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New Orleans -- At cocktail parties nobody mentions the Gulf war anymore, and if anyone does, everyone else either moves away or pretends that it was so long ago it isn't worth remembering.

People are suffering from a baffling post-war shock similar to certain snake bites that feel like nothing at the time but over a period of month, they slowly paralyze the victim. Maybe we've all been bitten so quick we don't know what hit us and now we are slowly stiffening. Maybe we will eventually come out of it the way old generals suddenly come out of it when they retire.

When old generals retire they have sudden spasms of conscience about their deeds. Here is Gen. Smedley D. Butler, one of the finest Marine Corps officers in history, two-time winner of the Medal of Honor:

"I spent thirty-three years and four months in active service . . . I spent most of that time being a high-class muscle man for Wall Street, and for the bankers . . . I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys . . . I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916 . . . In China, in 1927 I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went unmolested . . ."

Gen. Butler goes on in this vein. The New World Order . . . ugh ugh.

Well, the world's changed some since General Butler's days and one of the ways in which it's changed is that few people dare speak their minds publicly as crisply as the general did. And another way in which it has changed is that we never see the faces of our enemies any more except on TV.

My friend John Clark told me that the next war would be fought by everyone from his or her personal computer at home. The targets come up, you shoot them down. No casualties for our side. The general calls on the phone to see how it's hanging.

And the best thing about it is, once your workday is done, you wash your hands, sit down to dinner and never say another word about it. Just like we're doing now.

Andrei Codrescu teaches writing at Louisiana State University.

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