You may only read this site if you've purchased Our Kampf from Amazon or Powell's or me
• • •
"Mike and Jon, Jon and Mike—I've known them both for years, and, clearly, one of them is very funny. As for the other: truly one of the great hangers-on of our time."—Steve Bodow, head writer, The Daily Show

"Who can really judge what's funny? If humor is a subjective medium, then can there be something that is really and truly hilarious? Me. This book."—Daniel Handler, author, Adverbs, and personal representative of Lemony Snicket

"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming

August 09, 2007

Washington, D.C.: Worst City On Earth?

Growing up outside Washington, D.C., I knew I hated it but I wasn't sure exactly why. Now that I'm older, I understand my feelings more clearly. One reason I hate Washington is because it has the highest density on earth of people who genuinely and sincerely love war.

Here's Randolph Bourne in his famous 1918 essay, "War is the Health of the State":

The classes which are able to play an active and not merely a passive role in the organization for war get a tremendous liberation of activity and energy. Individuals are jolted out of their old routine, many of them are given new positions of responsibility, new techniques must be learned...A vast sense of rejuvenescence pervades the significant classes, a sense of new importance in the world....Every individual citizen who in peacetimes had no function to perform by which he could imagine himself an expression or living fragment of the State becomes an active amateur agent of the Government...

And from three weeks after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, here's famous New York Times reporter R.W. Apple unconsciously explaining how Bourne was completely right:

August 20, 1990

The obituaries were a bit premature.

There is still one superpower in the world, and it is the United States. More than any other country in the world, its interests, its exposure and its reach are global, as the events of the last two weeks have demonstrated so vividly.

Washington is not the backwater that it seemed to some when the action was all in the streets of Prague or at the Berlin wall....there is a rush of excitement in the air here. In news bureaus and Pentagon offices, dining rooms and lobbyists' hangouts, the fever is back - the heavy speculation, the avid gossip, the gung-ho, here's-where-it's-happening spirit, that marks the city when it grapples with great events.

''These days, conversations are huddled,'' said Stan Bromley, the manager of the Four Seasons Hotel, where King Hussein of Jordan stayed. ''People are leaning closer together. It's serious business.''

Washington is full of individuals who are bored by the idea of raising children, or curing diseases, or building bridges that don't collapse. But dealing out death in great quantities—that they find very, very interesting indeed.

(Thanks to Chris E. for reminding me of what Bourne said.)

Posted at August 9, 2007 03:45 PM | TrackBack

To say nothing of conspiracy - Washington is a hotbed of people like the Clinton's, the Ford's, the Kennedy's, the Rockefeller's, the Bush's, who realize the only thing that stands between people and peace/prosperity is them.

Posted by: A different Matt at August 9, 2007 05:04 PM

I'm reluctant to say that Washington genuinely and sincerely loves war. What Washington genuinely and sincerely loves is inflicting war on others.

There is a big difference between lustful desire to destroy small countries for God and United Fruit and a lustful desire to engage in actual wars where you might have to rush to a bomb shelter only to emerge hours later to find that your house no longer exists. The former is what Washington elites love. The latter is war and is something with which Washington elites have no experience.

Posted by: anon at August 9, 2007 05:52 PM

Highest density on earth of people who genuinely and sincerely love war.

Maybe if you're talking only about Georgetown, or the suburbs. Or if you are speaking about Washington as a symbol rather than a real place where real people live, many of them poor and disenfranchised. I assure you, in actual fact the vast majority of the population of Washington D.C. feels quite differently - just look at their voting records in the past 30 elections. Orange County, CA is much worse - engineers who work for defense contractors are some of the most callous people I've ever met.

Posted by: vanya at August 9, 2007 07:25 PM

Maybe if you're talking only about Georgetown, or the suburbs.

Yes, you're obviously right. Most of the actual people who live in Washington are completely different from the governing class in the DC area, and it's the governing class I have (and Apple had) in mind.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at August 9, 2007 07:41 PM

From someone living among them (Northern VA):

1. They love any activity the government engages in, including war, because they are insiders (active or passive) to the execution. War? Let's do it "efficiently" and win. Good for my department, unit. me.
2. Moral judgments elude them. They are mostly products of our elite or sub-elite colleges, primed to get As in courses or in life. The content, of either, doesn't matter.

They are self-absorbed, self-important and only give a damn about their family and a few friends or business associates.

Posted by: donescobar at August 9, 2007 08:00 PM
They are mostly products of our elite or sub-elite colleges, primed to get As in courses or in life. The content, of either, doesn't matter.

Nice. Yes, that's exactly my observation too. In my own little corner of that world, I know Samantha Power, Kenneth Pollack, Frederick Kagan, Dana Milbank, and Michael Rubin were all at Yale at the same time.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at August 9, 2007 08:07 PM

Mahatma Gandhi said that the thing that disappointed him most about Western society was "the hardheartedness of the well educated." Here in Missouri we have our own West County and Creve Coeur engineers working for defense, and I find them despicable--and completely socially accepted. You couldn't BE a better person than designing war gadgets for Boeing.

I mean, these people go to CHURCH and all. They raise FAMILIES. They give to CHARITY.

Posted by: VL at August 9, 2007 09:46 PM

Somebody remembers Randolph Bourne? Major cool! He is one of those prophetic voices often lost in the shouting of short-term historical memory. Good to see him quoted.

Posted by: LarryE at August 9, 2007 10:20 PM

Samantha Power, Kenneth Pollack, Frederick Kagan, Dana Milbank, and Michael Rubin were all at Yale at the same time

And Jon, think how much less enlightened they'd all be, had they not been exposed to the soul-scouring wit of The Yale Record!

Lo! The power of satire!

Posted by: Mike of Angle at August 10, 2007 03:05 AM

the only way you know you've won is when they beg.

Posted by: hapa at August 11, 2007 12:10 PM

Actually, the highest concentration of people who love war is just outside of Washington, DC, in Virginia. It's called the Pentagon. It also happens to be the largest (or second largest) government office building in the country. It's obvious that you are speaking of Washington, DC as a symbol, not the actual city. Please leave me and the the people who actually live in DC out of your sweeping generalization.

Posted by: Deedle at August 12, 2007 05:53 AM

To get double technical deedle, the Pentagon is officially part of Washington DC. Not sure why, probably some sort of Federal rule


Pentagon, Washington, DC 20001 - Dept. of Defense

Posted by: graeme at August 15, 2007 11:21 PM