Someone once noticed an intriguing pattern, that when George W Bush was the most inarticulate, it was inevitably when he was speaking about peace. Only martial rhetoric ever inspired him to loftier linguistic heights, or rather what qualified as lofty linguistic heights for him. It was, nevertheless, revelatory of what interested him the most and what was least in his priorities.
War fires the blood of the Republican. He likes to speak of punishment. He likes to speak of “rounding people up,” and, once rounded, “teaching them a lesson.” He likes to let everyone know who is in charge and who is not. He enjoys using words like “obliteration,” “annihilation,” “fire and fury,” “shock and awe.” He finds deep satisfaction in the linguistic cover of the hard, the brutal, the .44 caliber language of pugnacious rhetoric. He is shockingly immune to the human cost – families separated, children sleeping on floors, people mutilated and killed. He prefers to dwell on the long-discredited mirage of the glory of war, the consequences of “messing with us,” the extent to which “you’ll be sorry” if you do.
The Republican is very much a “them and us” kind of guy or gal. The “them” they speak of are invariably cast as criminals who are dirty, poor, brown, foreign and voiceless (or Democrats, but that’s another story.) It’s far easier to hate and kill an amalgam than it is to hate and kill a person. Nor is this a phenomenon exclusive to the intolerant in the United States. Whenever I encounter intolerance in Britain, I am always reminded that I am, though a foreigner, though an immigrant, even still an exception. They never say why because they don’t have to: I am white, I am English speaking, I am Middle Class. All of which is to say, even in their style of hate and intolerance, the Republican is wholly unoriginal, undistinguished from every other loathsome lowlife practitioner of the craft of bigoted hatred throughout the world.
So when Donald Trump warns Iran of “obliteration like you’ve never seen before,” he is playing to his base, employing the rhetoric they love to hear, threatening death on a grand scale. Iran is a handy target. Many alive today recall the Ayatollah Khomeini-inspired band of thugs, who held hostage members of the American embassy for 444 days in Tehran. They recall the flag-burnings, the screams of “Death to America!”
That Iran is a very different place today matters not at all to the Republican. Half the population in Iran is under 30, thanks in part to the state-sponsored incentive for women to bear children to replace the lost population in the wake of the Iran-Iraq war. It brought forth a generation that Christopher Hitchens referred to as the “baby boomerang,” a population of youths uninspired by the dead Ayatollah and heartily sick of their mullah-led theocracy.
Even so, no nation’s people deserve to have bombs dropped on their homes merely because politicians in charge are too lazy, too stupid, too incompetent, and too prone to rattling sabres – especially when they are never called upon to actually thrust the sabres when the time comes. The real cost of war is fingers, toes, limbs and lives. It’s no accident that people who hate war the most are the ones who have done it.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.