Living with the War

by Cindy Carmichael

This isn't my story. I'm echoing, but not able to ease someone's personal pain. I live with a naturalized American. He watches in fury and raw grief while the city of his childhood is being torn apart. I can't do anything for him. The most I can do is offer tactile support while he watches. Holding onto me seems to give him comfort.

We've had a long-standing discussion about nationality. When he is eligible for citizenship here in Canada, would he take it? I would have preferred it, but the choice was his, and I understood his reasons. He wanted to retain his American citizenship. America was the country where his family had been received, been able to restart a life after experiences that shocked me to hear and hurt me to realize he'd had to accept. I understood that. He felt a loyalty. He came home a few weeks ago and told me he'll be applying for Canadian citizenship.

It wasn't a decision made casually, or out of spite. It was a necessary amputation to sever a crushed disillusionment. The country that spared them a return to brutality is savaging a country from expensively decorated boardrooms. They justify every offence with a palatable newsbyte delivered with grim resignation dressed in expensive business suits. They have pat lines of political rationalization worded to whip the ignorant into an orgasmic sense of purpose. Yes, Hussein is a monster, yes he's a sadistic killer, yes his is a regime that treats his populace with horrific abuse. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And still those are his grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and childhood friends cowering in their basements, those are his people lying facedown in surrender. The further reality is that the majority in the United States is relishing every ill-concealed motive, sucking greedily at every image of an Arab nation being destroyed, nodding self-righteously at every clip of the jubilantly 'liberated,' and stamping in indignant outrage at every perceived 'thwarting' by an ungratefully ignorant lower form of life.

Baghdad was the Paris of the Middle East. Cultured, educated, moderate--drawing intellectuals and artists. Raped by one bastard and now beaten by self-declared humanitarians, defensive responders and avenging terrorist hunters. STOP TALKING. I'm even getting sick of the rhetoric on the side of peace. The hell with ethical considerations. The hell with pity! These are people. They have pride, they have whatever traces of independent spirit that they've managed to salvage and it's not as simple as 'They welcome us with flowers' or 'the resistance is loyal to Saddam'. We watch the news together and disgustedly note the differences in tone between US coverage, and Canadian. American media words paint a subtle picture of cowardice, lack of character, loss of dignity. 'Ambushed. Paraded. Begging.' Announcers are able to report both without apparent shame at the glib hypocrisy. Every Iraqi gain is an ambush apparently. The maintenance team was captured? CNN says verbatim 'they were tricked by hidden forces.' Every insistence is that the team got themselves 'lost' because, of course, they can't admit that in their own arrogance and certainty that Iraq is a sitting duck, they've under-covered their rear. Why would they have crews unprotected in a place that is so fierce as to threaten an entire nation? Sneaky low-life Arabs. He was ungratefully uncomforted by the images of the Iraqi man helping US soldiers tear down a poster of Saddam. He said that everyone sees the images of grinning assistance as the contemptuous antics of a trained monkey. He doesn't know what to feel. Of course he wants harm kept to a minimum, wants to hope that the invasion will perhaps offer the inconsequence of accidental relief to Iraqis, but also understands the rage against the US presence and the violent resistance in some towns and villages even though they may despise Hussein. I wonder if his parents hadn't gotten them out, what he would be doing this weekend. So does he.

I watch him watch the released video. He doesn't speak for a long time after, and I'm steeling myself to hear an explosion of hatred.

'They're terrified. Look at them. All they wanted was a goddamned trade in mechanics, and now they're trying not to cry down the barrel of a gun, afraid of looking like cowards. Afraid of what happens when the cameras are off. Just afraid.' He lapses back into sickened silence.

I'm relieved, and pity them even more when the news reports strongly imply that these people were captured due to their own blundering about. My god. Giving name, age, and hometown isn't a humiliation, but the suggestion that they brought this on themselves surely is. 'What is your name? Where are you from? What unit are you with?' In the rhythm of the grilling I half expected to hear 'And do you have any purchases to declare?' I'm so tired of slant, spin, and implication. When CBC had an interview with one of the men captured during Desert Storm, she did everything but shake him by his lapels to get him to answer the question 'Were you tortured? Do we expect these captives will be as well?' And each phrasing was met by a wooden restatement that showing the images violates the Geneva Convention.

I find dissent amongst my friends and on the Internet forums I frequent. Are these abnormal pockets of thought? I'd like to think that what I hear and read isn't as small a minority as has been dismissed. Is it possible that the polls are being accurately reported? I'm getting comprehension headaches from trying to process information that causes an instant AREYOUFUCKINGSERIOUS???? Reaction. The idea that more than half of North America follows the reasoning with no discomfort or dissonance boggles my brain. Who makes up the domestic coalition of the willing? Some are animalistic and unashamed: 'Kill them all. Bomb the hell out of the whole damn country. Pay them back for every second I watched the bodies fall from the towers in delicious horror.' Some are staunch and patriotic: 'I support my country. I support my president. I believe that the United States is acting in the best manner possible, and good will triumph.' Some are aware but clinging to a hope for 'a better tomorrow': 'Saddam needs to go. He is evil. He is cruel. We are saving the Iraqis. We will bring freedom to an oppressed people who will come to see that it needed to be done.'

There are responses to every one of these people. I know I could argue every point raised if I could only form the words. How do you word despair? How do you word the naked loss of justice on a global scale? How do you word choking disbelief that so many modern people will not only blindly swallow, but savour every rotten meal put in front of them?

Please tell me right up front if you love the war. Please make a contemptuous smiling joke about EyeRAKees right off the go. I don't have time anymore. Or patience. Or will. I haven't got the emotional reserves to suffer the sniggering gloating or to absorb the self- important concern. Please don't show me how you've convinced yourself that these events are justified, or at least acceptable, because I can't waste my resources right now in attempting to understand you. Just show me your diseased judgment and your milky- eyed blindness and I'll walk away before you give me one more reason not to feel like I'm a part of the human race.

I am the wrong person to argue a position, because of my position. Anything I say lately has gotten some variant of dismissal because of my relationship. I'm glad I could help your weak reasoning by giving you an out. You can dismiss what I have to say because I'm biased. Yes, I am going through this on two levels. One is the very personal level that aches for my husband and helplessly sees him deal with his rage and worry and guilt. The other is the more objective level of individual disgust and protest at what I see as the manipulation of the world and the disgraceful acceptance of deceit. These two experiences are not the same. I'm tired of circular arguments. If I rail against the oft- trotted humanitarian defense, then I'm a hippy-minded liberal who doesn't give a damn about the poor Iraqis. If I point out that this isn't the case, then that knowing smile appears, and my views are condescendingly filed under prejudicial yammering.

I think what's helped me get past a lot of my overwhelming disbelief is this realization: They don't believe it. Rumsfeld doesn't believe a word he's saying. I can stop agonizing about the how, and the why, and the double standards, and hypocrisy and sleight of tongue. They know it isn't true. They are content to dramatize their sincerity and their outrage merely as a token excuse for the masses. They need to offer up a transparent veil that the backward can grasp to their chests and drape over their heads. Revenge. Pre- emptive defense. Save the EyeRAKees. There's something for everyone and no conscience need go unsoothed nor ethic go unclothed. Just step up and tell your fellow Americans why you endorse our product.

I once read an opinion piece that likened Canadian attitudes toward the US as a wallflower resenting the popular girl. Please stop the self-indulgent preening for a moment. The most accurate description of my feelings is that of a homeowner, in a nice neighborhood. The guy next door is all right, but he's a bit of an embarrassment. He's loud and pushy and his dogs keep tearing up the neighborhood. He tends to throw his weight around at get-togethers and responds with petulance if he feels unappreciated. He displays such aggressive competition that you can't really trust his motives, but you've learned to good-humoredly tolerate him. And now? Now he's taken an assault rifle all the way down the street to the home of the ethnic guy who beats his wife and kids. He's telling everyone he's going to save the woman and children, and he's not mentioning the fact that there are a few business transactions between them. Everyone's going back inside now; because after all, the guy's had it coming and the police haven't done anything about him and somebody should, right? Oh wait-- He's shooting through the windows.

Enough. I don't share these clashes of opinion with my husband. I simply hold my breath while he's on the phone with his family, trying to make sense of the conversation with my cripplingly limited Arabic, but mostly listening to his tone of voice. I just put my arms around him when he starts getting upset. Who can't they reach today? What stories do they share with him of things said to them by their 'fellow Americans?' He's always drained after the phone calls. I'm running out of comfort to offer past my shared presence. I've been strangling on mute fury too long to even pretend coherence. I'm grateful for the abnormal pockets of thought. For attitudes of reason and not rationalization. It helps to know that some people haven't lapsed into apathy. It helps to know that some people don't turn off the television with the same emotional investment as watching the credits roll after a satisfying spy-thriller. I have to keep watching the news, not just for myself, but because I know he will have to see it all. I won't feel it as deeply, be as personally wounded to see the destruction, or be as close to the humiliation, rage, and worry as he is. I'm watching him come undone with feelings that overwhelm me from the sidelines. I have the luxury of global outrage without the hell of personal connection. He has the nightmare of watching this happen to loved ones and the guilt of doing so from the safety of his living room. I'll keep the vigil with him, watching both conflicts.