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Letter to Mars
by Peter Kurth
May 18, 2004

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This is a column that died several times before it was born. Writers will know what I mean by that, but so will any American who’s been awake and upright for the last few weeks and kept half an eye on what’s ever more grimly called “the news.” There’s only so much of it you can take, after all, before you run the bath and start hunting for razor blades. Your head can't wrap quickly enough around the last awful thing before the next one comes popping from the tube.

“We have a media system that has failed us absolutely,” says Mark Crispin Miller, a hero of mine whose forthcoming book, Cruel and Unusual: Bush/Cheney's New World Order, should be on everyone’s summer reading list.

“The media cartel is on its knees for Bush,” Miller writes, “delivering him an endless blow job far more scandalous and dangerous than anything that ever happened between Bill and Monica. … Daily life has taken on the quality of nightmare. We look on at horror after horror; protest en masse, and watch the world protest, to no avail; see utter mediocrity exalted, moral idiocy flaunted, fraud and thievery rewarded; hear black called white and white called black. No one in power says anything that makes a lick of sense. And then you flip on CNN, where everybody's acting like it's normal. Well, it isn't normal. And I think the majority of people in this country know it.”

Bravo, Mark – or, as Dubya might say, “Hoo-hah!” You can tell that something’s gone terribly wrong in America when you turn to a friend and casually ask, “So, did you watch the beheading video?”

Do you feel safer now than you did before Bush came to power? And how would you explain the debacle in Iraq to a stranger – let’s say, a visitor from Mars, who’s come to beg Congress not to let Dubya liberate his planet, too?

I guarantee you’d be hard put to find the right words. Take the battle of Fallujah, for example, which we’ve temporarily “won” by allowing the city to be occupied by the same “Ba’athists,” “loyalists” and “Republican Guards” whose hides we were so intent on tanning a short year ago – just before Bush declared that our mission in Iraq was, you know, “accomplished.”

“Oh, that was war,” I can hear you say to your visitor from space. “This is the post-war.” Or maybe those were “major combat operations” and these are flat-out disasters. On Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported that Fallujah is now "for all intents and purposes a rebel town,” “an inspirational ground zero for anti-Western militants in the Middle East. … Some worry that Fallujah may become a free zone for bomb-makers, saboteurs, assassins and other violent types whose desire to drive the United States out of Iraq remains undiminished.”

Maybe that’s what Dubya really meant to say on that battleship last May: “Mission Undiminished!” You know how he is with sentences – not the brightest boy on the block.

After Fallujah came Abu Ghraib, with its digital record of torture, abuse and lighthearted gang-bangs, of both the “hetero” and “homo” variety. That is to say, rape is still a male proposition, but, as usual, it’s the women who catch most of the flack – the chain-smoking, trailer-bred Lynndies and Sabrinas, who’ve given new meaning to the Army slogan, “Be All That You Can Be” (Just Do Them One At a Time). Western journalists have rather exaggerated the typical Arab male’s abhorrence of being naked among his peers, but the sight of a grinning Lynndie England, flicking ashes at his perpendicular, is bound to have sent him, as reported, straight over the edge.

After viewing a full set of the pictures of fun and frolic at Abu Ghraib, grown senators and congressmen -- even congresswomen, that’s how advanced we are! – emerged from their darkened chambers on Capitol Hill, smiting their brows and exclaiming, in no order and to no particular effect:

“What we saw is appalling!" (Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee)

"I saw cruel, sadistic torture!" (Rep. Jane Harman, D-California)

"You could not say that there was actually the act of sodomy, but it appears that that may be the preparation for it." (Senator Bill Nelson, D-Florida)

“I don’t know how these people got into our army.” (Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colorado)

Take it from me, Senator, they came up the usual way, looking for a break -- some assistance, a leg up or a way out of the human trash heap to which Republican economics have consigned them. When Dubya says the abuse at Abu Ghraib “doesn’t represent the America I know,” you can believe he means it, born as he was with a silver spoon up his nose. Explain that to a Martian.

Now, with just seven weeks to go before the Iraqi people regain their “sovereignty,” or their “limited sovereignty,” or, as remarked by our next ambassador to Baghdad, John Negroponte, "a lot more sovereignty than they have right now," over a country that belongs to them, not us, but which we, not they, are busy blasting to smithereens – where was I?

Right -- just now, at the very worst moment, comes the assassination of Abdel-Zahraa Othman, head of the Iraqi Governing Council, America’s handpicked, puppet regime in Baghdad, whose surviving members either will or won’t have any role to play in the next handpicked, puppet regime in Baghdad. This is assuming America can find any Iraqis left who aren’t “insurgents,” “combatants,” “militants,” “extremists,” “terrorists,” "fiery clerics," "rag-tag militias" and, probably, malcontents.

“One of the reasons why things have quieted down recently,” Dubya told reporters last week, in complete contradiction of the facts, “is because there’s fewer of them to make noise, fewer of the enemy to make noise.”

Back to you, Cokie.

Peter Kurth is the author of international bestselling books including Anastasia: The Riddle of Anna Anderson, Isadora: A Sensational Life, and a biography of the anti-fascist journalist Dorothy Thompson, American Cassandra: The Life of Dorothy Thompson. His essays have appeared in Salon, Vanity Fair, New York Times Book Review, and many others. Peter lives in Burlington, Vermont. He can be reached at: Visit his website at:


Other Articles by Peter Kurth


* Robbing "Defeat" to Pay "Appall"
* Standing Small
* Bible Time
* One Man's Flip Is Another Man's Flop
* Kee-reist is More Like It
* Star Wars
* The Breast That Ate Pittsburgh
* Monkey See, Monkey Do
* Crank Call
* A Cynic's Guide to the Top Stories of 2003
* Talking Turkey
* Let Them Drink Coke
* The Gang that Couldn’t Talk Straight On Iraq
* Party Rules