On Gaien Higashi Dori
Thursday, August 14
My Own Private Iraq
For a long time now, I've been wanting to write something about the Iraq Invasion and the effect it had on my life, but every time I try to write about it I get too angry and can't get beyond a stream of uncontrollable vitriol, a mess of unconnected thoughts and the foulest of moods.
My motives for writing about it are also, as the Japanese would say, delicate. I lost nothing as a result of this invasion, except possibly any belief I may have still had in sanity, reason, and good prevailing in international diplomacy. None of my family was killed or beaten or lost homes or property in this invasion. Nobody I know suffered in any way. In real terms, the Iraq invasion means nothing to me; it is taigan no kaji, the fire on the other side of the river.
So why do I want to write about Iraq? Is it out of guilt that, apart from one march in Tokyo, I didn’t exercise my franchise as a citizen to oppose this act of imperialism? Is it because of the way this invasion that played out on TV before me has become inextricably linked with the real events that happened in my life this year? Is it to tie up all the strands flailing hopelessly inside my head, reality fraternizing with unreality, blurring the boundaries?
The Iraq Invasion coincided with a period of major depression in my life: I became a hikikomori as the first bombs landed on Baghdad. March 20, 2003. The Iraq Invasion was not the sole cause of my depression by any means, but it was certainly a contributing factor. Justified anger and moral superiority are often the closest of friends, though, and high horses are never far away when thinking about the Iraq Invasion.
The scornful and confident call of the whore cynicism also entices me, inviting me to see it all as it really is, second-guessing my impotent moral superiority: "It’s the way of the world. Nothing ever changes. All political systems work on survival of the powerful; nature dictates that the weak don’t make it. Two years from now there will be another Iraq. Those peaceniks are just making themselves feel better, basking in their superiority but out of touch with reality. You don’t really care about the Iraqi people either, you are just using it as a way to express your frustration with your own pitiful little life. Come lie with me for a while."
The voices of doubt derailed me, as they do today, about what right I had, living in Tokyo, a white man behind walls guarded by the U.S. military, to feel anything negative about this Invasion. After all, in a sense, they were doing this to protect me. Nicholson’s Jessep in A Few Good Men boomed inside my head:
"Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: That Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives."
The unbending voices of my upbringing coached me, inviting me away from cynicism, their tones infused with absolute conviction, reassuring me that there was always room at the inn. Emails arrived of marches in Dublin, links to websites, commentaries, facts, comparisons. And here I was in the financial district of Tokyo, more than half a world away from a Jesuit social justice upbringing in the fair city, printing out a map of Iraq, watching it live. Mr. Jesuits, you are failing me now.
So why do I want to write about Iraq? Strong emotions. Guilt. Anger. Hate. Confusion. Trying to understand how to live in a position of privilege with the burden of responsibility that knowledge brings. Ignorance is certainly bliss, but it cannot be bought at any price. I think, therefore I doubt. I am neither wishy-washy liberal nor unrepentant Christian fundamentalist crusader. Neither socialist worker nor national front. Neither ruled by absolute unwavering conviction nor blessed with all-seeing all-dismissing cynicism. I am a hollow man, unwelcomed by the extremes, refused entry to their havens of certainty and belonging.
I watched them all. They came and went freely throughout March and April 2003, neither invited nor uninvited. They don’t know me, but I know them intimately.
I am not Chomsky, reading between the lines, scanning the media, expanding an enormous database of contradictions inside his head with the cold eye of logic. I am not Fisk, walking among the wreckage of another bomb, picking up the fragment with the markings that prove the lie, and reporting back to behind the walls where his faithful revel in his truths. I have neither the time nor the conviction.
I am not Rumsfeld, dismissing all before him with contempt as he plots the extinction of a race. Nor Blair, religious in his conviction that he is right, acting a role so well that even he no longer knows it is a role. I am not Chiraq, Bush, Powell, Putin, Koizumi, all guided by the dim light of opportunism as they ride the ever-changing waves of 21st century populism. I lack the courage to be a Robin Cook, resigning with dignity and conviction, buoyed by what he believes. I could never be Blix, living as a diplomat should live, seeking resolution and not what he can get.
They come, stay a while, and go, leaving me alone again, dismissively. I second-guess them all, becoming further mired in confusion, self doubt, even self doubt about self doubt. And time passes, painfully. Alone.
So why do I want to write about Iraq? I don’t know. That time was one of deep despair for me. My personal life was crumbling in pathetic fallacy with the collapse of the institutions of democracy and rationalism--the institutions that marked our distinction from savages. The memories are painful--painful and present, but there is no form, no conviction, no control, no direction to my thinking about that time. The scope is too big, the anger and the pain too real. Will words give shape to my confusion?