Tomgram: Empire of Stupidity

[Note for Tomdispatch readers: In the weeks when the first Gulf War was underway — it seems a lifetime ago — I began researching a book on the history of American triumphalism (which I came to call “victory culture”), especially as I had experienced it in my 1950s childhood. By the time I began writing, that war was years past; the General Schwarzkopf dolls had long disappeared from the toy store remainder tables, and the book seemed like little short of an autopsy of a once vital American myth — the cherished belief that triumph over a less-than-human enemy was in the American grain, a birthright and a national destiny. It was published in 1995 as The End of Victory Culture and then I went about my business; but over the years, the book made its modest mark in the world (and in college courses).

I freely admit that I was taken off-guard when, in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, victory culture came roaring back with a literal vengeance. Even then, as I started working on the project that became Tomdispatch, I never doubted that the half-life of this version of victory culture would be short or, when the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq became obvious in 2002, that it would crash and burn in that country.

By May 2003, with Baghdad barely taken by U.S. forces, I was already writing:

“Given a system that eats itself for breakfast, the second coming of America’s victory culture should prove an ephemeral affair. I wouldn’t bet that a year from now, no less a decade from now, kids anywhere in America will be playing GIs and Iraqis, or Delta Force and Afghanis in their backyards or streets. And maybe we should all thank our lucky stars for that.”

In 2005, Juan Cole (whose Informed Comment website was already a regular morning companion for me) and Matthew Lassiter, both professors at the University of Michigan, urged me to give a talk there, updating my book. Lassiter, in particular, cunningly convinced me to make the sort of public appearance I usually avoid. I can only thank both of them profusely. That talk launched me on a major update of the book and now, to my satisfaction, The End of Victory Culture has been reissued in a new edition that takes the collapse of American triumphalism from Hiroshima right through George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror.

As in the essay below, I’ve often dipped back into the book — wondering, most of the time, how I ever knew all that — to crib from myself. I hope that those of you who read Tomdispatch regularly might want to take a plunge into the new edition and check out where my particular brand of anti-imperial thinking comes from and how it plays out in the present. You can read the new preface to the 2007 edition by clicking here, check out praise for the book by clicking here, or simply click here to buy it now. Tom]

Seven Years in Hell

On Body Counts, Dead Zones, and an Empire of Stupidity
By Tom Engelhardt

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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