By Michael Jay Tucker

So, I read something short but significant the other day. It was just a few lines, really. Not even a full paragraph. But powerful… and terrible… all the same. Something that hints at our destruction.

The passage in question is from Steven Simon’s essay, “Powder Keg In Syria,” in the current issue (May 24, 2018) of the New York Review Of Books. Simon’s article looks at how we could be drifting into a war in Syria, a war which no one really wants or needs, but which could happen all too easily.

The passage in question comes in the final fourth or so of the essay and appears just after a section discussing how very much some nations in the Middle East (I will not bother to name them. You can guess) would rather like to see Iran pushed out of the area, and Syria’s current blood-stained despot, Bashar al-Assad, removed from power. However, they’d rather have someone else achieve those goals, and take the not inconsiderable risks involved. Specifically, they’d like the USA to do it, maybe in collaboration with NATO. But with themselves comfortably distant from the action.

The problem for these nations, says Simon, is that no American president to date has been eager to rush in where angels fear to tread. Not even Trump has been straining at the leash to get into a shooting war with Iran, and perhaps with Russia at the same time.

But, Simon warns us, that could change. John Bolton, Trump’s new national security advisor, would really like to have a nice war, thank you very much. A good quick war, perhaps, with lots of triumphs and parades afterwards…to make up for the fact that he missed the chance to do his patriotic chore in Vietnam. (You see, he signed up with the National Reserve and served in rather a comfy position states-side. At the time, he explained, “I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy. I considered the war in Vietnam already lost.” A few years later, he “explained” in an interview that what he really meant was that those nasty, treasonous anti-war protestors had stabbed us in the back and made victory in Vietnam impossible. In particular, he said, “…it was clear to me that opponents of the Vietnam War had made it certain we could not prevail, and that I had no great interest in going there to have Teddy Kennedy give it back to the people I might die to take it away from.”)

And, now, we have the material that so forcefully struck me, and which inspired this little essay of my own. It reads, in part, “…Bolton has been a fierce critic of the Iranian regime and of US administrations that, in his view, accommodated it. Like many Americans, he sees Iran both as a strategic menace capable of dominating the Middle East and as a weak and desperate state that the US could easily overcome. These inconsistent views make it likelier that his policy prescriptions will have violent outcomes.”

What struck me, as I read it, was that I had seen this mindset before. We’ve all seen it before. It has appeared again, and again…always just before a complete disaster.

Let’s just take the most dramatic examples. How about Germany around 1941? To be precise, Operation Barbarossa…

To the East, Hitler saw a nation, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, that was a strategic menace, capable of launching plots and conspiracies, that would deploy its vile ideologies like biological weapons…a peril…but one which could be eliminated in a few weeks because it was itself diseased, corrupt, weak, and easily overwhelmed by a determined, vital, and healthy foe…

And the result, of course, was many long years…generations!…of suffering.

But why shouldn’t Hitler have made that mistake? Wasn’t it only a generation before that the German general staff made precisely the same error, this time with France? They looked to the West and saw a diseased civilization, corrupt and infectious, obsessed with physical pleasures and far too tolerant of seditious ideas and subversive individuals…and which would, oh, so easily, be overpowered by someone stronger, someone wiser, someone healthy…

Only, it didn’t work out that way, and an entire generation of young men died in the trenches…

Or, why limit ourselves to Europe? We can manage it ourselves, here, in the good ole U.S. of A…plus the C.S. of A.

As the this nation moved toward disunion in the nineteenth century, both sides looked and saw in the other a center of plots and conspiracies, a web of subversion, from which insanity might spread like pestilence. But both sides perceived in the other a pushover. The South looked at the North and saw armies that were hardly professional, composed entirely of hirelings and immigrant scum, and who (they were certain) would scatter at the first whiff of grapeshot. Some in the North looked to the South and came to rather similar conclusions, albeit based on difference premises… white trash soldiers and decadent planters. Either way, both sides assumed the war would be short and glorious.

Only it was neither.

Or, why bother with even moderately distant pasts when we might consider something quite near. As I recall, the Bush administration was so very certain that, if we entered Iraq, we’d be greeted as liberators…that it would be over in an afternoon.

How many have died since then? How very, very many…?

My point is that this kind of thinking, this interpretation of the world is both common and deadly. It makes war inevitable because it teaches us that they….who ever they are…are sources of plots and conspiracies, schemes and machinations, which…unless nipped in the bud…could end the world as we know it. They must be stopped and now.

And stopping them will be—we are told—easy. Because this mindset provides the illusion that they…whoever they are…are weaklings. They are sinister and toxic, but like venomous spiders, easily crushed under the booted heel of a real man. Or woman, so as not to be sexist about this.

And the consequence of this, almost inevitably, is tragedy and blood…it is men shot down in the streets, it is women raped and murdered, it is children dying in the arms of their parents…it is all the horrors of war made so much worse by the discovery, too late, that those horrors exist…that war is neither short nor glorious, and most of all, it is not painless.

It is, in other words, the sort of thinking that leads, in time, to the apocalypse…and which is only possible in the minds of those who lack the experience or the imagination to understand suffering, loss, grief, and horror…

Or worse…

Far worse…

Who know, but do not care.

Who, like demon kings, would lead us away to hell itself.

And laugh…or tweet…when we arrive…

In all our agony and shame.