Let us hope the war in Iraq is quick, the death toll is low, and that all dire predictions prove unfounded; let's also hope that we haven't destroyed our own country ideologically in order to save it.
The early press we've seen has been great. All three events -- Film, Interactive, and Music -- seem to have had a very strong year. In its 10th year, Film grew exponentially, with great audiences for most of the films, more press, the best lineup ever, and more distributor interest than we've ever seen. It was thrilling that the breakout film was The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, a political documentary on the current situation in Venezuela. Audiences kept growing, until over 1,000 people attended the final Saturday screening at the Paramount (one of the most successful screenings we've ever done there). Filmmakers were ecstatic (a number told me it was their best Film Festival experience ever); bands were thrilled; and Web designers and innovators were engaged. SXSW 03 was exactly what it was supposed to be: culture both contemplated and enjoyed.
SXSW is my favorite time of the year. Yes, I help put it on, but I really love the event. This has little to do with income and everything to do with passion. Whether or not you buy that is up to you, but I have to say it. My favorite part of SXSW is not the Web sites, movies, and music, but getting to work with an army of people aggressively committed to making the event run as smoothly as it can. In love with their culture, they are damned convinced that they are going to present it in the best light possible. The drive of the staff illuminates my soul. The true gift of my life (besides my family) is that I'm warmed by this heat all year, as the Chronicle staff is every bit as passionate and committed. The gang here at home outdid themselves, turning out hundreds of pages and tons of great writing and reporting in the three SXSW weeklies and the three Chronicle SXSW dailies. If you missed the dailies, check them out online (austinchronicle.com). They were really great this year.
Whenever I'm asked what makes SXSW and the Chronicle work, there is a simple, one-word answer: Austin. My sound bite this year was, "Go to Park City two weeks after Sundance, and there is one theatre showing studio releases. Come to Austin any week of the year and find the same range (if not quantity) of films, music, new media, and interesting people discussing powerful ideas." Thank you.
Still, all was overshadowed by the impending war. By the time you read this, the war may well have begun. Some thoughts:
This invasion was inevitable from the beginning. Every diplomatic negotiation, every ultimatum, every inspection along the way was aimed at the goal of invasion. The equation is simple: Saddam Hussein and Iraq represent an imminent threat to not just the Middle East, but to this country as well. Left in power, Hussein would give financial, tactical, and actual weapon support to terrorists. Once this line of thinking was accepted, the only solution was his removal. UN resolutions, peace treaty violations, the manufacture and possession of illegal weapon supplies, eradicating a reign of unmitigated terror, and liberating the Iraqi people were all excuses. Even if all his weapons were destroyed, if Hussein truly represented a threat, he would simply manufacture new ones. Once the American position was clear -- if not directly, then symbolically Hussein was an author of 9/11 and would be responsible for future acts of terror on American soil -- there was only one conclusion. Hussein in power, no matter how compromised, was still Hussein as a threat.
If the war has started, I hope every hesitation, concern, and fear others and I have expressed is wrong. I hope we go in quickly, cause and sustain minimal damages, and actually begin to rebuild Iraq. May the Washington, D.C., hawks be right, for the sake of a better world. I am filled with doubts and morally torn up, but I so hope my sense of the consequences of this action are wrong.
As I wrote last week, "We are told that swift, decisive military action will destroy the will of the terrorists. Invading Iraq is actually a defensive measure in the war on terrorism. ... Almost every time Israel is struck by terrorists, it swiftly offers an overwhelming military response. That's worked really well, hasn't it? In the face of contradictory evidence, we're rushing into a war that is against this country's best interests." I fear more terrorist activities on our soil, not fewer, in the wake of this invasion. May I be wrong.
Regardless, let it be known that, whether against or in favor of the war, we love and support our troops. A failure of the Vietnam War protests was to blame the soldiers (though this did seem less prevalent at the time than history has defined it). The troops are us; they are not our decision-makers. Each and every one of them goes forth with our greatest love and concern.
American attitude toward countries that disagreed with us was simply shameful: All our actions were principled; all of their concerns were motivated by the sleaziest impulses. If anyone observing the international scene didn't think the U.S. a spoiled, privileged brat with a ridiculous sense of entitlement and the most unsophisticated, jingoistic perspective, they do now.
The great failure of the anti-war movement was its lack of a central organizing sensibility, which was also one of its strengths. There are two reasons to protest. One is to congratulate yourself and empathize with others over a strongly moral position. The other is to try to change minds. The rhetoric of the protests was overwhelmingly the former. Bush bashing, stereotypical anti-war sloganeering, anti-American posturing, a lack of making it clear that Hussein is a monster even if we think our country's response is wrong, drove some of those undecided about the war to favoring it. There was precious little effort to listen to the other side and try to change minds on their terms.
That said, the pro-war right was unusually despicable in their "we believe in free speech but" maneuvering. Whenever the first part of that statement is followed by a "but," you know constitutional considerations are going out the window. Americans do not simply have the right of free speech; they have the obligation to speak out if they think their government is wrong. Instead, again and again, in any way possible, protesters were painted as intentional or naive traitors. The protests were controlled by the far-left crazies; they gave aid to the enemy; they emboldened Hussein; they were fifth columnists; they were dogmatic Democrats who, though they knew the war was right, followed their party line; they were Bush haters; and on and on. Rarely was it declared that they were principled, passionate patriots fulfilling their constitutionally mandated obligation to dissent.
It is surprising that so many are now, very late in the game, declaring that our motivation is to liberate Iraq and grant it freedom when they so strenuously object to the consequences of those ideas at home.
The United States is neither geographically nor materially defined. It is a country based on ideas: that we are equal, that we are endowed with certain rights, that we are protected in the exercise of those rights. There is no action, no idea, no terrorist aberration, no insane foreign government that can trump those ideas. As long as they stand, the country stands. When they go, the country is gone. Once again, a flying wedge of "patriots" is trying to destroy the country to preserve it. Those most outrageously pronouncing their love for America are too often, at the same time, making their contempt for its founding principles all too clear.
I hope the war is quick. I hope the death toll is low. I hope all dire predictions prove unfounded.
But I fear mostly for the peace. I fear a McCarthy-esque reaction against anti-war activists here at home. I fear a government that feels empowered to limit rights and restrict freedoms. I fear demagogues, not just political leaders and talk-show hosts but e-mail spammers, committed to stirring up one segment of Americans to hate another. I fear for the UN. I fear for the U.S. position in the world. I fear for what will happen in Iraq and the Middle East. In light of these concerns, the prayer must be: "May all the fears of others and myself be unfounded." Amen.