Paul D. Miller on Sat, 12 Jul 2003 06:01:19 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Norman Mailer's "The white man unburdened"

well... at least it's honest. Another gem from the author of one of the most
intriguing studies of white american culture "The White Negro" is back on the
scene!!! I've always wondered what "de white people" be thinkin' 'bout."
Geopolitical ebonix for the globally perplexed!!! 1984 meets the Keystone
Cops... This actually FEELS right - a view from the outside looking in can only
see tribal conflict amongst white America. Emminem's videos fascinate on
electrocuting Dick Cheney, the Supreme Court actually rules same sex stuff is
OK... the whole culture (from the point of view of the Christian Right Wing) is
collapsing - it's time to recreate the enemy other and gather around the tribal
fires and tell new tales - between Goering and Karl Rove - a mirror dance...
the fire flames hide only a small distance... the tain of the mirror drifts off
the surface to enfold. 


Volume 50, Number 11 · July 17, 2003
The White Man Unburdened
By Norman Mailer

Exeunt: lightning and thunder, shock and awe. Dust, ash, fog, fire, smoke,
sand, blood, and a good deal of waste now move to the wings. The stage,
however, remains occupied. The question posed at curtain-rise has not been
answered. Why did we go to war? If no real weapons mass destruction are found,
the question will keen in pitch.

Or, if some weapons are uncovered in Iraq, it is likely that even more have
been moved to new hiding places beyond the Iraqi border. Should horrific events
take place, we can count on a predictable response: "Good, honest, innocent
Americans died today because of evil al-Qaeda terrorists." Yes, we will hear
the President's voice before he even utters such words. (For those of us who
are not happy with George W. Bush, we may as well recognize that living with
him in the Oval Office is like being married to a mate who always says exactly
what you know in advance he or she is going to say, which helps to account for
why more than half of America now appears to love him.)

The key question remains˜why did we go to war? It is not yet answered. The
host of responses has already produced a cognitive stew. But the most painful
single ingredient at the moment is, of course, the discovery of the graves. We
have relieved the world of a monster who killed untold numbers, mega-numbers,
of victims. Nowhere is any emphasis put upon the fact that many of the bodies
were of the Shiites of southern Iraq who have been decimated repeatedly in the
last twelve years for daring to rebel against Saddam in the immediate aftermath
of the Gulf War. Of course, we were the ones who encouraged them to revolt in
the first place, and then failed to help them. Why? There may have been an
ongoing argument in the first Bush administration which was finally won by
those who believed that a Shiite victory over Saddam could result in a host of
Iraqi imams who might make common cause with the Iranian ayatollahs, Shiites
joining with Shiites! Today, from the point of view of the remaining Iraqi
Shiites, it would be hard for us to prove to them that they were not the
victims of a double cross. So they may look upon the graves that we
congratulate ourselves for having liberated as sepulchral voices calling out
from their tombs˜asking us to take a share of the blame. Which, of course, we
will not.

Yes, our guilt for a great part of those bodies remains a large subtext and
Saddam was creating mass graves all through the 1970s and 1980s. He killed
Communists en masse in the 1970s, which didn't bother us a bit. Then he
slaughtered tens of thousands of Iraqis during the war with Iran˜a time when
we supported him. A horde of those newly discovered graves go back to that
period. Of course, real killers never look back. The administration, however,
was concerned only with how best to expedite the war. They hastened to look for
many a justifiable reason. The Iraqis were a nuclear threat; they were teeming
with weapons of mass destruction; they were working closely with al-Qaeda; they
had even been the dirty geniuses behind 9/11. The reasons offered to the
American public proved skimpy, unverifiable, and void of the realpolitik of our
need to get a choke-hold on the Middle East for many a reason more than
Israel-Palestine. We had to sell the war on false pretenses.

The intensity of the falsification could best be seen as a reflection of the
enormous damage 9/11 has brought to America's morale, particularly the
core˜the corporation. All the organization people high and low, managers,
division heads, secretaries, salesmen, accountants, market specialists, all
that congeries of corporate office American, plus all who had relatives,
friends, or classmates who worked in the Twin Towers˜the shock traveled into
the fundament of the American psyche. And the American working class identified
with the warriors who were lost fighting that blaze, the firemen and the
police, all instantly ennobled.

It was a political bonanza for Bush provided he could deliver an appropriate
sense of revenge to the millions˜ or is it the tens of millions?˜who
identified directly with those incinerated in the Twin Towers. When Osama bin
Laden failed to be captured by the posses we sent to Afghanistan, Bush was
thrust back to ongoing domestic problems that did not give any immediate
suggestion that they could prove solution-friendly. The economy was sinking,
the market was down, and some classic bastions of American faith (corporate
integrity, the FBI, and the Catholic Church˜to cite but three) had each
suffered a separate and grievous loss of face. Increasing joblessness was
undermining national morale. Since our administration was conceivably not ready
to tackle any one of the serious problems looming before them that did not
involve enriching the top, it was natural for the administration to feel an
impulse to move into larger ventures, thrusts into the empyrean˜war! We could
say we went to war because we very much needed a successful war as a species of
psychic rejuvenation. Any major excuse would do˜nuclear threat, terrorist
nests, weapons of mass destruction ˜we could always make the final claim that
we were liberating the Iraqis. Who could argue with that? One could not. One
could only ask: What will the cost be to our democracy?

Be it said that the administration knew something a good many of us did
not˜it knew that we had a very good, perhaps even an extraordinarily good, if
essentially untested, group of armed forces, a skilled, disciplined,
well-motivated military, career-focused and run by a field-rank and general
staff who were intelligent, articulate, and considerably less corrupt than any
other power cohort in America.

In such a pass, how could the White House fail to use them? They would prove
quintessential morale-builders to a core element of American life˜ those tens
of millions of Americans who had been spiritually wounded by 9/11. They could
also serve an even larger group, which had once been near to 50 percent of the
population, and remained key to the President's political footing. This group
had taken a real beating. As a matter of collective ego, the good average white
American male had had very little to nourish his morale since the job market
had gone bad, nothing, in fact, unless he happened to be a member of the armed
forces. There, it was certainly different. The armed forces had become the
paradigmatic equal of a great young athlete looking to test his true size.
Could it be that there was a bozo out in the boondocks who was made to order,
and his name was Iraq? Iraq had a tough rep, but not much was left to him
inside. A dream opponent. A desert war is designed for an air force whose
state-of-the-art is comparable in perfection to a top-flight fashion model on a
runway. Yes, we would liberate the Iraqis.

So we went ahead against all obstacles˜of which the UN was the first.
Wantonly, shamelessly, proudly, exuberantly, at least one half of our
prodigiously divided America could hardly wait for the new war. We understood
that our television was going to be terrific. And it was. Sanitized but
terrific ˜which is, after all, exactly what network and good cable television
are supposed to be. And there were other factors for using our military skills,
minor but significant: these reasons return us to the ongoing malaise of the
white American male. He had been taking a daily drubbing over the last thirty
years. For better or worse, the women's movement has had its breakthrough
successes and the old, easy white male ego has withered in the glare. Even the
consolation of rooting for his team on TV had been skewed. For many, there was
now measurably less reward in watching sports than there used to be, a clear
and declarable loss. The great white stars of yesteryear were for the most part
gone, gone in football, in basketball, in boxing, and half gone in baseball.
Black genius now prevailed in all these sports (and the Hispanics were coming
up fast; even the Asians were beginning to make their mark). We white men were
now left with half of tennis (at least its male half), and might also point to
ice hockey, skiing, soccer, golf (with the notable exception of the Tiger), as
well as lacrosse, track, swimming, and the World Wrestling
Federation˜remnants of a once great and glorious white athletic centrality.

Of course, there were sports fans who loved the stars on their favorite teams without regard to race. Sometimes, they even liked black athletes the most. Such white men tended to be liberals. They were no use to Bush. He needed to take care of his more immediate constituency. If he had a covert strength, it was his knowledge of the unspoken things that bothered American white men the most˜just those matters they were not always ready to admit to themselves. The first was that people hipped on sports can get overaddicted to victory. Sports, the corporate ethic (advertising), and
the American flag had become a go-for-the-win triumvirate that had developed many psychic connections with the military.

After all, war was, with all else, the most dramatic and serious extrapolation
of sports. The concept of victory could be seen by some as the noblest species
of profit in union with patriotism. So Bush knew that a big victory in an easy
war would work for the good white American male.

If blacks and Hispanics were representative of their share of the population in
the enlisted ranks, still they were not a majority, and the faces of the
officer corps (as seen on the tube) suggested that the percentage of white men
increased as one rose in rank to field and general officers. Moreover, we had
knockout tank echelons, Super-Marines, and˜one magical ace in the hole˜the
best air force that ever existed. If we could not find our machismo anywhere
else, we could certainly count on the interface between combat and technology.
Let me then advance the offensive suggestion that this may have been one of the
covert but real reasons we went looking for war. We knew we were likely to be
good at it. In the course, however, of all the quick events of the last few
months, our military passed through a transmogrification. Indeed, it was one
hellion of a morph. We went, willy-nilly, from a potentially great athlete to
serving as an emergency intern required to operate at high speed on an awfully
sick patient full of frustration, outrage, and violence. Now in the last month,
even as the patient is getting stitched up somewhat, a new and troubling
question arises: Have any fresh medicines been developed to deal with what seem
to be teeming infections? Do we really know how to treat livid suppurations? Or
would it be better to just keep trusting our great American luck, our faith in
our divinely protected can-do luck? We are, by custom, gung-ho. If these
suppurations prove to be unmanageable, or just too time-consuming, may we not
leave them behind? We could move on to the next venue. Syria, we might declare
in our best John Wayne voice: You can run, but you can't hide. Saudi Arabia,
you overrated tank of blubber, do you need us more than ever? And Iran, watch
it, we have eyes for you. You could be a real meal. Because when we fight, we
feel good, we are ready to go, and then go some more. We have had a taste. Why,
there's a basketful of billions to be made in the Middle East just so long as
we can stay ahead of the trillions of debts that are coming after us back home.

Be it said: the motives that lead to a nation's major historical acts can
probably rise no higher than the spiritual understanding of its leadership.
While George W. may not know as much as he believes he knows about the
dispositions of God's blessing, he is driving us at high speed all the same
˜this man at the wheel whose most legitimate boast might be that he knew how
to parlay the part-ownership of a major-league baseball team into a
gubernatorial win in Texas. And˜shall we ever forget?˜was catapulted, by
legal finesse and finagling, into a now-tainted but still almighty hymn: Hail
to the Chief!

No, we will rise no higher than the spiritual understanding of our leadership.
And now that the ardor of victory has begun to cool, some will see how it is
flawed. For we are victim once again of all those advertising sciences that
depend on mendacity and manipulation. We have been gulled about the real
reasons for this war, tweaked and poked by some of the best button-pushers
around to believe that we won a noble and necessary contest when, in fact, the
opponent was a hollowed-out palooka whose monstrosities were ebbing into old
age.  Perhaps he was not that old. Perhaps Saddam made a decision to go
underground with as much wealth as he had spirited away, and would fund
al-Qaeda or some extension of it in a collaboration of sorts with Osama bin
Laden˜a new underground team, the Incompatible Terrorist Twins. That is a
hypothesis as mad as the world we are beginning to live in.

Democracy, more than any other political system, depends on a modicum of
honesty. Ultimately, it is much at the mercy of a leader who has never been
embarrassed by himself. What is to be said of a man who spent two years in the
Air Force of the National Guard (as a way of not having to go to Vietnam) and
proceeded˜like many another spoiled and wealthy father's son˜not to bother
to show up for duty in his second year of service? Most of us have episodes in
our youth that can cause us shame on reflection. It is a mark of maturation
that we do not try to profit from our early lacks and vices but do our best to
learn from them. Bush proceeded, however, to turn his declaration of the Iraqi
campaign's end into a mighty fashion show. He chose˜this overnight clone of
Honest Abe˜to arrive on the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln on
an S-3B Viking jet that came in with a dramatic tail-hook landing. The carrier
was easily within helicopter range of San Diego but G.W. would not have been
able to show himself in flight regalia, and so would not have been able to
demonstrate how well he wore the uniform he had not honored. Jack Kennedy, a
war hero, was always in civvies while he was commander in chief. So was General
Eisenhower. George W. Bush, who might, if he had been entirely on his own, have
made a world-class male model (since he never takes an awkward photograph),
proceeded to tote the flight helmet and sport the flight suit. There he was for
the photo-op looking like one more great guy among the great guys. Let us hope
that our democracy will survive these nonstop foulings of the nest.  

Copyright © 1963-2003 NYREV, Inc. All rights reserved. Nothing in this
publication may be reproduced without the permission of the publisher.
Illustrations copyright © David Levine unless otherwise noted;
unauthorized use is strictly prohibited. Please contact
with any questions about this site. The cover date of the next issue of
The New York Review of Books will be August 14, 2003.

"None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free...."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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