So much has happened this week that plenty of essential reading went unmentioned here. First
on the list: “With Trembling Fingers,” an
angry, bitter, and most of all, truthful invective by Hal Crowther, who won the H.L. Mencken Award for
column writing in 1993. A former writer for Time and Newsweek, his column has appeared for
years in the Independent Weekly.
Crowther is fed up with the sort of commentary represented by Maureen Dowd or Molly
Ivins. He doesn’t name them, but whom else does he mean when he writes of “the columnist who
trades in snide one-liners”?
If this is not the worst year yet to be an American, it’s the worst year by far to
be one of those hag-ridden wretches who comment on the American scene. The columnist who
trades in snide one-liners flounders like a stupid comic with a tired audience; TV comedians and
talk-show hosts who try to treat 2004 like any zany election year have become grotesque, almost
He goes on to say:
Our most serious, responsible newspaper columnists are so stunned by the
disaster in Iraq that they’ve begun to quote poetry by Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen. They
lower their voices; they sound like Army chaplains delivering eulogies over ranks of flag-draped
coffins, under a hard rain from an iron sky.
I don’t know what he’d say about Straight Up. He must loathe all my one-liners (or my
attempts anyway, though I doubt he’s read them), and in self-defense I could point out that I
quoted Wilfred Owen long ago in “The Juice,” which preceded this blog. At the same time,
Crowther is not above cracking wise himself:
I come from a family of veterans and commissioned officers; I understand
patriots in wartime. If a spotted hyena stepped out of Air Force One wearing a baby-blue necktie,
most Americans would salute and sing “Hail to the Chief.”
He believes that Iraq is this generation’s Vietnam, which is the
conventional wisdom on the left — and rightly so. But he offers this striking historical
context, and he’s such a fucking good writer:
Vietnam proved conclusively that no modern war of occupation will ever be
won. Every occupation is doomed. The only way you “win” a war of occupation is the
old-fashioned way, the way Rome finally defeated the Carthaginians: kill all the fighters, enslave
everyone else, raze the cities and sow the fields with salt.
He goes even further, contending that Iraq is worse than Vietnam:
Every Iraqi, every Muslim we kill or torture or humiliate is a precious shot of
adrenaline for Osama and al Qaeda. The irreducible truth is that the invasion of Iraq was the worst
blunder, the most staggering miscarriage of judgment, the most fateful, egregious, deceitful abuse
of power in the history of American foreign policy. If you don’t believe it yet, just keep
If memory serves, Lyndon Johnson didn’t do a bad job of deceiving the Congress and abusing
power. In view of the millions of Vietnamese and tens of thousands of Americans who died in that
war of occupation, it’s going a bit too far to say the invasion of Iraq is the “worst blunder” ever.
But in terms of what it means for the future, with nuclear terrorism on the horizon, Crowther may
He forced a congressional vote on the war just before the 2002 midterm
elections. He trumpeted selective and misleading intelligence. He displayed intense devotion to
classifying government documents, except when there was political advantage in declassifying
them. He fired or sidelined government officials and military officers who told the American
public what the Administration didn’t want it to hear. He released forecasts of the war’s cost that
quickly became obsolete, and then he ignored the need for massive expenditures until a crucial
half year in Iraq had been lost. His communications office in Baghdad issued frequently incredible
accounts of the progress of the war and the reconstruction. He staffed the occupation with large
numbers of political loyalists who turned out to be incompetent. According to Marine officers and
American officials in Iraq, he ordered and then called off critical military operations in Falluja
against the wishes of his commanders, with no apparent strategic plan. He made sure that blame
for the abuses at Abu Ghraib settled almost entirely on the shoulders of low-ranking
We all know who “he” is. Go read the rest. Packer was just getting started.
Then there’s John Powers in the Village Voice on Kitty Kelley. And I couldn’t help noticing that the maker
of Twinkies and Wonder Bread,
two of the 20th century’s most recognizable brands, has filed for bankruptcy
protection. What does this mean in a broader historical context? I can think of lots of things, but
they all sound ridiculous.