By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Call him Rumstud, as his colleagues reportedly do. The Secretary of Defense was in fine form last week, lobbing one at the wussy media for focusing on the "untidiness" in Iraq. Then came White House strategist Karl Rove, popping off at the press for subjecting viewers to "mood swings" by documenting the death and anarchy. A stench was seeping into the home entertainment center, ruining the Pentagon's scenario. Its own photos of Iraqis kissing Marines and venting on images of Saddam were being upstaged by the ultimate insult to psy-ops: reality. So Iraq isn't quite cooked. Big fucking deal! Victory will soon be ours, at least to the camera's eye. Johnny will come marching home, Jessica will be smothered in prime-time love ("Tell us about the torture, dear"), and the fallen will be buried to the stately strains of "Amazing Grace." Then the celebrations will unfold in all their fulsome glory. For those without holdings in Halliburton or Bechtel, the major dividend of this war will be pageantry.
Oil and empire notwithstanding, this war is also about the American libido. Since Sept. 11, it has been fragile and recessed. Defensive gestures like rallying 'round the flag don't address this deficit of lust. What's needed is a spectacular conquest. A massive military strike against a blustering but bluffing foe was inevitable once we were attacked. It doesn't matter whether the enemy actually poses a threat to us. Subjugating Iraq is a way to stoke the national stiffie. The toppling statues of Saddam are a perfect counterpoint to the memory of those tumbling twin towers. Though one event has nothing to do with the other, they resonate in the psyche. No wonder the Pentagon wants the media to focus on images of high-tech mastery and stories of the gratefully invaded ("She wants it!"). Rumsfeld rocks to the rhythm of male arousal—it even informs his military strategy of speed over substance. In the Vietnam era, Henry Kissinger called power "the ultimate aphrodisiac." In Rumsfeld's update, a quick victory is the ultimate Viagra.
* * *
Before you call me a vulgar Freudian, consider the latest research on testosterone. In men, this hormone rises and falls dramatically; in women, it's more constant. Status has a lot to do with how much testosterone a man's body produces. Alpha males have higher levels than losers, and that also goes for men who win a fight. On the battlefield or the playing field, triumph is a testosterone factory. But you don't have to be a champion to bristle with lust. Studies of sports fans show that guys feel sexy when their team wins. That's why sports bars are good pickup places. But testosterone does more than make men horny. Working in concert with adrenalin, it also makes them feel vibrant. In New York, only one event drove Iraq off the front page last week: the grand-slam homer by Yankee slugger Hideki Matsui, a.k.a. Godzilla. When I first read the Daily Newsheadline "Godzilla Roars!" I thought it referred to the Marines.
My confusion was understandable. The Fox-inspired style of war coverage owes a lot to ESPN. Data streams, tech talk, retired pros calling the plays, and the battle equivalent of helmet cams all create a confluence between sports and combat. Neither the Nielsen report nor the three cable-news networks could break down viewing patterns by sex, so let me guess who is glued to the war news even when there's nothing urgent going on. He's a guy with a hard-on for sports or a big stake in video gaming, and he's tuning in to get his T up. In this fantasia, any gladiator will do, whether he's rushing a quarterback or vanquishing a tyrant. Watching your team win inspires the same childlike awe, the same impulse to merge with the action hero, the same rush of desire. Depression lifts; confusion is dispelled; life is sweet. We're No. 1!
This experience is hard to find on the left. Watching your team lose the real-world series is a monumental bummer, and for many red-meat progs, righteousness is a poor substitute for the hormonal surge that comes with power and prestige. That's my take on the psychology of left-wing hawks: they are fleeing from the effects of low status (and most of them are highly combative men).
But you don't have to be butch to get the benefit of rooting for the warrior when you're convinced his cause is just. It's a libidinous act for anyone. Let R. Kelly tell it. The alleged child pornographer and patriot has a new song dedicated to the "Soldier's Heart."
All hope was gone . . .
Hard to be strong
Was blind, could not see
Nothing but walls in front of me . . .
And the mountains seemed impossible to climb
Until you stood on the front lines
You led the way out of the darkness.
Christopher Hitchens couldn't have said it better.
* * *
Brace yourself for inspirational anthems and heroic haberdashery. The hippest mannequins are sporting combat wear: not just camo jackets and pants, but also sneakers, caps, even thongs. There are khaki cloth belts, vests with lots of little pockets, and shoulder sashes that smack of machine-gun magazines.