Tonight, President Bush's face will flicker on millions of American television screens, as he addresses the country on the anniversary of the so-called transfer of power to an Iraqi civilian government one year ago. His neo-con backers will talk loudly in the coming days about how we can still win, the Iraqization of the war, and in a distant haze, about a time when American troops aren't dying every day in a country that matters naught to our national security.
It's pretend policy. Pretend leadership. Pretend vision. Pretend planning. Pretend diplomacy. Pretend values. Pretend government. [Update: and oh yeah baby, pretend applause.]
Personally, I favor pretend war.
And so with kids in tow, watching National Treasure on the DVD player in the back of the Explorer, we drove hundreds of miles upstate, stopping at the battlefield at Saratoga, at Fort William Henry at the base of Lake George, and finally - on a boiling summer Saturday - at Fort Ticonderoga.
Stuck on the tip of a neck of land protruding into Lake Champlain, Ticonderoga was a key defensive point in the long battle between the French to the north and the English to the south - and later, a crucial point of contention between the British invading army and the American defenders. It's a glorious place, spilling with thrilling views in all directions, meticulously restored and tucked into a green and laid-back corner of the Adirondacks.
And last weekend, it was teeming with hundreds of people who spend their leisure time in the 18th century. Two giant camps dominated the landscape, one for the French and the other for the English. Authenticity in the name of pretend war was the order of the day: customes, tents, firearms, medical implements, cooking utensils and food. Details had to be just right, for this was the Grand Encampment at Ticonderoga, commemorating the 250th anniversary of the French and Indian War.
Grand it was indeed, especially for my history-obsessed 10-year-old, who wears his tri-cornered hat the way other kids sport their Yankee camps. As a fake battle tableaux unfolded in black gun-powder smoke and red uniforms ont he field below the fort leading down to the lake, Kelsey and his young fellow travelers were enthralled with the pageant and with the perceived flow of history.
I enjoyed it myself. I dig this stuff, and the colonial period and its heroes has always had a strong hold on me. I don't think it's bad to teach kids about history or about war. It's only bad to send boys seven and eight years older than my son to war for nothing, for a reason tat has nothing to do with defending our country.
With the ghosts of Washington and the Founders in front of my mind, I'll watch the President tonight. Pretend government gets people killed, and destroys our national psyche. Pretend war? Well, that's a better brand of reality programming I can endorse.
UPDATE: Faux leadership indeed. After watching this "major speech" in replay mode (spending the evening with my Brilliant Artist on our anniversary, listening to Richard Thompson down on the Hudson waterfront), I find little the criticize. I found little, period. Just repetition, very tired repetition. Think Progress had the best review, strictly by the numbers:
References to “September 11″: 5 (I counted 6, actually)
References to “weapons of mass destruction”: 0
References to “freedom”: 21
References to “exit strategy”: 0
References to “Saddam Hussein”: 2
References to “Osama Bin Laden”: 2
References to “a mistake”: 1 (setting a timetable for withdrawal)
References to “mission”: 11
References to “mission accomplished”: 0