Sunday, March 05, 2006

Driven to despair

On the front page of my newspaper today, the photograph of a smiling unarmed Canadian soldier mere minutes before he was attacked by an Afghani man who screamed “Allahu Akbar!” before plunging his axe into the officer’s head.
Tomorrow the front page of my newspaper will no doubt be imprinted with a photograph of the Canadian soldiers who died in the light armoured vehicle accident last week in Afghanistan and whose remains are being shipped home today.
It’s days like these when the revulsion for ‘Mission Accomplished’ reaches near-critical mass, and the impotence many feel at the prospect of being able to affect any change in the seemingly endless madness born almost exactly three years ago feels endless in itself.
The only subject that really captures my interest nowadays (apart from my own issues, actions, problems, obsessions, rejections, repressions, regressions, regrets, worries, compulsions, concerns, memories, fears, fantasies and finances – is it really so surprising I can’t find a moment to bathe the dog?) is the vast, oceanic reserves of anger against the Iraq war that appear to be building up and spilling over all around the world.
So far as I can tell, everybody lives wrong.
Trust me on this: they certainly drive wrong. Sometimes I wonder if this is where the anger is seeping out.
I’ve written before about my (to me) shockingly swift transformation from traditional ten and two, well in advance signaling, driving manual suck-up, and all-round world class rules-of-the-road obeying driver, to raging, red-faced, road-rage-aholic over the past couple of years. It’s become practically instantaneous.
I can be bopping along (singing a song) contemplating a job well done, or one imminently begun, happy as Colossal squid in a world full of the smaller Giant-variety, and in moments be near-apoplectic with fury if some other driver should attempt to cut into my left lane from his ill-conceived stuck-behind-a-parked-car position on the right.
(Don’t try to kid me; you knew there would be parked cars. You knew there would be bottle-necking at the traffic lights. You further knew that there would be some slow-moving, oblivious folks, complacently driving in the slower left hand lane, who would either inadvertently provide you with an entrée to squeeze in front of them, or graciously wave you on. Not today buster. Not here, not now – not me.)
I am one of those people. The ones who speed up when you try to cut in. The ones who watch the changing lights like a race car driver waiting for the flag to drop so should there be any advantage to changing lanes, I’ll have leapt off the start line and passed you before you could say ‘bitch on wheels’. I drive (when provoked) like a teenaged boy, or a bitter man with a small penis.
Or an American President armed with the kind of advisors and intelligence that have placed the world in the grim marathon of death that shows no signs of abating.
(Don’t try to kid us; you knew that the reports of Iraqi possession of WMDs were inflated if not completely wrong. You knew there would be anger if you drew the world into the war. You knew there would be death. You further knew that there would be some slow-moving, oblivious nations who would either inadvertently provide you with an entrée to squeeze them in with you, or graciously wave you on. So you did. Then, now – you.)
Not so long ago while waiting to turn left across a busy thoroughfare onto my own street, after flashing her lights, honking her horn, and revving her engine, the woman stuck behind me finally pulled out from behind, drove up beside me and with a look and in a tone that were chilling in their ferocity, let me have it.
“Why don’t you turn at the lights,” she screamed. “Bitch!”
With a zoom and a squeal she was off and gunning toward her next appointment with antagonism, and I would have followed her – chased her down – to explain in words of very few syllables (most of your best swear-words only ratchet up the syllabic quotient when compounded) exactly where I lived, expressly why I was turning precisely there, and explicitly where she could place her concerns if she didn’t like it.
Until I realized it would be exactly, expressly, precisely and explicitly like screaming at myself. Pointlessly.
The thing is, in virtually all other ways, in all other situations, I am as gentle as a kitten – or at least as passive aggressive.
(I won’t pee in your shoes, or drop small dead animals at your feet – the worst I’ll do is ignore you or treat you to a look of withering disdain – but I won’t even be catty behind your back.)
I am in all ways but the one, the very image of the average North American, taking it on the chin, accepting the government’s every concealment, cover up and outright lie with a “Well, what’re you going to do?” shrug and eye roll. Still.
Even though somewhere between 35,000 – 100,000 people have died since the war began on March 19th, 2003.
Those numbers are comprised of the civilian dead estimated between 28 and 32,000 individuals, (these are the numbers of people reliably reported dead – British medical journal The Lancet estimates the body count as closer to 100,000 Iraqi civilians) and the American dead now standing at 2,297. Add another couple of hundred coalition troop deaths, and you arrive at the population of a small city.
Only a few people would have to move out of Berkeley California, Pueblo Colorado or Charleston South Carolina to approximate the number of deaths the Iraq war has wrought, and not a few folks would have to move in to Sarnia or Sault Saint Marie in Ontario, or even Kamloops or Nanaimo BC in order to achieve the same results.
And the wounded. The wounded.
In numbers representing American wounded alone, the estimates stand at between 15 and 48,000 troops.
A further 8 to 10 percent of combat troops are said to have been treated for psychiatric or behavioral health issues.
The number of Iraqi wounded is impossible to assess. There’s no doubt the number is enormous. As for their psychiatric or behavioral problems, who could guess, when US general Mark Kimmet’s helpful advice to Iraqi citizens upset at seeing innocent civilians killed by collation troops on their own telelvision screens was: “Change the channel.”
Meanwhile, a Canadian soldier with a hideous head wound lies in critical condition in an army hospital in Landstuhl Germany, and, as the result of a road accident far from the treacherous streets of downtown Toronto, the bodies of two Canadian soldiers, victims of the road accident in southern Afghanistan last week are to be flown home for burial today.
Sometimes (all the time) I think my road rage is misplaced.
But sometimes I think it’s the only place I have to put it.

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