Call me an English major, but every time I see President Bush suggesting that everything is all right in Iraq, I'm reminded of the late, great comic writer, James Thurber, and his 1940 collection of funny drawings and funny stories called "Fables for Our Time."
Among the stories is a wry little one-paragraph tale called "The Hen and the Heavens," complete with one of Thurber's trademark drawings of a befuddled hen looking up at the chunks of ice dropping out of the sky.
"The heavens are falling down!" she shouts, running about the barnyard to warn the other animals.
"Finally," Thurber tells us, "a very pompous rooster said to her, 'Don't be silly, my dear, it was only a pea that fell on your head.'" And all of the barnyard animals "laughed at her, smugly, the way you laugh at one who is terrified when you aren't."
The story ends with this:
"Then suddenly with an awful roar great chunks of crystallized cloud and huge blocks of icy blue sky began to drop on everybody from above, and everybody was killed, the laughing rooster and the little red hen and everyone else in the barnyard, for the heavens actually were falling down."
The moral that Thurber draws: "It wouldn,t surprise me a bit if they did."
I've been thinking of Thurber's fable all month, and of how President Bushlike the pompous rooster trying to convince us we're not in any real troubleinsists that everything is going to be all right in Iraq.
Maybe he's right. And maybe the folks at Judicial Watcha public interest outfit that "investigates and prosecutes government corruption"are wrong. Especially when they announce as they did last Monday "that U.S. District Court Judge Richard W. Roberts
has ordered the FBI to submit 'proper disclosures' to the Court and Judicial Watch
concerning the U.S. government's evacuation of Saudi royals and members of the bin Laden family from the United States immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
If there's really something like that to properly disclose, even James Thurber, a hard man to surprise, would spin a bit in his grave.
And according to the Dec. 12 Washington Post, a Post-ABC News poll shows "seven in 10 Americans disapprove of the way the President is handling the situation in Iraqthe highest percentage since the March 2003 invasion."
Our allies in Great Britain are beginning to get cranky with us. The Guardian UK last week ran a story by George Monbiot about a U.S. prisonerJose Padillawho "appears to have lost his mind. I don't mean this metaphorically, I mean that his mind is no longer there"as a result of his treatment in our prison.
The Truth, Mainly
"If we were to judge the U.S. by its penal policies," Monbiot concludes, "we would perceive a strange beast: a Christian society that believes in neither forgiveness nor redemption."
And even Tony Blair, who sometimes seems to be what the Mother Country has instead of George Bush, admitted that things are going badly. When Sir David Frost asked Blair during a TV interview last month if the invasion of Iraq hasn't "so far been pretty much of a disaster," the Prime Minister said, "It has."
And it's not just foreigners and Democrats who are put off by the Bush administration's war. According to CNN News a couple of weeks ago, Sen. Gordon Smith, an Oregon Republican who used to support the war, said that U.S. "tactics have failed" in Iraq and he "cannot support that anymore."
He is, he said, "at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs, day after day."
He said that was "absurd, and may even be criminal," and concluded that "I, for one, am tired of paying the price of 10 or more of our troops dying a day. So let's cut and run or cut and walk, but let us fight the war on terror more intelligently than we have because we have fought this war in a very lamentable way."
Those are, remember, the words of a Republican.
And Chuck Hagel, our own Republican senatorand a decorated G.I. in an earlier warlast week said "The impending disaster in Iraq is unwinding at a rate that we can't calibrate."
Sounds pretty ominous to me.
Was that a pea that just hit the roof? Or a chunk of crystallized blue sky?
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail