Letters

Readers respond to Gary Kamiya's "Sleepwalking Toward Baghdad."


Salon Staff
March 15, 2003 1:24AM (UTC)

[Read the story.]

Gary Kamiya's incisive and nuanced analysis of the Iraq situation is one of the best I've ever read. Thank you, Mr. Kamiya, for your sobriety in a cultural milieu dominated by a frenzy of jingoism. Thank you, Salon.com, for providing a forum in which such intelligent work can be engaged.

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-- Daniel Smith

Thanks to Salon for insightful and intelligent (not to mention extremely well-written) pieces like the above. This article should be mandatory reading for every American, not to mention anyone who cares about the future of the planet.

It is precisely because this impending war defies all logic that so many around the globe, including the vast majority here in Canada, are opposed to it.

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-- Chris Pilger

I am deeply impressed that you have managed to escape the Israel or Palestine polemic. I am someone who cares about the existence of Israel in the same way that I care about the existence of the United States -- democratic states that seem to be on the brink of losing their democracy.

I would like to focus on one point that you made about the United States seeming to have gone mad as a result of 9/11. I have spent a great deal of time in Israel, and what is completely clear to me (and to the few Israelis that remain progressive) is that the entire country has gone completely mad. This is the desired result of terrorism, and in Israel we can see the impact -- an entire country driven mad with terror. Those who still vote (this last election had the lowest voter turnout ever!) elected a man who most Israelis considered a butcher and a madman (Lebanon, the push to Beirut, the battle of Beaufort, not to mention Sabra and Shatila). What can Israel do when its people have collectively lost all perspective and live in terror -- and its trusted friends who should guide it suffer from the same madness? Folie à deux -- shared delusion.

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I am really scared, too. I have at moments felt myself slipping into the madness. Thank you for staying sane.

-- Rachel Canar

I certainly appreciate Gary Kamiya's essay for its citation of the Auden poem. It is wonderful how verse can lift us out of conventional thought and bring us to a tranquility where reason can look from a new vantage point.

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I am bowled over though that Kamiya seems to blow past Auden's own reassessment of the poem's "moral equivalence" of the wrongs done to and by Hitler. The essence of morality in politics consists of making such judgments.

Kamiya's ad hominem attacks on "Bush" [sic] and his advisors and his allusion to the "stolen" election of 2000 betray his "blinders." He is like the Spanish Bourbons, "who have learned nothing, and who forget nothing." When it comes to making decisions, he is like Hamlet, "sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought."

I'm glad the defense of America is not in the hands of "effete intellectuals and impudent snobs" such as he.

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-- Jim Powers

Gary Kamiya's article "Sleepwalking Toward Baghdad" was an insightful and alarming read that of course will have as much impact on the American nation as Hermann Hesse's writings did in 1930s Germany. Kamiya, as he knows all too well, is just another Cassandra plaintively giving warnings that will go unheeded. These are definitely America's dark days, but its darkest are just around the corner, and perhaps the world's too.

-- Lawrence Adler

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Brilliant. I have lived in the Middle East and South Asia over a 20-year period and have been personally involved with terrorism, surviving a terrorist bombing and losing many friends to terrorist acts.

This piece was a tour de force on so many levels. Bravo. It really touched me and I thank you for it.

I, too, fear for our country as these new fears of Americans are exploited for political gain or misused by wrongheaded politicians with agendas.

But just for once, could you please not trash Democrats?

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-- Rebecca Jaramillo

Enjoyed Mr. Kamiya's excellent essay, but I feel compelled to correct an important error, one that many professional historians apparently make. The Mexican-American War was the first "major" war completely caused by unprovoked American aggression; the innumerable Indian wars were also wars of expansion and conquest, for the most part.

Basically, unprovoked aggression is older than the Republic.

-- Stephen Hirsch

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Thank you for this fine article. There are a couple points I think are wrong, however. You wrote "[Saddam] strikes when he thinks he can get away with it. He believed he could defeat Iran, not least because the U.S. was backing him." The first sentence is true, but the second is not. Saddam attacked in 1980 because he thought Iran was falling apart -- he had no significant support from the U.S. until three years later, by which time he was on the defensive.

You also wrote that the war may turn out just fine, and that anyone who denies this should not be taken seriously. Yes, the war may well be as "rapid, accurate and dazzling" as Christopher Hitchens believes. But the war itself is only part of what is looming in front of us. Given the nature of the Bush administration, I can't begin to imagine how they could ever hope to solve the enormous problems of the Middle East, even by miraculous accident. And then there's the corrosive effect this whole push to war has had within America. As you yourself write, national institutions are failing -- the press, the Congress, the courts, the political parties, all seem to be crumbling or corrupted, and the presidency is out of control. An easy win in Iraq will feed executive megalomania, with disastrous results at home and probably more military adventures abroad. Quick victory or slow quagmire, in this case both roads lead to nightmares. Good is not going to come from this.

-- Charles Parmely

When my father saw Kenneth Branagh's "Henry V" for the first time, he told me that the St. Crispin's Day speech made him, an American and a lifelong pacifist, ready to join the Army and go fight for God and country.

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Gary Kamiya's article had an interestingly opposite effect on me. See, I'd been rather uncomfortably on the fence for a long time about Iraq. I'd almost been persuaded by countless sometime-liberal pundits that war was the right thing to do.

But this column has nudged me, thank the Lord, over to the left side. Turns out, I am one of the not so happy, not so few who believe this war is dangerous and wrong.

-- Meg Rhem

"No critic of the war who reflexively denies that these outcomes are possible, on the grounds that America has ugly aims (or has an ugly history), can be taken seriously."

I beg to differ. Any critic who has lived in the real world, and not that of the current bizarre win-at-all-costs American cultural bubble, realizes a structure with a lie as a cornerstone will topple. Something bad will come of this. It may not be for 10 years, or 20, but oh, it will happen. Think Iran. Think Vietnam. Think World Trade Center. Think Enron. Think all of human history. Until we figure out that lying to get what we want (and lying about what we want, too) is the recipe for repeated disaster, we will continue to make this same stupid mistake over and over.

And someone, somewhere, will win, too. At least for the short term. They will get rich. They will get power. They will "win" at the cost of everything else, including our basic humanity, which, in America today, is hiding in a corner, over there, next to the USA Today dispenser.

See, it's all about the madness of winning. What ever happened to just playing the game? Here's a newsflash for all you winner junkies: Life is a tie. In the end, no one wins.

-- Oswald Neimon

"Sleepwalking Toward Baghdad" was the most vulgar piece I've read on Salon.

A nation whose leadership is responsible for the deaths of a million civilans and hundreds of thousands of soldiers is cast in the role of victim while the United States is in a sexual frenzy. Nations that oppose Iraq are "faithful valets" and anyone who expresses the opinion that Iraq and Saddam need intervention are full of "vulgar flag-waving bombast" or "pro-war chest-beating."

The piece may have tried to portray the United States and the president as sad and wrong, but in the end it is Salon who comes across as sad and wrong.

-- Mark Buchholz

To the sublime Mr. Kamiya:

Thank you so much for this piece. What better way to address our nightmare situation than through an examination of this historic poem. While reading I felt my stomach dropping but at the same time affirmed in the sensation.

Like most people I know, I have been keeping busy with day-to-day things, scared that I will wake up one morning and find that the war has come home to me and my youngest and oldest family members -- that the false analogy of the homeland as a battlefield is a self-fulfilling prophecy. In the ways I can, I try to involve myself because it feels better than doing nothing. Still, I can't reconcile myself to this fear of my own country and the fallout of the actions that it almost certainly will take within days.

All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood...

Your writing is magnificent, thought-provoking, nail-on-the-head honest; unsettling and comforting at once. I wanted to express my appreciation to you for being there to give us a good dose of surreal reality.

-- Anneke Toomey

I've read a lot about the probable war. No piece has revealed the abyss of vertiginous potentialities like Mr. Kamiya's. Sudden visions of a 1940s-type depression, the death of so many young people (possibly including my own 16-year-old son), the scarcity and bleakness that everyone except America's newly privileged upper class will have to endure. I am almost ashamed to admit that it took so long, and a call to the incisive aesthetics of poetry, to make me really feel what's going on, and to make me cry. I have seen the world as it really is, and I don't know where to look now, or where to go, or who, or why, to be. Thank you.

-- Queenie Taylor


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