By Raul Groom
set us up the bomb." - unattributed
The foregoing quotation, semi-famous for its robotic utterance
in the classic video game opening that also contains the better-known
quasi-Bushism "All your base are belong to us," is just about
all that can definitively be said about the brutal and horrifying
attack on a Shiite mosque in Iraq last month. We are all eager
to know what happened, but we can expect very little of value
to come out for weeks, and given the meager resources available
to Iraqi police investigators (the morgues do not have air
conditioning, making even identification of the victims impractical
and, presumably, really gross) it is doubtful that the official
particulars will ever be established.
The FBI is on its way over to see if the Iraqis have any
idea who stole the anthrax from Fort Detrick, but beyond that,
the presence of the G-men seems unlikely to uncover any viable
leads. Perhaps the Feds can take over a wing of C-130's full
of the all the intelligence documents still waiting to be
translated into English from a few of the languages common
in Iraq that almost no experienced agents can speak.
This issue of the bulk of the population's complete ignorance
of any language not spoken by large numbers of Europeans –
and that bulk probably includes both thee and me, gentle reader
– is starting to become the biggest rhinoceros in the bathtub
of our inept, how-many-rhinoceroses-can-we-get-into-this-bathtub
foreign policy. Katherine McIntire Peters, in a relatively
little-publicized article (compared to Arnold Schwarzenegger's
or Bill Clinton's sex life, certainly) shed some light on
the trouble in 2002 by quoting David Edwards:
"To build the kind of expertise the government needs
in intelligence and defense and economics, we have to recognize
that language learning is long-term, serious and difficult."
Sounds like a job for George W. Bush's America. After all,
Dubya's life has been filled with success after success in
long-term, serious, and difficult projects. He's also a war
hero, an astronaut, and was in the right-field bleachers at
Shea stadium when Darryl Strawberry blasted a fastball 600
feet across town while in the grips of a depraved cocaine
frenzy. Actually, President Bush has never stuck with anything,
except his pledge to give up alcohol those many, many years
ago, when he was a sprightly late-thirty-something young buck
(or early-forty-something, depending on whom you talk to and
whether it's on the record) trying to eke out a meager living
crashing his father's companies into ditches and making off
with all the money.
Peters, writing before George W. Bush committed the U.S.
Armed Forces to a second simultaneous overseas invasion, opined
that it would be tough to say exactly how seriously our country's
lack of language skills had impacted our readiness to confront
global threats. Fortunately for Katherine, Bush has since
gone on a fact-finding expedition in Iraq that has confirmed
that indeed, it turns everything we do into a huge, horrible,
It is unlikely that Dubya, being largely ignorant not only
of any second language but even a first one, appreciates the
impact of his experiential research on the education policy
community, but it is the sort of thing that Ms. Peters should
be able, if there is any justice in the world at all, to parlay
into a lifetime of lucrative and complex grant-funded projects.
Unless, of course, in perhaps history's final comment on the
oft-abused notion of "irony," she is consumed in a nuclear
fireball as a result of the Bush administration's failure
to understand the basic concept of human communication.
Now the question is beginning to percolate among the Democratic
hopefuls – What Do We Do About Iraq? Unfortunately, it has
become taboo in the United States to imply that the country
has any serious cultural handicaps – we were transformed on
September 11th into a pristine, gauze-clad mass of three hundred
million saints and prophets, our fearless and splendid warriors
ready to reshape the world into a modern-day Garden of Eden.
John Kerry can't get up and say "We're losing the Iraq War
because we're a nation of arrogant monolingual Neanderthals."
He'll be eaten alive.
So have to dance around the issue. Unfortunately, like a
group of tech support people who have to tell some poor loser
that he can't log in to his PC because he's misspelling his
own name, none of the Democrats can figure out a nice way
to break it to the country that the only thing that is going
to help the Iraq situation is if all of the boys from Kansas
and Connecticut and Mississippi - who, like their Commander-in-Chief
and the rest of their countrymen, cannot communicate verbally
with anyone whose mother tongue does not contain a word for
"cheeseburger" - all get back in their little jeeps and get
the hell out of the Middle East. Thus it transpires, in a
time when supposed "self-examination" is a multi-billion dollar
industry, that boys who've never been in love or drunk a single-malt
scotch or smoked a Cuban cigar fight and die because We the
People they swore to protect cannot accept the idea that the
world does not like us because of us.
I'm probably supposed to stay out of the realm of heartfelt
soliloquy, lest I lose my credentials as a hip humorist among
nihilists and Kerouac-wannabes, but there are times when there
is simply nothing funny to say. One can find a certain whimsy
in most of the White House's idiocy, as if she's watching
a sort of "Dick and Chimpy" black comedy that sickens and
disturbs but also amuses and secretly delights. In Iraq, there
is no punch line. It is a human tragedy of epic proportions,
credibly surpassed by the horror of Saddam Hussein's infamous
rule only if one includes the portion when he enjoyed the
enthusiastic material and political support not only our of
current chief executive's father but of virtually every politically
powerful person in government today.
I am often accused by my friends – particularly those who
voted for George W. and are feeling a bit uneasy about it
– of being a "Chicken Little." They say I exaggerate the atrocity
and the folly and the catastrophe of the Iraq war for humorous
effect, a technique I admittedly employ on many subjects.
In this case, though, hyperbole would be a sick and tasteless
groaner at best, and an irrelevance at worst. The Iraq war
is The Problem, what a clinician might call a "primary condition,"
brought about by certain fundamental factors but now loosed
from its moorings and rampaging untethered through the history
books, destroying the right America once had, despite all
its brutalities and hypocrisies and failings, to call itself
a Nation Under God.
God is another topic I am probably supposed to avoid. Not
without good reason, surely, yakking on and on about worshipping
God is probably the most boring thing a person can do. But
it does not erase my standing as an elitist intellectual saboteur
that God is a word I consider to have some meaning, however
nebulous and ineloquent the definition might sound if I were
to try to put it into words.
Love is the path to God, we've been told quite often through
the centuries, and we run around obediently using God as an
excuse to hate and kill anyone whose language has a word for
"God" that's different from ours, and who reads his prayers
out of different books. Religious intolerance is the reason
our country had to be created out of the ashes of the last
great Western empire, and if we're to continue this experiment
called the U.S.A., we may soon have to identify the Elephant
in the Dark or risk being trampled under the feet of an enraged,
invisible beast called Islam.
If we cannot learn to hear our brothers and sisters, we cannot
understand them. This is so elementary, as a certain idol
of mine might say, that it is a truism. Language is a necessary
prerequisite to every kind of meaningful communication widely
known among humans on this planet, and as long as we are unable
to tell our neighbor we love him, it is difficult to see how
peace can ever prevail.
We are beset now even by people who cannot use their own
language for communication,who see only slogans and catchphrases
and sound bites where they might find ideas, and frailties,
and passion, and every little slice of a person that bleeds
through when words open upher soul like a shutterclick, revealing
for one brief shining momentthe secret, perfect heart shared
among all people. Beware those who read this article and find
that it shows that "I hate America" or that I have been brainwashed
by Hillary Clinton. Any words you say to them must be forged
in the understanding that there can be no communication, only
action and reaction, and if you, like I, have yet to establish
any coherent grasp of cause and effect in this crazy universe,
it is best simply to love these misguided people and leave
I got into this contemplative mood while trying to write
my vows for a wedding that's coming up faster than I can
order trinkets and fight over the liquor selection and count
chairs and book flutists, and I definitely should not be
taking the morning to finish this article. The workload
is beginning to consume me, to say nothing of Sofia, who
has held me together through many bouts of blubbering breakdown
as I revisit through party planning all the slings and arrows
of childhood. She is a rock, organizing and expediting and
double-checking and making me realize that if she ever leaves
me, I am deeply doomed. Her hours seem to contain more minutes
than mine, which may have something to do with the fact
that she is not a football addict.
In any case, the next time I file a story it will be from
San Tome, Costaguana, where Ms. Allende and I – or perhaps
Ms. Allende-Groom and I, depending on her mood when we visit
the courthouse – will be taking a much-needed rest after
the manic dress-up ritual that will legitimize our union
in the eyes of the law and everyone in our family over the
age of fifty-five.
In the interim, I think we should all sit down with a phrasebook
of some kind and get to work figuring out all those funny
sounds people from other countries make when they want to
say something. God knows it's a small step, but one has
to start somewhere, and September in the Caribbean seems
as good a time and place as any to start to make my way
among the people.
And lastly, at the risk of completely jumping the shark
in my last epistle as a single man, I offer this request
for my wedding day.
Let this be a time of unity in a world of division, a river
of healing trickling down this mountain of pain. Let us
live to tell our children of a day when the world almost
destroyed itself with hate and greed and lies just before
we realized that when the sun goes down on our generation,
it will be only our love for the lowliest among us - all
across the globe - that will endure after we have been absorbed
into the earth. Let us be one people, together, in God.
For the next ten days I remain,
Raul Groom, Bachelor