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Journal, Day One

By Gillian Conoley

Bush’s new Iraq strategy, which appears to be in slow leak mode in our country’s news organizations (Friday in Wall Street Journal, yesterday in Sunday’s NY Times) is most likely to be unveiled in a speech he will give to the country on Wednesday, tentatively titled “A New Way Forward.” What the leaks say we have in store: 20,000 more American combat soldiers, $1 billion in aid to be used as a jobs program, with a kind of “matching grant” from Iraq’s Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who has agreed to add as many new Iraqi soldiers as Americans into the mix. The pitch is that we will be rebuilding as much as we are destroying—a kind of build ‘em up/tear ‘em down reconstruction . . . and a big expansion of what U.S. military calls “Commander’s Emergency Response Program,” which employs civilians as a way to lessen resistance to American presence in Iraqi neighborhoods. Who knows if we will be able to build more quickly than warring factions within Iraq can destroy. As “a senior White House official” says, “You’d go into a neighborhood, clear it, try to hold it, and come back later and discover it’s all been shattered.” So we’ll have more troops to fight the fighters who are battling for control of neighborhoods, who are most likely going to be more interested in their own sectarian control than Bush’s “Let’s Rebuild Your Neighborhood and Repaint Your Schools” employment program, and U.S. money will go to building up neighborhoods which will more than likely soon be destroyed.

Too Bad Bush isn’t also unveiling a little rebuilding of our own neighborhoods. Many of us are fortunate enough to live in OK neighborhoods, but many more of us are not, and many mid-size cities, Milwaukee, for example, are experiencing unprecedented leaps in crime due to huge cuts in police forces, coupled with a high lack of programs for criminals released from prison, not to mention dwindling National Guard. Don’t even try to talk to anyone in New Orleans, which has always had a grizzly crime rate, but now . . .

Not to go to far adrift, but lately I have been re-reading Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Gertrude has taken quite a beating lately in the press herself—it looks like she will definitely not go down in literary history as someone who helped with the Resistance––what with she and Alice living fairly comfortably throughout WWII in France, while Nazis carted off entire nearby orphanages. It’s WWI that is discussed in what we will hereby call Alice B.—and it’s fascinating, from the current cultural perspective of despair and numbed awe at the stupidity of our situation—to read Stein’s representation of WWI, especially with representation and its impossibility being her thing. I do not mean to disparage Gertrude Stein, whose writing I admire and whose writing has been so important to so many. I am however fascinated by the remove at which she wrote the following description of the battle of the Marne:

Nellie described the battle of the Marne to us. You know, she said, I always come to town once a week to shop and I always bring my maid. We come in in the street-car because it is difficult to get a taxi in Boulogne and we go back in a taxi. Well we came in as usual and didn’t notice anything and when we had finished our shopping and had had our tea we stood on a corner to get a taxi. We stopped several and when they heard where we wanted to go they drove on. I know that sometimes taxi-drivers don’t like to go out to Boulogne so I said to Marie tell them we will give them a big tip if they will go. So she stopped another taxi with an old driver and I said to him, “I will give you a very big tip to take us out to Boulogne. Ah, said he laying his finger on his nose, to my great regret madame it is impossible, no taxi can leave the city limits today. Why, I asked. He winked in answer and drove off. We had to go back to Boulogne in a street car. Of course we understood later, when we heard about Gallieni and the taxis, said Nellie and added, and that was the battle of the Marne.

The emphasis on the difficulty of getting the taxi, the “I always bring my maid,” “the shopping,” the tea, make strange bedfellows and metaphor to those of us reading the Times sipping our lattes. Even the name “Nellie,” as in “nervous Nellies.” There are pages and pages of such writing in the section called “The War” in Alice B. And Stein is up to much, it seems. But now it is late and I must find my daughter’s P.E. clothes. And that was the war in Iraq.

More on Stein and problems of representation and past wars and present wars and The War Issue I am editing for Volt, well, we will all just have to think about that tomorrow.

Meanwhile let me know your thoughts. Any and all of them, and on anything.

Posted in Uncategorized on Monday, January 8th, 2007 by Gillian Conoley.