Sex, Iraq, and pop culture

By ELLEE DEAN  |  January 11, 2007

When asked by paparazzi to comment on the Britney Spears/Kevin Federline divorce, Justin Timberlake said, “Yeah, there’s a war going on in Iraq.”

Yeah, Justin. And what are you doing about it? (He’s probably doing something about it — I heart you, JT! — I just can’t think of what it is.)

The Web site estimates there have been more than 3000 US deaths in that “war going on in Iraq.” In 2005, President Bush, questioned during an address to the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, estimated “30,000, more or less” Iraqi casualties. In 2006, a study by the British medical journal the Lancet estimated there have been 654,965 Iraqi casualties. But the exact number, like the civilian body count during the Vietnam War, remains uncertain.

In a December 29 Portland Phoenix article on the state of the anti-war movement called “Does Peace Have a Chance?” staff writer Sara Donnelly notes the disparities between the Vietnam and Iraq War protests: “We don’t see people clogging the streets . . . as happened during the anti-Vietnam protests in the late 1960s,” she writes.

No, we do not.

Four weeks after the Democrats gained control of the US House, Donnelly counted “only four protesters at the weekly Bridges for Peace demonstration on the Casco Bay Bridge.”

Opposition to the Vietnam War, in part, took the form of “free love” — which I note first because it has to do with sex. (It’s been at least 52 seconds.) The Chicago Seven went to trial after police riots turned street protests ugly during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. In the 1960s, the peace symbol was a commonplace icon. Political radical Carl Oglesby, president of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1965 and ’66, said, “It isn’t the rebels who cause the troubles of the world, it’s the troubles that cause the rebels.”

Where are our rebels? And, Donnelly asks, where is our SDS? Are we another “lost generation” — lost peeking under Britney’s very short skirt?

Perhaps we can’t wait for the world to change, John Mayer — what kind of defeatist attitude is that anyway? (Obviously, he’s never played Sonic the Hedgehog 2.)

Instead, we need people Mayer’s age — my age — to ask: who are we fighting in Iraq? What are we fighting? Why are we fighting? And for how long?

In December, President Bush met with the Iraq Study Group to discuss the panel’s report on the war. Co-chair James Baker admitted the final report does not contain all the answers.

Still, people keep telling me they know about the war. And people keep telling me they know a lot about the Middle East.

But what do they know?

When a reporter from Congressional Quarterly asked Representative Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex), returning Democratic chair of the House Intelligence Committee, about Hezbollah, Quarterly quoted Reyes as saying, “Hezbollah. Uh, Hezbollah. Why do you ask me these questions at 5 o’clock?” And no, Reyes did not know the difference between Sunni and Shiite either.

But what do I know?

The history of Islam is 14 centuries deep. The number of insurgent groups fighting in Iraq is at least four — the Baathists, the Islamists, the Sunni, the pan-Arab Nationalists. The population of Iraq, a country slightly twice the size of Idaho, is, according to the CIA World Factbook, more than 26 million. There are more than 140,000 US troops currently deployed in Iraq; and, to quote Buzzel, “You know what? . . . If I die over there, no one would give a fuck.”

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