April 2, 2006
Tombers Ponders Passivity
My brother, sister, brother-in-law and I, were together in
the same place at the same time for the first time in five
years. It is a rare occurrence as we three siblings live in
Such a reunion seemed to call for reflection and I booked
myself a bedroom on the Silver Meteor, the train which runs
from Orlando, near my sisterâ€s, to New York
and settled in for twenty four hours of private time, with
books and music and the rare gift of time to absorb it all.
While I trundled north, slowly, as there were track repairs
underway which held us up, I reflected upon family and nation,
two things locked in the soul of this country. As the countryside
rolled by, the U.S. was marking the 3rd anniversary of the
invasion of Iraq.
The marking of the anniversary was very tame from both sides
of the political spectrum. President Bush did barnstorm the
country defending the war and, here and there, in smaller
than expected numbers, protestors came out and rather politely
demonstrated against our Iraqi adventure.
When I was young and Viet Nam was an inferno both there and
here, I remember participating in my first Peace Demonstration,
being a member of a crowd that seemed to stretch on endlessly
in front of and behind me.
While riding the rails and listening to Rachmaninoff, I speculated
on the reasons that this war has generated so little in terms
of protest compared with Viet Nam. Certainly, there are similarities.
A goodly portion of the country is opposed to our presence
in Iraq as a goodly portion was opposed to our presence in
Viet Nam. Viet Nam degenerated on every front into a quagmire
and Iraq has every potential for doing the same, if it has
Viet Nam had My Lai and Iraq has its Abu Ghraib.
But there is no draft as there was for Viet Nam; only those
who in some way or other have chosen to go are in Iraq so
there is no outrage from the young about being forced to fight
in a war in which they do not believe. There is no immediate
threat to motivate them; and their parents.
Thankfully, unlike Viet Nam, we are not reviling the troops,
having come to understand the difference between fighters
and policy makers.
My generation of baby boomers, the people who marched with
me in that Peace Demonstration, seems to have lost the outrage
in our souls. After returning to New York, walking on Wall
Street, a middle-aged woman, my contemporary, handed out a
postcard with photos of caskets returning from Iraq. Later,
I wanted to go back and thank her. She had put action to her
My generation has evolved from protesting to yuppie-dom to
quietly living out our lives as the world swirls around us,
content to e-mail our senators with our protests [if we have
any], reluctant to take to the streets to demand a change
or to engage powerfully in the life of body politic.
And there is always behind us the specter of the falling
buildings on 9/11, an event which eventually led to our presence
in Iraq and, in its devastation, helps explain our emotional
ambivalence about this war. Yet, unlike World War II, we are
not united in moral outrage. The moral ambiguities of our
universe give us pause and result in political paralysis rather
than activism. We lack both the moral certainty of WWII and
the commanding voices of dissent that punctuated the Viet
Nam Era.. Where is our Gene McCarthy?
When Bush stated, almost nonchalantly, that it would be for
another President to withdraw the troops, a shot of electricity
ran through the country and jump started a dialog different
in tone than any heard to date about this war. Suddenly, the
debate has become more vital overnight; a differing reality
has set in. Dissent seems to have begun. Mr. Cheney is blaming
the media for our discontent, reminding me of Spiro Agnew
and his "nattering nabobs of negativity."
It may be that the body politic is awakening from a long
slumber and will find a voice for this time