Nothing Can Stop Us Now

07 November 2004

Marines. Iraq. Yesterday.

Jeff Sharlet: Yesterday “Weekend America,” a new public radio program produced by “Marketplace,” aired a brief discussion between host Barbara Bogaev, Lee Edwards of the conservative Heritage Foundation, and myself. Our topic? “American greatness,” a phrase used by Bush in his victory speech. The man from Heritage, a Reagan biographer, was enthusiastic about the phrase, declaring it part of the U.S. “religious heritage.” I think I was there to offer some kind of more pluralist vision of American greatness. But, ever the killjoy, I followed the advice of my favorite Reagan — Nancy, of course — and just said no.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a romantic nationalist, I love America truly, madly, and deeply, and I think it’s a unique place — but “greatness,” a term for Alexander and the Roman empire, does not apply to our democratic republic, and it sure as hell isn’t a gift of our “religious heritage,” which pretty much reserves “greatness” for God. “Freedom” — now, that’s a good ideal to which to aspire. “Greatness”? Look it up in the dictionary. It’s not what we are, nor what most of us want to be.

Well, that’s what I said, but Lee Edwards was an effective spokesman for how great we art, and I suspect listeners were convinced. Challenged to say something positive about Bush’s speech, I picked a line about the “open plains of Texas,” because it reminded me of Lonesome Dove, and I think it’d be terrific if Bush behaved like a real cowboy. Edwards took the opening and ran, ran like a great American stallion, charging, charging, westward all around the globe. Were it not for Edwards’ warm, Grandpa Walton voice, the discussion could have faded out with Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.”

So, in the interests of Unity and Healing (U.H.), I offer these images above, taken in Iraq. They’re U.S. Marines. Outside Fallujah. Dressed up as gladiators. Yesterday — you know, when insurgents were busy killing people all over the country. What are they doing? Why, taking part in a Ben-Hur recreation, complete with “confiscated” Iraqi horses.

Countrymen, I ask of thee: Is this Greatness, or what?

How
Great
We
Art

Photo captions:
“US Marines of the 1st Division dressed as gladiators stage a chariot race reminiscent of the Charlton Heston movie-complete with confiscated Iraqi horses at their base outside Fallujah, Iraq, Saturday, Nov. 6 , 2004. For U.S. Marines tapped to lead an expected attack on insurgent-held Fallujah, the bags have been packed, trucks have been loaded and final letters have been sent, leaving one final task – the ‘Ben-Hur.’ (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)”

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US Marines of the 1st Division line up prior to a prayer at their base outside Fallujah, Iraq, Saturday, Nov. 6 , 2004. More than 10,000 U.S. troops have taken positions around the rebel-controlled city of Fallujah, bolstering the U.S. Marine units expected to lead a joint Army-Marine assault on the city. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

A video grab shows U.S. bombardment over the Iraqi city of Falluja, November 6, 2004. U.S. forces poised to assault Falluja bombarded the rebel stronghold on Saturday, while insurgents launched deadly attacks that killed 34 people in Samarra, another city in Iraq’s Sunni Muslim heartland. REUTERS/Pool via Reuters