I have believed for a while that I started blogging in March 2003, but after doing a little research recently, I found it was far earlier than that. In the fall of 2000, I started using a tiny sliver of free web space from our ISP to put up what I called “rant of the day.” I have no idea who I expected to read them. It’s likely nobody did, but I continued to post short blurbs on current events intermittently for a couple of years. In 2003, not long after I’d begun to read news blogs, I decided to start writing one, which I eventually named the Daily Aneurysm, because every day there’s something in the news that makes you want to have a stroke. The very first entry I can find in my archives—probably from before the blog had the name—is dated February 7, 2003, written in the runup to the Iraq War and posted 10 years ago today. It has absolutely nothing to do with music, but it’s on the flip, edited a little.
On August 3, 1914, British diplomat Sir Edward Grey watched lamplighters extinguish gas lamps in a London park in preparation for the city’s first blackout drill. Archduke Francis Ferdinand had been assassinated in Sarajevo on June 22; in the last few weeks, dominoes had begun to tumble all over Europe as the major powers lined up against one another for war. Grey had been in the thick of the diplomatic maneuvering. Although some predicted a short and glorious campaign, others feared that something much worse was in the cards. Grey was one of those. Watching the lamplighters, he said to American ambassador Walter Hines Page, “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”
I can’t help wondering how much the summer of 1914 felt like the winter of 2003 feels. . . .
A sense of inevitability pervades all war talk now. Millions of Americans oppose the war, but the antiwar effort is merely a footnote in the torrent of news, lacking a visible constituency in the Congress and thus easily obscured by the daily drumbeat from the administration, destined to be erased entirely on what is already being called “A-Day.” Millions of other Americans are, like Bush, Rumsfeld, and Cheney, ready to go today, ready to begin their great project to save our children from wicked terrorists and bring democracy to the Middle East. And in the middle are the majority, hazily aware that bad people wish us harm even though we’re good, but trying not to think too hard about it—believing that bad is always bad and good is always good, and trusting the president to make it all right.
Was it like this in 1914? It surely was in 1939. On hearing of the German invasion of Poland, W. H. Auden wrote,
Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.
. . . Civics classes are the temples of our civil religion, where we deify the people who have personified our government in the past—Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln—and where we learn the disposition to deify those who personify it now. Because we have learned our lesson well, we presume that those we choose to lead us are automatically worthy of this veneration. We give our leaders a tremendous benefit of the doubt. We are disposed to presume they are right because we want so much for them to be right. And so it seems folly to oppose them, because to oppose the heirs of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln is to oppose what Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln have stood for. And so many Americans swallow their doubts—if they ever entertained any to begin with—and “enlist” by supporting the president.
If Bush is right, there is indeed glory to be won in this war—Iraq liberated, the Middle East democratized, our energy supplies secured, our homes safe from terror. But if Bush is wrong, the lamps may go out all over the world—Iraq splintered, the Middle East enflamed, oil prices skyrocketing, more terrorists than we can catch, a nuclear war in Asia—and we may not see them lit again in our lifetime. And that makes it especially hard to be opposed to Bush right now—to see not the glory but the folly, to see the lamps flickering and the dominoes teetering, and all the while to know that there’s nothing that can be done to stop it.
We didn’t win the glory Bush sought. Neither did we experience the apocalypse I envisioned. But we spent trillions in blood and treasure to accomplish . . . what, exactly?
Next time, we will return to our regular programming.