The night of March 19th, 2003, I was alone in the lounge of my college dorm, watching the TV and waiting for bombs to begin falling on Baghdad. I was tired. I caught myself wishing it would get started already. I caught myself welcoming the idea that it would. That week I had been lending my voice to the last gasps of protest, such as they were: a rally on campus, a march to the federal building downtown, enough shouting to make my throat hurt, and carrying signs someone else made. Onlookers stared in bewilderment and drivers honked their horns in what could have been support or complaint. A month earlier, on February 15th, the largest mass protest in human history had taken place in cities all around the world. Millions of people had piled together in the half-human frenzy of crowds, yet the handful empowered to decide were unperturbed.
Slavoj Zizek summed up the Bush administration’s cheerful confidence in the face of such dissent: “You see, this is what we are fighting for, so that what people are doing here—protesting against their government policy—will be possible also in Iraq!” We couldn’t possibly shout loud enough. The logic of our protest collapsed on itself; the war against war only paved the road to war. Ever since, as each suicide bombing in Baghdad points back to the invasion of that night, those of us who hoped to prevent it have been left wondering why our outburst failed so fundamentally.
Not long after ten o’clock, the president appeared on the screen. He announced that an “attack of opportunity” had been made, a “decapitation strike” against Saddam Hussein. It failed, but ground forces soon crossed the border, and our bombs burst open over Baghdad.
That night, glued to the news, I became six again, enough to forget my grown-up, principled objections. The flashes began over a familiar alien city, with familiar precision weapons. Relief overcame me: surrender to a future unfolding, apparently, and also to an old habit. I knew the script like a movie I’d been watching all my life. The lines of George W. Bush’s reasoning made perfect, necessary sense, though I wouldn’t say so to anyone. I found myself wondering which planes were flying sorties that night, which bombs were falling and which divisions had crossed the border. What resistance did they encounter and what, this time, would count as victory? I can’t remember for sure, but probably that night, as on many nights since, I fell asleep plotting my own campaign of “shock and awe” on the sheets and pillows: which planes to use, in which order, and where.