Part Eleven of ‘Pride, More Pride and Quite a Lot of Extreme Prejudice’ (see previous part):
Here’s the truth: as a war, the Middle East is not a winnable war. It’s a losable war. It’s a war in which it’s possible to make everybody lose and still there won’t be a winner.
For Frussterer, the one-balled President, opinion polls were showing a confusing discontent. It seemed to be a disease, and not just in America which was always far ahead in being pissed off; everywhere else across the West was surfing the coattails of the vibe, just as they had done so dutifully with Levi Jeans, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Starbucks Coffee. Things got better and better and people weren’t happy about it. Politicians, like Frussterer, who had delivered wealth, found it hard to understand. Hadn’t they done what they’d been asked, and yet people became nostalgic for their unenlightened past, like Adams and Eves regretting the apple?
Upon investigation, the implicated fruit was but a simple electrical device, manufactured in smaller and smaller versions until the question of how many might fit in how little space became like the number of angels that might dance on the head of a pin.
Digital television, telecommunications, the computational engine, all developed into playthings for the home thanks to these miraculous dancing angels, while the world that had expanded gloriously at the hands of Victorian explorers shrank to a pluperfect image that could be viewed from the average living room.
It should have been heavenly, what with all the attached wealth…
But here’s the rub, the mistake, the same problem that befell all other Adams and Eves when biting things that fell from trees disguised as heavenly gifts:
It is easier to be rich when news from the starving continents takes weeks, crawling disfigured across the globe and, if it arrives at all, comes in the form of befuddled prose. Technology makes the enjoyment of wealth more stressful.
In his hour of need, Professor Daville rides back into the White House, wheeling herself through the corridors to the briefing room where she refers the assembled brainstormers to the options they wrote up several months before.
“Maybe we picked the wrong target,” she says, pointing to the board.
Her audience look at each other, glances going from face to face in a sequence that reflects the power structure. The Yeses work up to a furtive glance at the boss to ensure that he understands – or appears to understand – the strapline of Daville’s logic. She appears to be suggesting invading somewhere else, some second division oil producer who would fall over more easily.
“You know the mistake we made the first time,” she says.
“Tell us,” urges Frussterer, keen to get to what he would call ‘the bottom line’. ‘The bottom line’ is still an important concept for modern politicians, something they must always appear to approach, but never touch or cross.
“We tried it on with someone who had more religion than we did. Wars work not just on who’s got the biggest guns, but who’s got the biggest reason to die. Enemies with reasons to die are hard to defeat unless you kill them all, and killing them all is hard when you have a press core and no spiritual mandate for genocide.”
“So what’s your solution?”
“Get yourself up a head of steam and invade Africa,” she says. “They’ve got oil. Not as much as the Middle East, I agree, but they have been so busy trying not to die, they’re weak and unorganised and they’ve got nothing much to die for. Should be a breeze by comparison.”
The room holds its collective breath. The Yeses try to look positive. Nayshore sure tries not to look uncertain.
“All we need is a fucking good excuse,” adds Daville, and smiles. “Actually, it doesn’t have to be that good. But this time we need to be the idealists. It needs to be a crusade. We not only get ourselves some oil but reaffirm the religious scaffolding of America and the ascendancy of our Christian values.”
“Give our high schools something they can teach and get behind?” Sicanto suggests.
“Exactly,” the other Yeses agree.
They all see the potential for multiple wins from such a strategy, but after half an hour of brainstorming and head racking, the assembled presidential council of Twenty First century America have brainstormed their way to a disappointing list of ‘F—ing Good Reasons for a Crusade.’
“Excuse me for not writing the word,” says Professor Daville, patrolling the carpet in front of the whiteboard, “us black folks still have a problem writing ‘f*ck’ in the White House even as bathroom graffiti. ‘Course, saying it’s OK. Let’s see now. Let’s unpack the Weapons of Mass Destruction angle some more.”
She points to the first idea in the list. No one responds.
She says, “Difficult to sell Africa as the land of the mad scientist. Even if they don’t let our inspectors in, it’s more to do with being unwilling to pick up their bar tabs. The only international threat posed by Africa is its incubation and export of various diseases…” She hesitates. “Maybe there’s an angle there if it comes to it, but I’m struggling to feel the required religious fervour coming from a medical issue. What about this one?”
She points to number two – an existing civil war. “Some civil wars in Africa are so old they can be regarded as the nation’s stable state.”
“Any side will do,” adds Javitz, today’s leading Yes. “They all look the same.”
“We could arrange for the fighting to accidentally spill over a few borders until we get the war we want,” says Sicanto enthusiastically. “Then we could go in on the humanitarian peace-keeping ticket.”
“Yes but Guys, this is same-old same-old,” Daville complains. “That’s how we got into the Middle East and look how that’s turning out. We were pretending to save them and we started killing them; they blew themselves up and they out ‘preachy-ed’ us. We’ve ended up looking like a Godless hoard and our Commander-in-Chief’s lucky he’s still holding onto his last ball. Sorry, Sir, but in the spirit of calling a sphere a sphere, this is part of your manhood you need to hold onto.”
Frussterer shifts uneasily in his chair. He feels the need to adjust his crotch, but fondling himself at this moment might blow what credibility he still has in the eyes of his staff. Instead he looks at the back of his hand disconsolately.
“Anti-Semitism,” says Daville moving her solitary finger to the next idea on the list..
“I think that was mine,” says the unsure Nathan Nayshore. “No African nation ever seems to have a Jewish leader.”
No one else stands up to salute the idea, but Daville smiles encouragingly.
“Good, good, religious intolerance has worked before,” she agrees. “I mean, that was what the original crusades were about, but that was, you know, Christianity on the line. I don’t know that we can get the same bandwagon rolling for Jehovah. Look how long America took to get into WWII, and even then we got in on a technicality. Someone sank our ships, boo-hoo. It’s not like we were getting that worked up about gas chambers.”
“Why don’t we just assassinate someone important and say ‘they’ did it?” Javitz suggests.
“That was the plan with Kennedy and look what happened,” says Nayshore. “The illiterate lame-brain misread his cue card and shot Jack instead of Jackie. All bets on Cuba went off the table.”
“Besides I don’t think we can claim there’s enough cohesion in Africa for the whole of the continent to enter into a conspiracy. Much as I’d like someone to shoot the Vice-President, I think assassination by a foreign power is off the table. No, none of these float my boat,” says Daville.
She considers the completed list. This negative spirit breaks the rules of brainstorming, but they’ve begun to exhaust the creative process.
“What about if we went back to looking at simply buying it?” suggests Javitz.
“It can’t be worth much. Think of the medical liabilities we’re taking on.”
“We’d never afford it, even if the land came for a dollar.”
“Sure we would. All those drug monopolies they’re struggling against are ours. We’ve protected those guys’ patents for long enough; they owe us. We’d get discount.”
Daville shakes her head. “Apart from getting Alaska from the Russkies on a lowball bid, there’s not a lot of real estate trading between nations. We have to have a reason to take this military, and as we’ve said, it needs to be a crusade. Are you hearing me, fellas? A Crusade.”
“How about oppression of women?” Sicanto proposes. “Africa’s not exactly nice to the ladies – all that tribal voodoo and disfigurement. I see a PR angle we could play to.”
“Men never go to war for women,” says Daville, “not unless they look like Helen of Troy.”
“Isn’t there an African supermodel we could hire for a day or two?”
“This is hopeless,” moans Frussterer.
Everyone nods in agreement. But then…
“I have an idea,” says someone.
Everyone swivels around to look. It’s Tiffany, the pretty intern who’s been transporting the coffee tray in and out of the room at regular intervals.
“Go on,” says Sicanto, the third of the Yes triplets, embracing the contribution since he knows – as they all surmise to a greater or lesser degree – that the intern’s embrace regularly takes in the President himself and while they might have his ear, her lips whisper to something far closer to the axis of his thinking.
“What about restitution and reparations?” she says.
“What?” say the others.
“Well,” she says, “everyone’s always on our case about repaying money to the blacks because of slavery. No offence, professor.” She nods reverently at Daville.
“Tiffany, my dear, I don’t see how back pay for our dispossessed brothers and sisters helps us get oil,” says Frussterer, visibly frustrated.
“Well,” says Tiffany. “I was just thinking that if we’ve got all these unhappy citizens whose ancestors were illegally removed from Africa…”
“Yes?” go the Yes triplets.
“…aren’t those citizens entitled to their share of the mineral resources that were in the ground at the time of their abduction? By now, everything that’s left must be theirs.”
The room is struck by what can only be described as silence, since no one speaks. Instead, the collective brains machinate upon the possibilities.
There is history to be distorted here, real history that packs an emotive punch. Those speeches of Dr King and Malcolm X suddenly offer a clear and present opportunity, where once they seemed only a clear and present danger (at least, according to J Edgar’s CIA). The people around the room are just about old enough to remember, or remember from their school history books, the energy of the Civil Rights movement. Could that really save them now?
“Brilliant,” declares Daville, and the front wheels of her chair pop up in the air as she makes a rapid and triumphant turn. “Mr President, you have to do your civil duty and stand up for the rights of the black man in this country.”
Frussterer closes his eyes. Yes, he can see now. He opens them with new inspiration, fervent hope, the divine message received:
“I have a dream,” he says.
….. To be concluded: on the 5th Jan