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Column: We're all going straight to hell

This is not some liberal guilt trip, some nostalgia-sick rip, some thorny-crown-and-cross kick. This is fear, thick and panicky; this is paranoiac acid flip; this is existential crisis; this is Orwell, body-snatchers, a bad moon rising. Tonight a man will speak to America about its state, about evildoers and the freedom that they hate, and if he gets his way in a few weeks thousands of people thousands of miles away will begin to die. And soon after that people over here will begin to die, in airplanes and shopping malls. But our planet has already begun to die and, perhaps within those lifetimes that remain unshortened by bombs, this Big Death will make all that other death seem little. Take solace in the big goddamn picture.

I can already see that this hysteria will only take me so far. I'll take a deep breath and count back from 10, humming in time with a Sleater Kinney song.

Are you feeling alright now?

Paint my body red white and blue...

Oh god I love my dirty Uncle Sam

Once I finally accepted that this war is probably going to happen, I went looking for reasons that might justify it. They are out there, I found, but you won't hear them in tonight's speech because they are more complicated than what a child can understand. They are valid, I'll admit, although they do not quite justify the timing or the means to the ends. But I quickly found that I can't really think seriously about a war on Iraq without thinking about the war on the environment, the war on the underclass, the war on the most benevolent of amendments, the war on women's health and birth control.

Geoscientists and women's health workers, religious leaders and the best hip hop poets are all waxing apocalyptic about the many ways in which the world is about to end. This is not about politics anymore, not about a Republican platform with which I don't agree. This is history being made poorly, history that I have to live through! My anger at him and the people that he serves isâ_| the power of language fails me. He is so bad. They are so bad!

There it is again, the rage. This anger is as unproductive as it is unsatisfying, especially since there's no obvious place to direct it. I felt plenty of it at the campus anti-war protests - more rage, ugly and futile, righteous but not redemptive. I heard about racism, sexism, capitalism - yes, yes, the horror, can we please talk about war now? No, because we have nothing to say but "no," and no won't stop it.

But this is not about Bush, not entirely. He's more truly American than any guy we had back in the 20th century. God, guns and guts made this country, and business too of course. Yes, he's setting back 30 years of environmental protection, but what we had till now wasn't going to save this planet anyways. Yes, he's arrogant on the world stage, but so were the last 50 years of American foreign policy - he's simply less polite about it.

Then what is this about? All those war snakes slithering around a head so unfathomable that trying to look right at it makes me feel like I'm turning to stone. I look beyond it in search of some shape on the horizon, or I look down for some little something at my feet that maybe I can pick up and throw. Instead I see a shapeless monolith churning with a hell of an appetite and the power to render me into product. On the other side I see a faceless mob of figures holding boxcutters and sniper rifles. Sometimes I wish one would destroy the other - it wouldn't matter which- but I suspect it's me they want.

Maybe this is natural. Maybe the first moments of a true political awakening always seem like a nightmare. The road ahead is so dark that it looks like I'm about to walk straight off the earth, but maybe my eyes will soon adjust and I'll faintly see it rise, fall, circle around back to where we started. Every age thinks that it will be the last. But wait, does this weather seem strange to you? How many nuclear bombs did you say are unaccounted for?

I hum Sun Ra:

It's a motherf---er, don't you know?

If they push that button, yo ass gotta go.

I went and saw Lord of the Rings again. This time it was escapism on two counts. One being that evil was vast yet evildoers were vanquishable and for three hours I could imagine what it felt like to be on the good side. Two being that New Zealand looks like a beautiful place to live - do they even have a government there? Afterward, I arrived home to read that France and Germany had linked arms and stood up in opposition against the Dark Lord. The Giant Flaming Eye booms over their heads to the cowering masses behind them: "Suck it!" The smart hobbit packs his pack and scrambles for the hills, not caring whether anyone remembers to tell his story.

I know it's childish to give up so easily when there's no clear way to get what you want. It's selfish to shirk the responsibility of shared fate: "It's broke so bad, ain't no one can fix it. Just chill out, I'll pack the next bowl." And it's hypocritical, because when I was 16, jobless, and being groomed for a world-class education, my parents bought me an SUV in which I've happily degraded the environment ever after. It's all sorts of unvirtuous things, but as much as I'd like to try to save the world I'm not even sure it's meant to be saved.

So I do what any uneasy young man would do when fate arrives at the door and demands sacrifice: I get wasted. And we dance. At one point, splayed on a couch at the edge of the party's writhing mass, a couple of us vent hot fear into cool sardonic conversation over the primal bass pulse.

"Did you hear about the Healthy Forests Initiative?"

"Oh, the one where they'll protect the forests from fires by cutting down all the trees."

"Isn't that brilliant! We should control population growth by shooting all the women: Operation Eternal Brotherhood."

Somebody is dancing on the TV, so we hoot at him and get up again, dropping the discussion, which nobody minds because it wasn't that interesting in the first place.

I wake up with one bitch of a blowback hangover, the light in my window seems like it was from a world on fire. For a moment I have a break-of-day dream: My friends and I are laughing and dancing on a steppe by a cliff in New Zealand, under a rising dawn that glows like blood in the atomic soup of the eastern sky.

But after 10 minutes I get up, sit at my desk and wait in groggy silence. And wait. A Wilco song about the war on war eeps through my head, but I can't hum because my throat is clamped shut:

You're gonna lose, you have to lose.

You have to learn how to die

If you wanna wanna be alive.

The words start pushing their way out soon after, first in clumsy blocks and then in a heavy flow, thousands of them but never quite enough. I take some and try to stick them together, and it doesn't work, doesn't even come close. I have no answers and probably never will but I'm not ready to stop asking yet. And this is something, this is not nothing.

Greg Bloom, Trinity '03, is a senior editor of Recess. His column appears every third Tuesday.

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