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Opening soon in Crawford, Texas.
[Art courtesy of nato]
Believe It or Not
The Next War Museum and Theme Park

It wouldn’t have to be a big museum. More like the size of a presidential library. In fact, make it part of the eventual George W. Bush library, which will need every novelty act it can get. I’m referring to the Iraq War Museum and Theme Park, a place where people can re-live the war’s most memorable hoaxes or experience them for the first time. Imagine the potential interest from school tours. The museum could be part of a franchise famous for its eye-popping attractions: With 39 museums in 13 states and nine countries, including Kuwait (the Bush family’s Kennebunkport of the Persian Gulf ), Ripley’s Believe It or Not would be a natural fit both for underwriting and brand awareness. It would also make Texans happy. Knowing a good swindle when they see one, they already have more Ripley’s attractions than any other state.

Splitting galleries by year is too conventional, but this blueprint is just a starting point. The 2001 room would be the trickiest. Bales of fake hay would have to take up a lot of space, considering the time the president spent at his Crawford movie set that summer chasing terrorists and studying CIA memos about an imminent attack between golf games. To wax nostalgic, there could be a small recreation of those early, pre-9/11 cabinet meetings where the Bush principals drew up the Pentagon’s Baghdad travel plans — until the 2001 attacks gave them Afghanistan for a bonus lay-over.

The 2002 gallery (or the John Wayne Room , for greater appeal) could have a few tom-toms in the background to symbolize the gathering of the war drums, and members of the major media dancing to the rhythms in the foreground. Bush is slapping his knees. He’s not dancing along. He’s just astonished at how easy the whole manipulation thing turned out to be, confirming his contempt for the vaunted White House press corps. The oily guy next to him (it is wax, after all), in jeans and sniffing cognac, is Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador and true U.S. secretary of state until his return to the Arab peninsula in 2005.

The 2003 gallery (a toss-up between the Pinocchio Room and the Colin Powell Show) is the big one. Good video editing building up to Beethoven’s 9 th are key here. There’s Powell’s performance artistry before the United Nations Security Council, where he didn’t fool the world — he never got his Iraq war resolution — but did fool enough Americans about Saddam’s WMD menagerie. There’s the false heroics around the Jessica Lynch convoy wreck on the way to Baghdad, then the tumbling of Saddam’s statue in Fidros Square and the Lynch “rescue,” all of it leading up to the grand finale: The Bush landing on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, and his declaration, in the setting sun off San Diego and to an adoring mass of military groupies, of the end of major combat in Iraq. At least they got the setting sun right.

Which brings up the son et lumière aspect of the museum. Every so often visitors should be stunned silly by the sound of an explosion, or stumble on a corpse, or contend with museum guards dressed as insurgents who kidnap patrons who touch exhibits one time too many. The 2004 and 2005 galleries would appropriately escalate the experience with each year’s ironies: Purple-faced for the American election, purple-fingered for the Iraqi one as both American and Iraqi voters eventually remember that purple was also the royal color of Rome’s, and now Washington’s, Caesars.

A gallery should be devoted to the inventive stories that to this day manage to paint Iraq as a wonderful little corner of Mesopotamia where schools, hospitals, water plants and libraries are being built every day, where the press is free, the markets are bustling (no need to specify what kind of markets), and the mayhem rate is no worse than California’s. Quality-of-life calculators will be provided so museum patrons can do the math by accounting for the 1.5 million refugees and possibly more than half a million dead in a population of 26 million. That’s only 7.7 percent of the population dead or displaced, yielding a terrific 92.3 percent well-being rate.

Outside the museum’s building, the grounds could be turned over to a replica of Baghdad streets and alleys, maybe with Texas rattlesnakes substituting for IEDs and concession stands run by Halliburton (bottled water: $25). The walls of the museum and presidential library could double up for yet another purpose, just about the only really useful one in the entire grounds: as a memorial to the war dead, with hammer and chisel for all those names, still incoming.

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