We needed an historical milestone, and all we got was a war.
OK, the terrorist attacks of about a year and half ago were mind-boggling, world-changing, and undeniably significant. Living so close to New York, I knew as the day progressed that the events of that day would ring in my mind for as long as I should live. Yet, as time progressed, the public knew that more historical milestones were on the way, that other dates and events would resonate as intensely as Sept. 11.
On March 19, 2003, our war with Iraq began. The statement lacks the fervor and emotion evident in the statement “On December 7th, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.” Certainly, last Wednesday was an important date, one that will shape the course of history, but, in the years to come, will anyone except historians and political scientists remember it as such?
Though it is hard to discount students’ feelings of fear, anticipation and anger on March 19 and hard to predict their feelings in the future, it is undeniable that amid the student body and the nation there is a noticeable air of shock and disconnection. Misguided by the prospect of U.N. postponement and ill-informed of the president’s true intentions, the public has made only a small emotional and intellectual investment in this declaration of war. With all the anti-war protests, the possibilities of a U.N. veto and the talks of prolonged disarmament, it is conceivable that the public simply did not anticipate this war at this time, now and not later. Inebriated with the formalities involved in declaring war and ever aware of international hesitancy, how could we, in our haze, see the power of March 19?
Of course, all the signs were there. Headlines across the country underscored the words “imminent” and “war” as if they were inextricably linked. Political theorists familiar with Bush’s disposition and mindful of the political problems with “backing down” predicted this outcome ever since the U.N. Security Council presentations began. Yet, President Bush took away our security blanket, eliminated the prospect of a vote and pushed the nation into war with only 48 hours notice.
All over the nation, the people are feeling disconnected. In a recent New York Times report, Californians say that they particularly feel the unreality of this war. Of course, their geographical location provides one explanation, but the state has contributed more reservists and National Guard units than any other state. In Michigan, according to two Detroit Free Press staff writers, the concern for the war is intangible; it is a peripheral issue for the average citizen. Where is the ardency?
It may be in the anti-war movement. Conspicuously, most of those who are pro-war are silent, choosing to rally much less than those against the war, if at all. The anti-war rally on Thursday, here on campus, is evidence that people do care and have strong feelings about the war. Yet, this is a college campus known for its spirit of activism. In the nation, Democrats are divided on the issue, most choosing to shy away from the movement out of seeming ambivalence.
Besides, an anti-war movement, especially a diluted one, during an ongoing war only serves to isolate the people from the government and further solidify the bubble that is the United States. When the government is not listening and will not listen, this ineffective, minority action anesthetizes the public; it perpetuates uncertainty and restrains zeal.
Jaded by the peaceful and prosperous ’90s, this nation grew accustomed to the separation between the state and the populace. Two years ago, these divorcees, the government and population, got remarried under the condition that the state would open the field of communication and be more attentive to the populace’s needs. Today, the United States is an unsure married couple, not on good terms and not on bad terms.
Most disturbing is the ideological blandness of this war. Continually, ever since World War II, this country has searched for a purpose, a fervency or a sense of immediacy in its wars; wartime fervor shows the population and government have the same goals and intentions. In Korea, these feelings were incomparable to those of World War II and muted by domestic prosperity. In Vietnam, it was nonexistent, except for the anti-war movement that took years to effect change. In the Persian Gulf, it was stymied by skepticism. After the events in New York, it seemed that maybe the War on Terror would incite that ever evasive feeling, and it did to some extent. But that war was more amorphous, since no particular country was responsible. Now, with the opposing country defined, the cause has some logical flaws. Some say that not attacking Iraq would have been dangerous, and an equal number say that attacking now is dangerous, both politically and militarily. In the end, the public is left with a lackluster feeling of disconnection and a growing suspicion that wartime fervor is an unattainable relic of a distant past.
Jean is an LSA freshman and a member of the Daily’s editorial board.