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War of the Poets: Skip It and Watch 24

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Today is the day for Poetry Against the War, which grew out of Laura Bush’s misguided cancellation of a White House poetry event that the poets were planning to turn into an anti-war event – better to have let the poets had their say, then refuted them than to give them this propaganda bonanza regarding censorship and free speech.

The peace-loving poets now have 5,300 kindred spirits in their database and an almost equal number of poems. James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal’s Best of the Web Today isn’t taking this poetic barrage of pacifism lying down. He has organized his own Day of Poetry For the War.

As I have said on numerous occasions, I am reluctantly pro-war because I believe military action is the only way to disarm Iraq and remove Saddam from power. The weapons inspections are a joke, have been a joke since they resumed, and serve only to stall the inevitable.

Yet I dread the loss of life on both sides – especially civilians – and trust that my government will do all that is reasonable to minimize civilian casualties even as Saddam’s Stalinist regime seeks to expose his own civilians to maximal harm for strategic and propaganda purposes.

War is not to be entered into lightly, nor with bloodlust, nor even with malice, but with professional and sober fortitude once it has been determined that military action cannot prudently be avoided – such as now. 9/11 has taught us the bitter price of delay and inaction: we must now take seriously those who threaten us.

It is with disgust that I read the giddy, too-clever-by-half, simplistic doggerel from both sides:

” ‘God Bless America’ would be blasphemy / if there were a god concerned with humanity” and “Jews who learned their comportment from storm-troopers / act out the nightmares that woke their grandmothers” and “They say they kill the poets and philosophers first in any war, and the first among us have fallen now / their words clapped shut like the lid of night over day” from the anti’s;

and

“Let me go fight / Let me go win / Let my people be free / Now tell me: Are you in?” and “Many are the ones who are deaf / To songs of depth and insight / Many are the one who listen / But for their turn to say they’re right” and “They listened to a wicked man / And cheered the great blood bath / To glorify their desert clan / And foolishly walked down that path” from the pro’s.

Homer this is not. This is not a time for blithe exhortations and mindless sloganeering, nor hubris, nor sarcastic dismissals of the opinions of the other side, all of which is found in the poetry of both camps. This is a time for quiet reflection, planning, soul-searching and gathering of the collective resolve, not a time for mocking, trash-talking and sentimentality in meter and by the stanza.

The entire impulse reveals the crassness of an advertising campaign and a similar shallowness as well. Not that popular culture can’t deal with these themes: I watched 24 last night in amazement – not only with its handling of the thriller aspects of an Islamic terrorist nuclear bomb plot against Los Angeles – but also with the morality of with terror and counter-terror, and the gray areas where methods converge.

Does the US have the right to kill the family of a terrorist to force him to divulge the whereabouts of a bomb that could kill millions? Can the US government – us, in other words – kill innocent women and children to achieve this worthwhile, desperate goal?

By purely utilitarian standards, of course – the preemptive death of a few to save millions is a no-brainer, but there is another question: are there moral lines that you won’t cross no matter what to achieve your goals? In the show last night, the American president said no, we are not the kind of people who purposely kill innocents for the purpose of persuasion, and advised Jack, the agent in charge, that he must find another way: the end does not justify all means, don’t become what you are trying to prevent.

Jack skirts the issue by gaining his information through trickery, by leading the terrorist to believe his son has been killed and that others will follow if he does not reveal the location of the bomb. The show is no less entertaining or exciting for its serious exploration of moral issues: apparently Jack will not use the means of killing innocent women and children to achieve his worthwhile end, but he didn’t hesitate to shoot and kill an American convict in cold blood and cut off his head in the same pursuit earlier this season.

There are lines in the moral sand, but the stiff wind of imperative contingency blurs them. Life – especially under extraordinary circumstances – is a series of judgment calls, decisions that have real consequences, and to its credit these calls are never made lightly on 24. Our “poets” should heed this lesson.

UPDATE
A “Poets For the War” site has now been created, a “site for sensible poets.”

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About Eric Olsen

  • http://shortstrangetrip.org Joe McNally

    Spot on analysis. I just have not been able to latch on to the whole war/anti-war poetry meme. Although I must guiltily confess, I did make a submission to the against the war side (under an assumed name, of course, in jest). I keep trying to assume a perspective of what this will look like 20 years down the road. If we do nothing, where will we be? If we do something, what sort of commitments will it entail?

    Anyway, my wife and I dropped 24 from our viewing rotation after last season (Anybody get amnesia, yet?). You’re kind of making me wish we hadn’t.

  • tim rayl

    Couldn’t agree more with your commentary on the pro-war “poetry” published by the WSJ Best/Web. I am a scholarship-winning poet (of little note) and pro-Saddam removal, but “trite” is the nicest thing I can say about those “verses”.

  • http://starhawk.blogspot.com Starhawk

    The amnesia thing turned me off last season too. I started watching again this season and I have not regreted it.

  • chili pepper

    I’ve had just about enough America-bashing, both domestic and foreign. I differ with the President on some social and economic issues, but as far as our foreign policy is concerned, I stand behind him one hundred percent. If one looks thoughtfully at history, its very real weight can be felt, and I think that can be very useful when we as a nation are embroiled in situations like the one in which we currently find ourselves. I can remember my father expressing some very similar outrage during the last days and aftermath of the confict in Vietnam. Not regarding his support for or opposition to the conflict, but about the reflex anti-Americanism of some of history’s most fortunate men, thickening the fog of war and tearing the nation apart. Love it or leave it, he would say, referring to the Marxist and revisionist ‘hippies’ who expressed as great a hatred for America as the people of just about any other nation on Earth. It seems that we’ve come full circle now, winning the Cold War, leaving the Far East to sink or swim (for all intents and purposes), returning in the Clinton years to the isolationism we knew in the few years before World War II and,(after 9/11) fighting a new kind of social war within our own borders over freedom and safety, compounded by bureaucratic incompetence and pettiness.
    For all of the left-wing extremists warning of a Vietnam-style quagmire that will supposedly destroy us if we don’t veer from our current path, none of them seem to have pulled their heads out of each others asses and stopped babbling long enough to see the actual lessons that we apparently didn’t learn from World War II. Ironically, it should be even more plain than it was in the fifties, having emerged as the world’s sole superpower. If we don’t deal with these problems, who will? These people have totally missed the point. Preemtive action certainly isn’t the only foreign policy choice we have, but it is the one that makes the most sense, at least as far as the Middle East is concerned. We’ve been using sanctions and resolutions (which the UN has barely pretended to enforce, by the way) to try and deal with the problems in the Middle East for decades, and it has been an abject failure in every conceiveable way. Somebody told me once that the definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior while expecting a different outcome. I think that someone should point this out to Barbra Streisand and Kofi Annan, and oh, how I wish it could be me.
    Korea has emerged once again as an enemy, this time more dangerous than before. The Middle East has replaced the Soviet Union as the band of oppressive and belligerent states threatening the hope of global peace, freedom and prosperity, but most of these states are theocracies that advocate and reward martyrdom. I gotta hand it to ‘em – it has been a spectacular success. Am I seeing this the wrong way? Have I missed some point that for whatever reason I’m unable to see, or am I just outgrowing the idealism of my youth? I still feel like an idealist, but if what the far-left is spouting is idealism, count me out. I don’t think the human race can afford the luxury of trying to shame each other into some utopian pipe dream. I think we have to view the way of the world for what it really is, and not, as liberal apologists demand, the way we wish it were. Edmund Burke said that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” We give billions in aid to nations whose citizens burn our flag in their streets every single day, and I am proud as hell to be an American. Freedom and security both have a price, and there have always been enough Americans willing to pay it in all kinds of different ways in order to ensure -as JFK put it – the success of liberty. That particular inaugural address seems to become more relevant with every day that passes, as does Lincoln’s State of the Union given in 1862 during the Civil War. I think that the more ignorant of the anti-war crowd would be doing themselves and their posterity on the nation’s college campuses a great service by reading these two speeches and doing some thoughtful introspection before they impulsively decry the nation whose constitution is the source of all that they have, all that they are and all that they could become.

    I think that nearly all of us can agree that the world is a dangerous place and rapidly becoming more so. Einstein elaborated on Burke’s admonition about the triumph of evil:

    “The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

    Love it or leave it indeed.

  • Eric Olsen

    Powerful screed Chili and basically right on. I can probably do without the “love it or leave it” because of its connotations from the past, but I certainly agree with your analysis of history. I too still think of myself as an idealist, just not a stupid, suicidal one.

  • chili pepper

    Yeah, I know. It is a bit Archie Bunker-ish, that. It’s just that I heard the expression at such a young and impressionable age that it almost always pops into my head when I hear Americans bashing the US and calling it an evil empire. My father meant it as a challenge to those people to “go right ahead, but don’t come crying to me when you find that the grass isn’t greener on the other side.” He was of the opinion that all these people really needed was a good reality check. Alec Baldwin is a good, high profile example of this. He keeps threatening to leave the country. Well, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, buddy. I honestly belive that the only reason he hasn’t made good on his ‘threat’ is that he fears his huge but fragile ego will be destoyed when there aren’t a throng of people at JFK holding onto his leg and begging him not to go. What an idiot.