Peace Talk

Homelands, "ports of entry," VX nerve agent, Project Bioshield, botulinum toxin, the Korean peninsula, Hitlerism—good god, last week was fun. The Nightstand, of course, has no idea what any of these terms mean (can someone please explain what a "homeland" is, and when exactly we became one?), but we do enjoy an exciting-sounding speech, a narrative threshold. In literature, this would be our liminal instant—the turning point, the what-happens-now.

It was, of course, inevitable—the jingoistic, jihad-esque content of last week's State of the Union address—and, to our delight, surprisingly educational. The Nightstand learned, for example, that "a simple chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen generates energy." That's very helpful. We learned that to date we have arrested—or "otherwise dealt with"—many key commanders of Al Qaeda. That's our new favorite euphemism. And we learned that this fancy new fluid called botulinum toxin has capabilities even more impressive than reducing Nancy Pelosi's fine lines and wrinkles. (It can swiftly deprive millions of their ability to breathe.) Not a perfect speech, of course (apparently there is "power, wonder-working power, and idealism and faith" in all of us, and we have faith in ourselves but not in ourselves alone, because of "all the ways of Providence," or something), but contrary to our own expectations, we didn't throw things or cry or write a protest poem. (Except when glossy Gary Locke came on and made us want to be a Republican.)

Two weeks ago, thousands of misty-eyed locals were "marching" downtown wearing their new Bon March頳hirts and ordering chicken tandoori take-out on their cell phones. Meanwhile, in the torture chambers of Iraq on any given day, grown Iraqi citizens are being made to watch, at the hands of their own government, the torturing of their own children—a particularly disgusting repertoire of abuse that includes electrocution, mutilation with electric drills, and rape.

So no, we did not join the ranks of many local writers who spurned the White House and made Feb. 12 Poets Against the War Day, because frankly we're surprised that more poets aren't out there marching for an invasion of Iraq. A peace march in which people are arrogantly, ignorantly campaigning for their own peace, which they already have, in spite of what's going on simultaneously in another country, and who resolutely want to keep things from "escalating" despite the very promising opportunity to be a liberating force in the lives of millions of people—well, that strikes us as selfish, snide, and cruel, as well as profoundly unpoetic.

Of course, the Nightstand is wholly unqualified to construct political invective or military strategy. We write about books, though in that capacity we are often struck by the sickening dominance of American culture in world literature. We cannot, for example, think of one Iraqi novelist, which may strike you as irrelevant; it strikes us as being part of the problem. Lionel Trilling wrote that a writer, granted all the freedom he needs, is in the extraordinarily powerful position to "revise the culture that produces him." The culture of the Middle East could use some revising, for its own good and the good of the world. Imagine Iraq as a place where people are allowed to write books, and to read them.

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