Absurdity Began with Duck Soup

Yeah, it's a brave new world (though much shabbier than the one Huxley imagined). I've been reading some commentary lately about how quite a few of our neo-con think tank warriors are ex-Trotskyites who have Whittaker Chambered their way into comfortable new positions. It's suggested that they have discovered a new form of "permanent revolution" in the War on Terrorism and Other Disagreeable Nouns. There's probably something to that, but as I watch events unfold, I can't help but think that Marxism of a different sort is at work here. Not the Marxism of Karl, but that of Julius, Arthur and Leonard (i.e. Groucho, Harpo and Chico).

Let me make a suggestion: gather la familie and rent the brothers' Duck Soup. It's always worth another viewing—especially these days. The way His Excellency Rufus T. Firefly leads Freedonia to war against Sylvania is, of course, absurd (hilariously so), but no more so than the way His Excellency George W. Bush lead us to Baghdad. (Groucho/Firefly even anticipates our chickenhawks: "And remember while you're out there risking life and limb through shot and shell, we'll be in here thinking about what a sucker you are.")

Of course, this brings to mind Philip Roth's remark that a film version of Kafka's The Castle could only be done correctly if the Marx Brothers played the lead (Groucho as K, Harpo and Chico as his assistants). That's about right. There isn't any contradiction between a situation being unspeakably menacing and it being completely ridiculous, which brings us to my favorite story out of Iraq recently.

The British installed Sheik Mustafa Kanan al Tamimi (Sheik Tammany?) as the governor (or whatever the term is) of Basra province. Locals turned out by the hundreds to show what they think of this choice: they threw stones at the sheik's home. Why? Because it turns out the sheik had been a former general in Saddam Hussein's army and a member of the Baath party. According to the British press, the reason he was selected was because military commanders confused the sheik with his brother, a man of impeccable anti-Saddam credentials. The brother is unable to serve—having been shot to death by the Iraqi secret police in 1994. Details, details . . .

Freedom is messy, as Secretary of Liberation Donald Rumsfeld said while Baghdad burned. It should be noted Rumsfeld wasn't playing the fiddle as Baghdad burned (of course neither did Nero as he watched Rome go up in smoke. The fiddle hadn't been invented yet. Nero played the lyre. I doubt Rumsfeld would ever pick up an instrument whose name is so rich with homophonic irony). But if Rummy had been playing an instrument, I'd like to think the tune would have been—everybody sing along—"Hail, hail, Freedonia, land of the brave."


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