Friday, December 19, 2003

“A Mental Health Survey”

“Well, folks, as you know, we’ve been commissioned to conduct a mental health survey following reports of widespread depression and a rather disturbing rash of suicides among U.S. troops in Iraq. Congratulations on being selected to design and implement the survey. To kick things off, why don’t we just brainstorm on issues we might want to include in our survey. Dave?”

“Uh, Ed, could you give us some idea of the scope of the problem here? How many suicides are we talking about, anyway?’

“Good question, Dave. This seems to be the situation: Most of the suicides have actually taken place after the President declared an end to major combat operations on May 1. There have been seventeen suicides, officially, which is about three times the usual rate, but even that may be inaccurate. Dozens of other deaths are being investigated. Over five hundred soldiers were evacuated recently because of mental health concerns. Yes, Mark?”

“Do we have any preliminary data to work with, Ed?”

“We do have a starting point, Mark. Stars and Stripes did a survey of about 2,000 troops in Iraq, and nearly half said their morale was ‘low’ or ‘very low.’ A third also indicated that their mission was ‘not clearly defined’ or ‘not at all defined.’ Almost as many said the war in Iraq was ‘of little value’ or ‘of no value at all.’”

[Voice from audience] “Excuse me, but is it really that hard to figure out why the troops in Iraq are depressed? Aren’t the causes clear enough?”

“Would you please raise your hand, Lola, rather than shouting out like that?”

“I’ve been waving my hand. You just won’t call on me.”

“You’re imagining things, Lola. I’d like to have everyone’s input, even including yours.”

“What!? Why ‘even including mine’?”

“If you must know, Lola, questions have been raised about your loyalty. I had to assure my superiors that you would be a team player.”

“A ‘team player’? What’s that supposed to mean? I’m a psychologist, not a football player.”

“Lola, our mission is to help safeguard the mental health of troops who are defending our freedom and helping build a model for democracy in the Middle East. We have received a rather sizable grant, which will help sustain your employment, as well as mine, for the next several years. I hope I can assume that you will support our troops?”

“Of course I’ll support them. That’s my job as a psychologist—to support people in their struggle to become mature, responsible, autonomous human beings. But you’ve got troops who thought they were going overseas for a month, and they’re stuck there for at least a year. Attacks on our forces are averaging more than thirty a day. They’re hot, scared, bored, lonely, tired, angry, and homesick. They’ve been lied to by their President, exposed to radiation from their own munitions, turned into target practice every time they leave base, and spit on and shot at by people they thought they were liberating. They don’t see any end to the war in sight. Why wouldn’t they be depressed? If they were happy, I’d be really worried.”

“Yes, well, we’re all aware of your political agenda, Lola…”

“Mine! You mean if you go along with this invasion and occupation, you don’t have a political agenda? Depression and low morale are perfectly normal responses to being used, abused, screwed, and stewed. So why don’t we turn our efforts to where they might do some good, and check out the mental health of the people who put the troops there in the first place—Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, that whole crew?”

“Are you out of your mind? You want to do a mental health study of the President and his closest advisors?”

“Of course. You know yourself that, from the standpoint of a mental health professional, these are people who look to be in serious trouble! They’re aggressive, secretive, paranoid, cast aside normal social constraints, demand their own way, are incapable of cooperating with others, and feel they have a divine mission to stamp out evil. If you had people like that living next door, you’d be scared out of your wits! These are people who went on for months, all over TV, claiming they had conclusive evidence that Saddam Hussein had tons of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons he was ready to use on the U.S. Every piece of that was unreal! They claimed it was indisputable that Saddam Hussein was involved in the attack of September 11. That was unreal! They claimed Jessica Lynch was a female Rambo. That was unreal! They claimed troops killed 54 Iraqi combatants in a major skirmish. That was unreal! What’s the mental health status of somebody who’s out of touch with reality and lives in denial?”

“Does anybody else have any suggestions on the survey…?”

“I wasn’t finished! What’s the mental health status of somebody responsible for starting a completely unnecessary war who has the blood of hundreds of U.S. soldiers and thousands of Iraqi civilians on his hands, and sleeps like a baby? Who has body bags flown in at night to remote portions of airfields, so the public won’t have images that make real the cost of the war? Who jets onto an aircraft carrier and declares ‘Mission accomplished,’ while Iraqi society collapses into chaos?”

“Ladies and gentlemen, I was afraid it would come to this. Please pardon the interruption [gives a signal] while the men in white coats escort her away.”

© Tony Russell, 2003

Sunday, December 07, 2003

“Great Moments in History: The Gettysburg Address”

Note: A number of sentences and phrases below are taken from Charles Krauthammer’s column “Why Bush Stays Away,” in the December 8, 2003, issue of Time, in which he presents a pandering “explanation” of why President Bush avoids attending funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq. They are put into a different historical context for the sake of instructive parody.

The White House, October, 1863 –


“Well, Charles, that about wraps it up. Mrs. Lincoln will be expecting me shortly. Is there anything else that needs attention before I leave for the day?

“Just this invitation, sir. It’s from the committee in charge of opening the new cemetery at Gettysburg next month. They’d like for you to deliver a speech at its dedication, if you’re available.”

“Of course I’m available. Almost four thousand of our Union soldiers died there, and the least I can do is acknowledge their sacrifice with my presence and a few words.”

“Sir, begging your pardon, but are you sure that’s wise?”

“What do you mean, Charles?”

“Permit me to speak bluntly, sir. During wartime, a President cannot take on the role of Mourner in Chief. It would be a strategic error to amplify and broadcast the pain of those losses by making a great public show of sorrow, presided over by the President himself.”

“Charles, these men were our sons and brothers. They died for something larger than themselves, and I, as President, represent that Union of souls for which they sacrificed their lives. Turning my back on them would be a shameful act.”

“Sir, these rebels have only one way of winning: by making our casualties so painful that we decide to give up. They know that our weakness is a profound concern for the individual. Despite what you feel in your heart, you, as Commander in Chief, must not permit yourself to show that you bleed. You are required to show, yes, a certain callousness.”

“I would have thought it an occasion to show a certain compassion.”

“If you do, sir, it will only encourage them to think their strategy is succeeding, and give them yet more incentive to keep killing our soldiers until it does.”

“Do you really think that will be the effect, Charles?”

“Yes, sir, I do. You care. Of course you care. But a steely callousness is what is called for here. That is what great Presidencies are made of.”

“So you think it best to decline the invitation?”

“I do, Mr. President. The world would little note nor long remember what you might say there, but it would never forget your resolve to prosecute this war while ignoring the suffering it entails.”

“Very well, then, Charles. Please write them that, because of prior commitments, I regret that I will be unable to attend. Suggest that they contact Secretary Stanton, to see if he can speak in my stead.”

“Yes sir. Shall I send it to their Washington office?”

“No, send it to their Gettysburg address.”

© Tony Russell, 2003

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

“Turning Those Numbers Around”

White House Press Office, December 2, 2003—

“Boss, I’ve got a great idea. You know how public support has been slipping for the war in Iraq…”

“Are you referring to the rebuilding of Iraq as a model democratic state, Ron? The war is over. We won. ‘Mission accomplished,’ as the President said.”

[Hastily] “Right, right. Anyway, you know how those poll numbers keep dropping…”

[Testily] “Ron, I can assure you, I am fully aware of the slippage to which you refer.”

“Well, this idea I have might be just the thing to turn those numbers around.”

[Skeptically] “Shoot.”

“Okay. You remember how there was a lot of opposition to the invasion of Iraq… sorry, the preemptive strike on terrorists…initially, but Colin Powell’s speech to the UN changed the picture almost overnight? He laid out that long rationale for the war, and people called his arguments ‘compelling’ and ‘irrefutable.’”

“I certainly do remember, Ron. How sweet it was, to have all of those liberal columnists writing about their conversion experiences the next day. Continue.”

[Warming up to his subject] “So what I was thinking was that we could take those arguments Powell made, compress each point into a thirty-second sound bite, and run a series of ads—just flat out blanket the air waves with the real reasons we’re in Iraq. He’s so dignified and solemn and… and… believable. We’ll remind people that there were convincing reasons for the war, and those reasons still hold good, even if the aftermath is a little rockier than anybody could have predicted.”

“Ron, I have to hand it to you. You may be on to something.”

[Swelling with pride] “I knew you’d like it, Boss. I went ahead and worked up some samples, so you could get a feel for what I had in mind. If you’ve got a few minutes, I can show them to you.”

“Very enterprising, Ron. Let’s take a look at what you have. What’s the first one?”

“The first one is about those documents that were hidden in that Iraqi scientist’s house in Baghdad. We were careful to get the part where Powell said they were ‘dramatic confirmation’ of our intelligence about hidden material.”

“Uh, that’s probably not a good one to use, Ron. Turns out those were just old and irrelevant files left over from a uranium enrichment program way back in the 80’s. The program was a flop, and everybody knew about it anyway.”

“Is that right? Okay, let’s scratch that one. The next one here is the satellite photos of those industrial sites where chemical and biological weapons were being produced, and of decontamination trucks associated with chemical weapons. Not only does this nail the Iraqis, but it shows we get good value from our high-dollar high tech intelligence effort.”

“Uh, that one’s a little iffy too, Ron. I’m afraid those decontamination vehicles turned out to be water trucks and fire trucks. Those sites he mentioned, as well as some others, have been visited over 500 times since we took control, and nobody has found any contraband, or any sign that stuff has been moved.”

“Gee, I’m sorry. How do you find out about all this stuff, Boss? Never mind, this next one’s really gonna get you. It’s about anthrax. Anthrax--that stuff scares me just thinking about it. Powell said the Iraqis could have produced up to 25,000 liters of anthrax. The clip I used includes the part where he says none of it has been ‘verifiably accounted for.’”

“The problem with that, Ron, is we still haven’t found any of it. The Iraqis claim they destroyed it. Three weeks before the invasion, they gave soil samples to the UN weapons inspectors from a site where they said the anthrax had been destroyed, along with a list of witnesses to the destruction. But the war began, unfortunately—or maybe fortunately—before those witnesses could be interviewed.”

“No sweat, Boss. There are still plenty more we can use. Here’s the part where he talks about those trucks used as mobile biological weapon labs.”

“Skip that one, Ron. It turns out those were actually used to pump hydrogen into weather balloons.”

[Doggedly] “Perfectly understandable. Anybody can make a mistake. How about this next clip, where he talks about that nerve agent, VX? The Iraqis made four tons of it. When Powell says that a single drop on your skin will kill you in minutes, and then looks directly at the camera and says ‘Four tons’ again, it’ll make your blood run cold.”

[Pause] “Uh, the thing is, Ron, that Powell didn’t tell quite the whole story there. Almost all of the VX was destroyed, under the supervision of UN weapons inspectors, during the 1990’s. So the ‘four tons’ is perhaps a trifle misleading. Weapons inspectors verified that VX actually had been dumped at the site where the Iraqis said they’d disposed of it, and any made before 1991 would have degraded into uselessness. Since we became masters of Iraq, we haven’t found a drop.”

[Discouraged] “This is a little harder than I thought, Boss. Do you want to see the rest of these?”

“I’m not sure. What’s next?”

“A really dramatic one. Here’s where he says that the weapons inspectors found a dozen chemical warheads that might be just ‘the tip of the iceberg.’”

[Embarrassed silence] “Um, one thing the general didn’t happen to mention, Ron, was that those warheads were all empty. They were still in their original crates, and dated back to the 1980’s. Evidently they were just some old things that got overlooked in a storage area somewhere. Since we took over the country, we haven’t found any other chemical warheads.”

“Is this all classified information, Boss? How do you know all this stuff?”

“No, no, it’s not classified. In fact, the Associated Press did a story summarizing all of it back in August. It was written by an AP correspondent named Charles Hanley, who was in Baghdad when Powell was giving his speech. I guess the story didn’t get much attention.”

“It sure didn’t! You’d think if Powell’s speech got such big media play that a follow-up story shredding his evidence would get at least as much attention.”

“Bless your na├»ve little heart, Ron. What else have you got?”

“Let’s see here. There’s stuff on Saddam’s revived nuclear program, some more stuff on the aluminum tubes to be used for enriching uranium, and some other stuff on Iraq’s efforts to buy magnets for uranium centrifuges…”

“None of that nuclear stuff panned out, Ron. None of it turned out to be true.”

[Dumbfounded] “So Powell’s whole speech was just… just… just….”

[Considering] “You know, Ron, I’m having second thoughts. You watch as much TV as anybody else, and if you didn’t know that Powell’s points were all so--shall we say ‘dubious’?--then neither does any other average American. Secretary Powell does have an imposing presence. Let’s run those suckers! Who’s going to know the difference?”

© Tony Russell, 2003