Harper’s Magazine, May 2011
At no time in modern history have fact and fiction been as confused as they are now. In the May issue of Harper’s, Jonathan Stevenson’s article, “Owned By The Army,” depicts a dangerous slide from a military subservient to Congress and the President to an increasingly popular view that the military should be a political constituency of our elected officials. This has occurred primarily because of the military’s increasing ability to obfuscate with public relation skills the U.S.’s historical separation of civilian political powers from the military’s constitutionally supported role in our society.
And Nicholson Baker’s excellent but somewhat naïve exposition of pacifism in his article “Why I’m a Pacifist,” jousts with the historical urge to war, built on the “conventional wisdom” that some wars are good wars. It’s long been shown in the evolution of nation states and their international competitions that diplomacy works better than open conflict, even when diplomacy, such as in the Neville Chamberlain vs. Adolph Hitler drama, seems to produce capitulation. Baker’s thesis that war’s down sides are much more pronounced than seemingly diplomatic capitulation is not a little oversimplified, but his argument does point up the manner in which the status quo solution to international problems leans toward war because of the increasing potency of propaganda and the average person’s increasing susceptibility to such propaganda.
Such obfuscation reaches its ultimate state of unreality in an excerpt taken from a radio show, Reality Check, in which the emcee systematically dismantles the birther arguments of Mae Beavers, a Tennessee sate senator.
Of course, fiction itself often follows suit in depicting such obscuring of reality. Lore Segal’s short story, “The Ice Worm,” allows us to examine a situation in which a middle aged woman, Maggie, working tirelessly for her mother Ilka’s welfare, manages to lose Ilka in a hospital. Maggie’s story-long search for Ilka results in a metaphorical ice worm of panic, something resulting from her tendency to make “monsters” of such things as unexplained absences. (This metaphor should have been introduced much earlier in the story.) The catastrophe Maggie imagines of her inability to find Ilka finds its mirror in Ilka’s apparent dementia and terror in not being able to realize that Maggie has, at last, found her.
So what’s the common thread here? Our urge to accept confusion of fact and fiction in the arena of our public life, in order to gain some short-term upper hand, not only engenders confusion, but keeps us in a constant state of fear.
Causes Bob Mustin Supports
Native American culture. Education. Creative writing.