In his speech at the Naval Academy, it would have been so easy for George Bush to have said, using the bureaucratic passive, "mistakes were made," and to have fired Donald Rumsfeld, and to have ordered soldiers on their third tours of duty in Iraq to be flown home --- for good --- before the holidays. His approval rating would have jumped 30% overnight, consumers would have flooded the stores --- the country would have partied.
But Bush's "plan" sends an old message, one the troops know well: You won't come home without victory, unless you come home in a coffin. That is a soldier's fate --- to fight and die --- and if our troops didn't know that when they signed up, too bad for them. Because the Commander-in-Chief is quite content for them to die.
How is that? Well, given what we know of Bush's history as Lord High Executioner in Texas and his religious sense of mission as President, we are invited to conclude that Bush doesn't deeply mourn the deaths of our soldiers in Iraq. Really, we're invited to go further --- their deaths are the sacrifice Bush offers to "freedom" and God. In some crazy way, he seems to believe that they died for him; their spilled blood gives him renewed vigor.
This week, an eighteen-and-a-half foot fir tree --- bless Laura Bush; she has the courage to call it what it is: a Christmas tree --- arrived at the White House in glorious fashion, "lying sideways in a forest-green carriage drawn by a pair of dark chocolate horses wearing red bows."
I thought: As if the tree were going to its funeral.
In the Middle Ages, people were constantly reminded of death by strategically displayed memento mori --- like a skull on a banquet table.
What would a memento mori be now? A skull on the holiday buffet, draped in military medals? Flags dripping blood? Skeletons blowing bugles at military funerals?
I see, instead, a living memento mori: our President. An invisible black cloud surrounds him; unseen vultures swoop overhead. No matter --- he is CEO of the Angel Manufacturing Company. And he and his colleagues have deadly work to do.