The Folly of Sober-Minded Cynicism

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You should check out Fallows' feelings on the Iraq War here. Reading his own thoughts left me considering about my own circa early 2003. I wasn't a liberal hawk. I was actually a deliveryman for a deli in Park Slope, doing what writing I could (mostly at the Village Voice) in between. Back then I was seized with a deep feeling that I what I thought did not matter much. I was a writer in the sense that there were things that were published with my name on them. I didn't have a blog. I didn't have status. I didn't have a pager. 


But I did have a grinding cynicism. I was skeptical of war, but if the U.S. was going to take out a mad tyrant, who was I to object? And more, who were you to object? I remember being out during one of the big anti-war protests and watching the crowds stream down Broadway. I remember thinking, "You fools believe that you matter? You think what you're saying means anything?" 

In fact it meant a lot. It meant that you got to firmly and loudly say, "No. Not in my name." It meant being on the side of those who warned against the seductive properties of power, and opposing those who would bask in it. It also meant pragmatism. Fallows has it here:
[L]et's assume that many Iraqis may indeed be better off. For Americans that's not the relevant fact. After all, many people in Cuba, North Korea, etc might be better off if the U.S. invaded there too. The question I am asking is whether this was a sane investment of American lives, money, national focus and attention, and international reputation. I argued before the war and soon after that it wasn't, and I think time has strengthened rather than weakened that case.
And finally it meant the election of the country's first black president whose ascent began at an anti-war rally in Chicago. 

I say all this to say that if I regret anything it is my pose of powerlessness -- my lack of faith in American democracy, my belief that the war didn't deserve my hard thinking or hard acting, my cynicism. I am not a radical. But more than anything the Iraq War taught me the folly of mocking radicalism. It seemed, back then, that every "sensible" and "serious" person you knew -- left or right -- was for the war. And they were all wrong. Never forget that they were all wrong. And never forget that the radicals with their drum circles and their wild hair were right.

Watching reasonable people assemble sober arguments for a disaster was, to put it mildly, searing.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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