SEPTEMBER 18 2001

“The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error
Our only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre –
To be redeemed from fire by fire.”

– Little Gidding, T.S. Eliot, composed in 1941 and published in 1943.

APPEASEMENT WATCH: “Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a “cowardly” attack on “civilization” or “liberty” or “humanity” or “the free world” but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq? And if the word “cowardly” is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill others. In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday’s slaughter, they were not cowards.” – Susan Sontag, The New Yorker. Where does one begin with this pretentious buffoon? My favorite bit of claptrap is that weird little parenthesis: “courage (a morally neutral virtue)”. Says who? Real courage – not rashness or fanaticism – is anything but morally neutral. It is bravery in pursuit of what is good and noble. Read your Aristotle lately, Susan? Sontag clearly believes that the demons who just killed over 5,000 innocent civilians are more courageous than those American pilots who police northern Iraq in order to prevent another gas-attack by Saddam on his own population. She’s always been pretentious. Now she’s revealed herself as contemptible.

LETTERS: You respond to the war. Looking for God; a new mood in the military; bio-chemical data; why Wright is right; etc.

THE LIMITS OF INTELLIGENCE: Fellow me-ziner Mike Antonucci makes an interesting point about too easily talking about the failure of our intelligence. “Of course it was an intelligence failure,” Antonucci writes. “But we need to be very specific about what part of the system failed. Many experts have blamed this on an overdependence on electronic intelligence gathering at the expense of human intelligence gathering. While these two methods do seem to be out of balance, it is far from certain that spies would have prevented the attacks. Case in point: Two days before the World Trade Center crumbled, Ahmed Shah Massoud, the famous leader of the mujahidin resistance during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, was assassinated. Massoud was the primary military leader of the Northern Alliance, the ongoing rebel opposition to the Taliban, the fundamentalist rulers of Afghanistan. It is fair to assume that Massoud had dozens, if not hundreds, of spies in Kabul to pass critical information to him and his forces. He knew his enemies’ mind, having fought with them for 10 years. He spoke the same language, knew their customs, and had the advantage of close proximity to his sources of information. How was he killed? Two men, posing as television journalists from Morocco and Tunisia, detonated a bomb hidden in a camera. Perhaps bin Laden himself had his agents perform this service for his Taliban benefactors.” Makes sense to me – and is both reassuring and chilling at the same time.

TOMBSTONES REVISITED: “…The objective historian realizes that the twentieth century is in transition to a remarkable new technology and a formidable new environment before we have learned how to handle the old ones. Who’s afraid of the big, bad buildings? Everyone, because there are so many things about gigantism that we just don’t know. The gamble of triumph or tragedy at this scale-and ultimately it is a gamble–demands an extraordinary payoff. The Trade Center towers could be the start of a new skyscraper age or the biggest tombstones in the world.” – Ada Louise Huxtable, “World Trade Center: Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Buildings?” New York Times, May 29, 1966

WHOSE CENSORSHIP?: Who is protesting grotesque Palestinian censorship of Western photographers and journalists? Er, no-one but Jonah Goldberg. The journalists’ crime? Reporting on widespread Palestinian support for killing Jews and Americans. But shhhh. Don’t tell Susan Sontag. She doesn’t want to know.

THE ANGEL IN THE WHIRLWIND: Historians will surely go back to George W. Bush’s Inaugural Address when they deal with his actions as a war president. A reader pointed out the prophetic nature of his remarks – unwitting though they may have been: “Americans are generous and strong and decent, not because we believe in ourselves, but because we hold beliefs beyond ourselves. When this spirit of citizenship is missing, no government program can replace it. When this spirit is present, no wrong can stand against it. After the Declaration of Independence was signed, Virginia statesman John Page wrote to Thomas Jefferson: ‘We know the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong. Do you not think an angel rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm?’ Much time has passed since Jefferson arrived for his inauguration. The years and changes accumulate. But the themes of this day he would know: our nation’s grand story of courage and its simple dream of dignity. We are not this story’s author, who fills time and eternity with his purpose. Yet his purpose is achieved in our duty, and our duty is fulfilled in service to one another. Never tiring, never yielding, never finishing, we renew that purpose today, to make our country more just and generous, to affirm the dignity of our lives and every life.”