Thursday, July 03, 2003

In the Washington Post, David Ignatius heralds the "slow transformation of American innocence", as its "optimistic" culture gives way to a "sense of irony" in the wake of the ugly, messy reality of Iraq. It's hard to see, though, how a nation that has survived an astoundingly bloody civil war, two world wars, two costly far eastern interventions, and forty years of threatened nuclear annihilation would suddenly lose its sunny outlook because of a few dozen military casualties a month in the aftermath of a remarkably short, easy, painless victory. Undaunted, Ignatius argues that "Americans will have to develop a tragic sensibility to survive," emulating Iraq, "where it is always best to assume the worst."

Now, it is true that America's cheeriness is to some extent a product of America's good fortune--which could change at any time (although the Iraqi situation is hardly an indication that that's about to happen). But the converse is also at least partly true. It is surely no accident that Iraqis, who have for decades cynically assumed that they will wake up each morning cringing under the iron rule of a capriciously brutal dictator, have in fact done so, while Americans, who have expected--perhaps sometimes unrealistically--honest, upright, responsive leaders, come much closer to that goal. Culture consists primarily of a set of beliefs shared by consensus within a large population, and to the extent that cultures can be judged by their results, one would be foolish not to choose American naivete--however jarring it can sometimes be--over Iraqi cynicism.

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