LONDON — Over here a vexed question at the beginning of the week was, why did the Coalition of the Willing allow the Iraqis to auspicate their government on Monday rather than on Wednesday as planned? Actually the answer is evident: etiquette. Gentlemen do not begin a government in the middle of the week. I hand this insight over to the war’s critics to chew on.
They are obsessed with idiot arguments over the war and its legitimacy, much as the opponents of the war in Vietnam were obsessed with specious and misleading arguments in the 1960s. Once the war ended and the North Vietnamese speedily extended their tyranny over South Vietnam, the anti-war know-it-alls quietly dropped their arguments, historians having now found almost all of them to be without merit. One was that the armies opposing the South Vietnamese government were composed mainly of indigenous South Vietnamese, who only wanted their country free of colonialists. Today those of us burdened by memory and intellect know that those armies were composed mainly of North Vietnamese communists, who became the South’s most tyrannical colonizers.
According to the idiot arguments of today’s war critics, America’s war against Saddam was illegitimate because we have yet to find weapons of mass destruction. Actually the war was legitimatized by three United Nations Security Council Resolutions, numbered 678, 687, and 1441. Moreover, as William Shawcross writes in this week’s London Spectator:
We have discovered illegal missiles which could have been quickly armed. Rolf Ekeus, the careful Swedish former head of the UN weapons inspectors, said last summer that Iraqi policy had been not to produce warfare agents as such but to concentrate on design and engineering “with the purpose of activating production and shipping of warfare agents and munitions directly to the battlefield in the event of war.” He called the attacks on Bush and Blair for the failure to find weapons stockpiles “a distortion and trivialization of a major threat to international peace and security.”
Who is Shawcross? During the Vietnam War he produced Sideshow, a book that provided the war’s critics one of their favorite idiot arguments against our involvement in Vietnam, to wit, the bombing of Cambodia transformed anti-government forces in Cambodia into practitioners of genocide. Shawcross has revised some of the book’s arguments today and become one of the most intelligent advocates of the war against Saddam. Some people learn from experience and want the West and its decent values to triumph. Others want to continue to harangue the defenders of the West even as they enjoy all the comforts the West has to offer.
YET I DID NOT COME to London to indulge in politics. I came on my annual pilgrimage for art’s sake. Every year, accompanied by the British illustrator/painter John Springs, I head over to this city’s National Portrait Gallery to take in what is called the BP Portrait Award showing and to have a few laughs. The competing portraits are mostly rubbish basking in the afterglow of the 1960s revolt against taste. Generally the perpetrators of the paintings, usually middle aged and middle class, through unrestrained dreariness and repetition, show how slavishly enthralled the “cutting edge” of Western art is to the 1960s. Few have had a new idea since Andy Warhol’s last headache.
Springs, an artist of taste and wit, is always eager to point out the mediocre technique and unimaginativeness. And so we parade past portraits of faces with open sores and abundant nose hair. We see fat ladies in dirty bras. We see garish portrayals of the down and out. One farceur is portrayed holding a rabbit standing perpendicular to her hand, if memory serves. Another paints a shirtless man in baggy pants that complement his baggy upper body.
It is all quite tiresome, though watching the entranced crowd is amusing. This year’s winner is “Miracle Child,” a dismal painting of a child in a desolate state being held by its despairing mother surrounded by graffiti. The painter explains in a notice next to his piffle that this is a painting of his child who was born after some medically perilous struggle. He is artless enough to include a photograph of his wife, who in real life looks quite prosperous and sunny.
The one fundamental value that reformers whether in government or the arts always adhere to is disturbing the peace. For decades now forward-looking artists have sought to shake us up with their shocking productions. Now what would shake us up would be a display of talent and taste. It would also get a painter booted from the ever reliable BP Portrait show.