Read the whole article, because it has some gems in it, but here's the closing nut:
What has really robbed the conspiracy theories of their effectiveness is how the war in Iraq has been conducted. Bush and his advisers have sought to use the war not only to punish their enemies but also to reward their supporters, a bit of political juggling that led them to demand nothing from the American public as a whole. Those of us who are not actively fighting in Iraq, or who do not have close friends and family members who are doing so, have not been asked to sacrifice in any way. The richest among us have even been showered with tax cuts.He makes one other observation in the middle of the piece that jumped out at me. I've always thought there was something peculiar about those black and white POW/MIA banners you see all over the place, particularly among the wingnut factions. Mr. Baker clears the fog (my emphasis in bold):
Yet in demanding so little, Bush has finally uncoupled the state from its heroic status. It is not a coincidence that modern nationalism dates from the advent of mass democracy—and mass citizen armies—that the American and French revolutions ushered in at the end of the eighteenth century. Bush’s refusal to mobilize the nation for the war in Iraq has severed that immediate identification with our army’s fortunes. Nor did it begin with the Bush Administration. The wartime tax cuts and the all-volunteer, wartime army are simply the latest manifestations of a trend that is now decades old and that has been promulgated through peace as well as war, by Democrats as well as Republicans. It cannot truly be a surprise that a society that has steadily dismantled or diminished the most basic access to health care, relief for the poor and the aged, and decent education; a society that has allowed the gap between its richest and poorest citizens to grow to unprecedented size; a society that has paid obeisance to the ideology of globalization to the point of giving away both its jobs and its debt to foreign nations, and which has just allowed one of its poorer cities to quietly drown, should choose to largely opt out of its own defense.
Anyone who doubts that this is exactly what we have done need only look at how little the war really engages most of us. It rarely draws more than a few seconds of coverage on the local television news, if that, and then only well into the broadcast, after a story on a murder, or a fire, or the latest weather predictions. Even the largest and angriest demonstrations against our occupation of Iraq have not approached the mobilizations against the war in Vietnam, but a close observer will notice that we also have yet to see any of the massive counterdemonstrations that were held in support of that war—or “in support of the troops.” Such engagement on either side seems almost quaint now.
Who could possibly believe in a plot to lose this war? No one cares that much about it. We have, instead, reached a crossroads where the overwhelming right-wing desire to dissolve much of the old social compact that held together the modern nation-state is irreconcilably at odds with any attempt to conduct such a grand, heroic experiment as implanting democracy in the Middle East. Without mass participation, Iraq cannot be passed off as an heroic endeavor, no matter how much Mr. Bush’s rhetoric tries to make it one, and without a hero there can be no great betrayer, no skulking villain.
And yet, a convincing national narrative, though it may be the sheerest, most vicious fiction, can have incredible staying power—can perhaps outlast even the nation that it was meant to serve. It is ironic that, even as support for his war was starting to unravel in May of 2005, George W. Bush was in the Latvian capital of Riga, describing the Yalta agreement as “one of the greatest wrongs of history.” The President placed it in the “unjust tradition” of the 1938 Munich Pact and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which together paved the way for the start of World War II in 1939. Bush’s words echoed his statements of three previous trips to Eastern Europe, dating back to 2001, during which he had pledged, “no more Munichs, no more Yaltas,” and called Yalta an “attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability,” a “bitter legacy,” and a “constant source of injustice and fear” that had “divided a living civilization.”
The ultimate irony of Bush’s perpetuating this ageless right-wing shibboleth is that for once it wasn’t intended for home consumption. The Yalta myth has finally lost its old magic, here in historically illiterate, contemporary America. Nor did Bush make any special attempt to let his countrymen know he was apportioning them equal blame with Stalin and Hitler for the greatest calamities of the twentieth century.
Bush’s pandering was directed instead to the nations he was visiting, in a region that still battens on any number of conspiracy theories. Why he should have so denigrated his own country to a few small Eastern European nations might seem a mystery, until one considers that this is the “new Europe” that Bush has solicited for troops for his Iraqi adventure . . . and where he appears to have found either destinations or conduits for victims of “extraordinary rendition,” en route to where they could be safely tortured in secrecy.
An American president, wandering the halls of Eastern European palaces, denounces his own nation in order to appease his hosts into torturing secret prisoners. Our heroic age surely has come to an end.
Soon after we had bugged out of Saigon, millions of Americans became convinced that American prisoners of war had been left behind in Vietnamese work camps, by a government that was too cowed or callous to insist upon their return. Numerous groups sprang up to demand their release, disseminating flags with a stark, black-and-white tableau of a prisoner’s bowed head against the backdrop of a guard tower, a barbed-wire fence, and the legend: YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN POW*MIA.America has a very serious "Dolchstoß!" problem, if you ask me. I'm not as convinced as Mr. Baker that the wingnut tribal nation won't be able to enhance and extend the Stabbed-In-The-Back myth even after it finishes grinding the modern American republic into bankruptcy and moral ruin. My concern is that America could very well devolve into a full-on guns-whores-and-dope anarchy and the pseudo-fascists in Wingnut Nation will still manage to fuel their culture war against liberals into the sort of affair where children are taught how to perform prisoner exchanges in school and I'll be carrying two pistols and a sword every time I drive across the Altamont pass into Modesto.
It would do no good to point out that there is no objective evidence that veterans were ever spat upon by demonstrators or that POWs were ever left behind or that Jane Fonda’s addle-headed mission to Hanoi did anything to undermine American forces. The stab-in-the-back myth is much more powerful than any of these facts, and it continues to grow more so as time passes. Just this past Christmas, one Faye Fiore wrote a feature for the Los Angeles Times about how returning Iraqi veterans are being showered with acts of good will by an adoring American public, “In contrast to the hostile stares that greeted many Vietnam veterans 40 years ago.” The POW/MIA flags, with their black-and-white iconography of shame, now fly everywhere in the United States, just under the Stars and Stripes; federal law even mandates that on at least six days a year—Memorial Day, Flag Day, Armed Forces Day, Veterans Day, Independence Day, and one day during POW/MIA Week (the third week of September)—they must be flown over nearly every single U.S. government building. There has been nothing else like them in the history of this country, and they have no parallel anywhere else in the world—these peculiar little banners, attached like a disclaimer to our national flag, with their message of surrender and humiliation, perennially accusing our government of betrayal.