April 2, 2003
funny in Kansas
Arts and Entertainment
By Paul Reidinger
WE GO ON eating despite our new war and the wall-to-wall, coast-to-coast, stem-to-stern, dawn-to-dusk-and-back-again television coverage of it on the cable news stations. We go on filling up restaurants; a neighbor ate at Bacco the other night (a weeknight) and told me it was full of people knocking back wine a significant detail; a friend drifting home from a protest looked through the windows of Delfina and saw a huge crowd ("I felt like throwing" but did not throw "a brick.").
Yet food has tasted like ash to me, or perhaps not even that good perhaps like nothing at all. The heart and mind are engaged elsewhere; the senses are wary. A recurrent antiwar theme here has been that business can't go on as usual while bombs are falling on Baghdad, but I suspect most of us would feel that way with or without protests. Life has assumed a surreal quality; the weather is springlike, the birds sing in the trees, the asparagus are pencil thin, perfectly fresh, and ready for roasting and this is life in wartime?
War has been a major American export for at least a century, ever since the Spanish-American scuffle at the end of the 19th century. The key word there is export. Wars happen elsewhere "overseas" and now, simultaneously, in the dreamland of television. Our armies are always "expeditionary forces" engaging in battles that leave cities devastated and populations displaced, but only over there, on continents not our own. There is an element of schizophrenia here that might account for the current war's high level of public support, especially as contrasted with public attitudes in Europe. The very word war carries a charge of terrible immediacy in almost every country but our own.
It would seem to follow that, since we confine war's unpleasantries to faraway lands, our own land would be peaceful. But I wonder if a country can be both a perpetual war machine and a republic of domestic tranquillity. The evidence from the marketing of Hummers as the latest badges of suburban security to a widespread fondness for physical conflict suggests that it can't be, though whether our domestic truculence is blowback from overseas adventures or the latter are merely projections of a general American bent toward violence isn't clear. The answer is probably a bit of both a symbiosis of hostility.
Meanwhile, we go on eating, and trying to live as best we can. We watch the TV with miserable compulsiveness and wonder when food will taste good again, when or if life will assume its familiar rhythms. Maybe it won't, and maybe it shouldn't. Maybe there's just no escape.
Contact Paul Reidinger at firstname.lastname@example.org.