tube the wrestling crowd is roaring for blood, Hogan is lying prone on the mat (two chairs and a table are in the ring; evidently I was tuning in late to a botched signing of some sort). McMahon is screaming and cussing, the crowd is roaring, and they get the blood they want when McMahon screams "You'll sign this, you bastard; you'll sign this!", jumps atop the Hulkster, and fakes (I assume) putting his pen in Hogan's right eye. Sure enough, after a dozen photogenic stabs and the requisite attendants "trying" to pull McMahon away, a flood of red liquid of course goes spurting everywhere. And the crowd roars more, and roars for more....
I'd had enough, and flipped quickly to ABC, and there was, almost startling in contrast, Ted Koppel: all in beige, just inside Iraq, looking positively jaunty alongside the gleaming-steel tanks and Bradley fighting machines that were passing along by the dozens behind him. The colors -- blue in the sky, southern California beige on Ted's nifty Banana-Republicy duds, and slightly more washed out on the ground all around -- were magnificent, almost magical. Koeppel keeps flipping back and forth to Peter J. and to the "embedded" journalists all around, who yack and yack with all the enthusiasm of schoolboys on their first grade-school field trip to, say, Fenway Park for a Thursday afternoon game.
"These guys are America's first team," waxes eloquent one General just now, back home in Mission Control with Jennings. "The best of all All-Americans." If that's the case, I guess the scrubbeenies play for the Congressional 635, since that legislative bunch of pond scum, 100 senators and 435 congressmen strong, can count but a single, solitary enlisted military man among their progeny...
Hypocrisy and shallowness are everywhere it seems, these days, but one would have to go a long way to top the network tv media in either of these areas. CNN has just spent the past hour doing homilies to war, squibs on how this gizmo really works, and this one too, and isn't this all just nifty? while ignoring completely the arrest of a thousand anti-war folks in SF today, similar large #s in NYC and Washington, and the shutting down of Lakeshore Boulevard during rush hour in Chicago -- first time he can recall THAT ever happening, a native just told me by phone. And massive protests all over Europe?
Nope, guess it's "not news" on a day like today, when the legions are marching in triumph. Hey, buddy, Aaron Brown, can you spare a dime? Give the troops the 50 minutes out of 60 they surely deserve, but hey, can't you spare ten, maybe, for completing the tableau?
Nope. We are in war mode now, and this kind of sanitary war, against a pygmy enemy. No, this kind of war is a thing of beauty, something to be proud of. Especially since we have JUST the army that knows how to fight it. So many tanks, so many planes, so many weapons of not-significantly-mass destruction, at least not on their own; no, we wouldn't have anything but good weapons on our side.
Just "awesome military might," as Koeppel just noted. "A remarkable sight to behold," Jennings cooed in response. It's all a bit like watching that first-ever Michael Jordan-led Dream Team take the floor at the 1994 Olympics, an other-worldly juggernaut that would shortly proceed to scramble the marbles of every known basketball team on the planet...
Can you say "formidable"? That's us, this time as well, as those weak-kneed Iraqi conscripts slink away before our military might. A bomb here, a bomb there, a lucky raffle ticket in the Saddam Hussein Sweepstakes, and, bingo! We'll have this all wrapped up in no time. Okay, so the Iraqis aren't in the same weight class as us, but, hey, we're playing by World Wrestling Federation rules, damn it, not those drawn up by any Marquis of Queensberry. Damn Frenchman! Or probably was French at heart, the limey creep.
Get out of our way. Beating up stiffs makes us feel good, damn it, and feeling good is, clearly, what it's all about these days in these United States, the imperial center of the universe in 2003.
I should, I know, relax, sit back and enjoy the spectacle. But try as I might, I get eerie bad vibes when I switch between the CNN/ABC noble-knights-of-war scenes lifted whole cloth, it seems, from El Cid or some such mythic movie, and the TBS tableau that has Hulk Hogan on the mat all "bloodied" and "battered," with the crowd screaming for more.
Sorry; the Roman Empire analogy has been done to death these days, but sheesh, this is getting almost too poignant. Our mighty mercenary legions are marching in all their glory across the sands against the worthless barbarians, and are about to smite them justly, since smitten they deserve to be. Meanwhile, back home in Rome, the citizens are enjoying their bread and circuses; today we will throw Hogan to the lions, and cheer, and come back tomorrow for more! Will Friday be the turn of Michael Jackson? That Smart girl from Utah (aside; this damn war has eaten into her fifteen minutes of fame, big-time). Or maybe we can get Dennis Rodman out of mothballs? And where is TOnya Harding when we need her?
What a country. I'll stop now with this final thought:
On this first bright shiny night of war, we would do well to all tuck away in our minds for future reflection the last stanza of a poem written by a British soldier, himself a card-carrying member of a "coalition of the willing" in a now long-forgotten war, a war that started when mobilized troops far away from home proved too difficult to demobilize. And it started with just as much enthusiasm as this one...
Here's what Wilfred Owen told us he had learned, after a couple of years, about fighting in the first World War, shortly before he came home from it in a box. Poetry lovers can find the whole thing under the title in the subject line above:
"If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin,
"If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie:
"Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori."