I was on the treadmill last week -- not my usual activity -- but the pounds are adding on as the worries multiply so I headed for the ugly monster machine that is supposed to help awaken my sleeping endorphins and shrink the burgeoning waistline. For those who hate exercise as much as I do there is the TV to get us through that grunting, sweating, disagreeably virtuous hour. I grabbed the remote, pressed the power button and before you can say CNN or MSNBC I came upon the estimable ladies of "The View." The featured guest was Condoleezza Rice on her way back to Stanford and her teaching career, smiling, self-assured, fulfilled, (she had been to London to play for the Queen) and who like Edith Piaf, claims that she "Regrets nothing." She was spouting the Bush party line regarding the Iraq war she helped bring into being, "It is for history to judge us" she intoned. She means that history will judge her and the Bush years well, and we small minded citizens cannot get the big picture, we are so lost in the tiny details of dead Iraqi babies, American lives lost, and our economy in ruins, the financial world looking a bit like the rubble in the streets of Berlin after WWII. She was of course speaking generally of the Bush years with a brief and fleeting glance at Katrina, which, after all, she shrugged, "Who knew?"
The history that Ms. Rice called upon to judge her has always seemed to me a lousy judge. As a kid growing up in WWII, my view of those war years is very different from the romantic spouting of contemporary historians. I saw the sorrow of gold star mothers, and I recall soldiers who didn't want to fight. It was a messy war -- mud, blood, bombs, and despair -- not a great one although its result was the liberation of Europe and the end of the Nazi era. But the reality of those living through those years was that they were lived without a halo, without glorification, lived with fear and loss, and that history often distorts reality to justify the deaths of the innocent. There are no good wars, although history will say there were because history -- sad to say -- is often a great fool.
Personally, Condoleezza, I don't give a damn about what history says when you and I are history. We live in the here and now, and that's the only place any of us can judge. And I got lots to judge about you and your cohorts, stuff that has deeply touched my own life.
You screwed up 9/11 by disregarding the intelligence warnings and because of that my nephew John, a brave fireman who was a first responder at Ground Zero, and a volunteer at Katrina, lies in Sloan Kettering hospital fighting his cruel, life threatening illness. You screwed up the economy so that another relative, a particularly brilliant fellow (an objective rather than a familial view) is suddenly unemployed with babies to feed and a mortgage to pay. I have elderly friends whose retirement accounts disappeared (not through Madman Madoff but through the collapse of the crazy Bush driven economy -- an economy that ran on a wink and a computer); friends who are desperately worried about how they will make it through their final years. Two of my close friends, living in the Motion Picture Industry Home in Los Angeles were notified that the facility they live in will be closed because of lost contributions resulting from the financial crisis; at first they were told that they must find new places to live in within six weeks, now possibly a bit longer, not very easy for the gravely sick and disabled to do. The list goes on. Everyone has their own horror stories. Mine are no sadder than yours. Everyone has a story but Condoleezza and friends. Condi, face it, you were part of an administration that screwed up the banking and financial systems with its failure to oversee the dishonorable excesses so that my retirement pension and those of millions like me is in grave danger unless we throw billions at the miscreant banks since innocent and guilty are caught in the same net. You were the handmaiden of the dishonest, the corrupt, and the uncaring. And yet an esteemed academic institution is prepared to take you back into its faculty? Like the rest of your co-conspirators in the Bush White House you appear to be without shame, apology, or contrition, and you have landed with a smile on your face, standing on your very expensive shoes, charming the good women of "The View" -- who like most of our TV and public personalities are well cushioned in this economic free fall -- so they speak as outsiders, tongues clucking, hearts bleeding, but personally untouched by the current crisis.
All this strikes at the very heart of Obama's resistance to investigating the crimes of the Bush years. An investigation must be undertaken by the Justice Department, and by the Congress, not for the sake of history, let history take care of itself, but for the sake of all of us living now who have a right to know the hard truths about the past eight years in order to make sense out of our present lives. I'd be less than candid if I didn't say that I'd like to see some of these guys cooling in the slammer for awhile. A further benefit of holding the Bush administration accountable might be to knock some of the self-righteous obstructionism out of the current Republicans in Congress, but more important than punishment is recognition of the unpunished crimes. They call their crimes "hard decisions," but most of us know the difference between a hard decision and dropping bombs on innocent civilians while enriching Halliburton at the cost of American blood and treasure. Like most of the world I don't have a clue as to how or when we will get out of this Recession (a tired euphemism for Depression) mess, the economists tell us that it will be at least two years, I read one that says never, but I don't deal in never, so what do they know? All I know is that it will be much harder to stumble our way out of the current darkness into some light unless we have a fuller understanding, a true accounting of how we got here -- and that won't happen by ignoring the recent past -- a past which is not history but very much with us today.