March 03, 2008

My Damascus

I’ll never forget the turning point in my career as a conservative journalist. It was spring 2003, Colin Powell had just deployed the best cover story the Bush administration could cook up for invading Iraq—which I foolishly believed. Most of my old friends were gung-ho about the chance to (in Jonah “Blue Dress” Goldberg’s words) “throw some shitty little country up against the wall.” Most of the magazines I’d subscribed to over the years and pundits I’d respected (with some honorable exceptions—thanks, PJB and JPII!) favored the war… and jumping on the bandwagon sure seemed like a good career move.

I had a weekly column at David Horowitz’s site, counted on favorable mentions from neocons for several projects I was working on, and had no particular fondness for the murderous Saddam Hussein. I’d been in my home town, NYC, on Sept. 11, 2001, had at least three friends who narrowly escaped death, had breathed the toxic dust for weeks, and had watched the economic devastation wreaked on the city I love by the attacks.

I’d been something of an anti-Communist jingoist in my time. The war was obviously going to happen, no matter what I said or did. And we seemed like we were obviously going to win. It promised to be a “video game war” like the first Gulf invasion—whose fireworks we watched on CNN like an old-fashioned game of “Defender,” lines creeping up hopelessly against an unstoppable barrage from the heavens. It was a done deal, a slam dunk, a juggernaut.

I remember how overwhelming the temptation was, the sinuous eloquence of the voice in my head which said, “Why bother? What’s the point? Just join the parade, and catch your share of ticker tape. Why wreck your good name over nothing, for the sake of what—a bunch of Arabs who wouldn’t whizz on you if you were on fire?” I was almost persuaded, I must admit. As a blue-collar kid, I’ve got a pragmatic streak a mile wide (they paint it on you in the financial aid office).

But then I heard another voice, which was calm, morose, and resigned. It said, “Every morning, you’re going to have to look at yourself in the face. Whom do you want to see?”

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