I was very badly prepared to react to the Iraq War.
I feared conflict with the people in my majority-conservative East Tennessee city. My political awareness was painfully limited in an unusually active way: I had been indoctrinated into Libertarianism. I even had a card. What I really liked about Libertarianism, I believe, was the shock factor: “Eliminate the government.” In my childhood I felt a malaise about the times we lived in. Older times seemed alive and interesting. Libertarianism had a revolutionary flavor to it that satisfied that malaise. So I read up a bit learned a few responses to arguments, and occasionally tried them out on unsuspecting persons. I told girls I had crushes on about it (the most painful admission), thinking it would impress them (it did not). Honestly, I didn’t know what any of it meant.
But I found parallels in the Tao Te Ching, which I considered a moral guide. I didn’t understand this very well either, but I reacted to the power of its poetry. I had read the Tao of Pooh as a desperate 10-year-old, in the cicada racket of East Tennessee, sitting on a porch railing, facing the darkness, searching for what I thought everyone else knew so innately that they couldn’t tell me. For the first time, I felt oriented.
The same person introduced me to Libertarianism and gave me the Tao of Pooh. I took for granted that they were logically consistent and that Libertarianism was somehow founded upon ancient Chinese wisdom. After reading the Tao of Pooh I moved on to the Tao Te Ching. I took the concept of “non-action” from the Tao Te Ching and associated it with laissez-faire government. The historical differences between ancient China and the corporate, oily United States of the 21st century took several years to sink in.
One day, I heard about a meeting of Libertarians in my hometown. I imagined meeting the sensitive, visionary people who I expected existed outside of the social circles of high school. Nervously, I entered the dining hall of the college and found two sad-looking, overweight white men in their 30s. I listened to them argue for the hour and never showed up again.
So I didn’t identify as a Republican or a Democrat. During the presidential election of 2000, I cared hardly at all who won, though I disliked Al Gore somewhat for the arcane reason of his participation in music censorship and labeling in the 1980s. My politics came mostly from music, which at this time involved punk rock. When George W. Bush ended up winning the race, it didn’t matter to me.
Soon after the election, on the morning of September 11, a fellow student at my high school told me “A plane hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York!”
“Awesome!” I said, stupidly, and high-fived him. I remember not really believing this not-so-reliable person, whose name I can’t remember but whose face I can picture. I also remember thinking that, if this is true, wow, something happened.
I went to my next class: American History. In which we turned on the television and watched the second airplane hit the second tower. As the smoke poured out of the building, all I could think about was a girl I had a crush on, who was much more aware and intelligent than I was. She had recently told me she opposed the expansion of missile defense sites in Eastern Europe. “Oh no,” I thought. “This is gonna expand the missile defense system.” An unusually loud bang shook the wall. All the students scanned the room, thought we were under attack. Visions of Red Dawn. Panic. My mother and I cancelled a short road trip to Georgia to meet my Great Uncle Ralph. Why?
Immediately, everyone was putting up American flags–bumper stickers, window decals, just plain old flags at the front door of their subdivided houses. Without even wondering what this means? I thought. And the flags are for who to see but other Americans? I thought. Fox News was young, and my dad, a conservative economics teacher and news junkie would “flip around” between CNN and Fox over roast beef, black-eyed peas, baked potatoes, cornbread, turnip greens. When George W. Bush spoke I knew, though I said “nary a word,” that he was a fool. The good-versus-evil framework was obviously inaccurate and stupid. Using force to subdue terrorism would obviously not end terrorism, but provoke it. “C’mon George, read your fuckin’ Lao-Tzu, the way to light is through darkness!”
In the year 2003, when Franco-American tensions were hot, I went to France with fellow French students. We ate escargot inside the Eiffel Tower. We toured a 500-year-old winery in a cave and they let us drink wine. We saw the Bayeux Tapestry and Mont St. Michel and the bombed-out earth of Normandy. Then on the night of March 15, on the hotel TV, my friends and I found the mythic French pornography channel and gathered up, five or six teenagers on one bed, to see the high heels and bare butts. Eventually we turned the channel, because we all knew that this was the day, to see the Shock-and-Awe bombing of Baghdad. Silently we watched the actionless footage. When I saw the green streaks of light on the dark screen, I remembered that I had watched the first George Bush’s bombing of Iraq on TV when I was a very little kid. I don’t remember how long we watched or what we did after that, but I feel like we all just went to sleep. I felt powerless.
When I made it to college, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, older students asked me what I thought about the war. I couldn’t say anything, conditioned by fear of having a different opinion, which is highly Cancerian of me. I was still in Tennessee. It was a conservative place. I was, maybe, more on the left, I was beginning to sense. But I wanted to play it safe. “You can’t say anything about the war??” my best friend said. “What about the lies about Weapons of Mass Destruction, what about all the people senselessly killed, what about creating war in a country that had nothing to do with 9/11?” she asked. And so, in Chattanooga, I hatched. I discovered how I really felt about the world. And I said “Fuck you and good riddance” to Libertarianism!
That’s all I have to say for now. I didn’t write this because I think it will be interesting to a lot of people. But I think it may be interesting to someone, and that’s enough to put it here.