SEPTEMBER 27, 2001

Though mild clear weather
Smile again on the shire of your esteem
And its colors come back, the storm has changed you:

You will not forget, ever,
The darkness blotting out hope, the gale
Prophesying your downfall.

You must live with your knowledge.
Way back, beyond, outside of you are others,
In moonless absences you never heard of,
Who have certainly heard of you,
Beings of unknown number and gender:

And they do not like you.

What have you done to them?
Nothing? Nothing is not an answer;
You will come to believe – how can you help it? –
That you did, you did do something;
You will find yourself wishing you could make them laugh,
You will long for their friendship.

There will be no peace.
Fight back, then, with such courage as you have
And every unchivalrous dodge you know of,
Clear in your conscience on this:

Their cause, if they had one, is nothing to them now;
They hate for hate’s sake.

– “There Will Be No Peace”, by W. H. Auden, 1956, (with thanks to L.M. Moore who first posted this on a <a HREF = http://slate.msn.com/code/thefray/thefray.asp?m=1978537 TARGET = NEW>Slate fray discussion thread).

HATHOS ALERT: If you really want to engage in an orgiastic feast of Blame-America-First-ism, take a look at these contributions to the insufferably smug and irredeemably leftist London Review of Books. There are some American writers here, and some worthwhile thoughts, but there’s plenty of pretentious cant as well. My favorite is lit-crit guru Fredric Jameson, who manages to blame the event on the suppression of the left in the Third World. Here’s a snippet: “Historical events, however, are not punctual, but extend in a before and after of time which only gradually reveal themselves. It has, to be sure, been pointed out that the Americans created bin Laden during the Cold War (and in particular during the Soviet war in Afghanistan), and that this is therefore a textbook example of dialectical reversal. But the seeds of the event are buried deeper than that. They are to be found in the wholesale massacres of the Left systematically encouraged and directed by the Americans in an even earlier period. The physical extermination of the Iraqi and the Indonesian Communist Parties, although now historically repressed and forgotten, were crimes as abominable as any contemporary genocide. It is, however, only now that the results are working their way out into actuality, for the resultant absence of any Left alternative means that popular revolt and resistance in the Third World have nowhere to go but into religious and ‘fundamentalist’ forms.” Bet you never thought of that. Marxism could have saved us!

SPIN-ZONE: Several of you have asked for sources for my statement that it now seems that there was a) no basis for the assertion that Air Force One and president Bush received a phoned coded threat on September 11 and b) that the plane that hit the Pentagon was destined for the White House. My source for a) was an Associated Press report that “administration officials said they now doubt whether there was actually a call made threatening the president’s plane, Air Force One.” There was some “misunderstanding” among officials, apparently. No record of the alleged call can be found. CBS News also reported Tuesday night that no such threat had been made. My source for b) was also CBS News correspondent Bob Orr’s examination of the radar evidence for the plane’s flight path. The story is followed up today by Jake Tapper at Salon. I’d be only too happy to be shown evidence backing the administration’s claims, but so far, the evidence seems to be overwhelmingly against them. Some of you have pointed out that is a deeply petty issue. I couldn’t agree more. But that’s all the more reason why the White House shouldn’t be sending out these misleading signals – to people who are basically friendly to them.

KARL ROVE’S LIES

I asked recently for Maureen Dowd to provide the evidence for her scoop that there was no basis for Ari Fleischer’s and Karl Rove’s statements that AirForce One had been targeted on September 11, and that there were credible coded threats to it. It now seems that Maureen was right and I was wrong to doubt her. I apologize. There were no such threats. The White House has said that staffers misinterpreted statements from security officials. That’s stretches credulity. It also appears that the flight path of the relevant plane did not, as was previously stated, circle the White House and the Capitol building before plowing into the Pentagon. So we were directly lied to by two senior administration officials. There was no need. There was plenty of reason for the president to get to a secure communications base as soon as possible on September 11, and plenty of reason to avoid Washington during an extremely uncertain time. So why the lies? Were these people spinning at a time of grave national crisis? And I thought the Clinton era was over.

MUST-READ I

Superb and devastating piece by Jake Tapper in Salon on the craven and dubious posturing of the official Muslim lobby groups in the U.S., specifically the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the American Muslim Council (AMC). Who do they really represent? Why have they not been able to say without reservation that they condemn bin Laden? Jake nails this one dead. Another feather in the cap of the sensible, liberal, fighting left.

MUST-READ II: Perhaps the most enlightening and elegant essay on this conflict that I’ve so far read was written well before September 11. In fact, it was written eleven years ago – by the peerless scholar of Islam, Bernard Lewis, in the Atlantic – and is called “The Roots of Muslim Rage.” Check it out. It makes for deeply sobering reading, and is an essential counter-weight to some of the bromides peddled by, among others, president Bush’s Catholic ghost-writer, David Forte.

REUTERS TIPS: Late entries for euphemisms for terrorists: “Deconstructionists;” “faith-based demolition engineers.”

THE POWELL SYNDROME

An important editorial in the Washington Post today. The last few days have seemed to indicate the growing influence of Colin Powell in the administration, a truly ominous sign. The president’s statement in his speech last Thursday that the Taliban would share the fate of the terrorists if they didn’t hand bin Laden over has apparently been abandoned. Powell clearly wants the meekest of responses – limited to a few of bin Laden’s operatives, leaving the Taliban regime in place, and Saddam as well. As Bill Kristol has observed and as an astute letter to the site today notes, Powell seems dismissive of the president in public, and undercut the president’s speech in the Sunday news shows. My hope is that Bush is using Powell for good purposes – to soothe allies, talk softly – while we prepare for serious action against not only the terrorists but all the regimes that sponsor them. My fear is that Powell is calling the shots and that the alliance is taking precedence over the action we need to take – which is a recipe for the same failure as the ill-completed Gulf War. Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice: don’t let Powell screw up again! This time, as the Post rightly observes, failure is not an option.

MEMO TO REUTERS: Thanks for your suggestions for Reuters to use instead of the dread and terribly unobjective word “terrorists.” “Compassion-challenged advocates” has an Oprah-esque quality. “Aeronautical Fundamentalists” distinguishes them from the 700 Club, but doesn’t quite capture their aggressive tendencies. They could be evangelicals on the shuttle. “Collateral damage coordinators” has its merits. But I vote for “casualty facilitators.” Maybe even Peter Jennings could spit that one out.

CHEMICAL WARFARE AGAIN: It seems irrefutable now that chemical and/or biological weapons are going to be used in some manner at some point against American citizens by the enemy. Read this chilling piece in the Washington Post which explains that bin Laden’s Islamic extremists have been training for just such an attack. Today’s New York Times reports on arrests of several people planning to capture hazardous chemicals. So why do we have, so far as I can tell, no civil defense preparation? The Times argues cogently that nightmare scenarios – like the successful contamination of reservoirs – are unlikely, but not as cogently that subways may not be death-traps. We surely need to ratchet up public health monitoring of potential outbreaks. But why are there not plans for mass manufacture and distribution of gas-masks? Is it because we will only find out we’ve been gassed after it’s too late? If so, why are they available for members of Congress? Coming back to Washington, this kind of attack is the only thing I’m actually afraid of. Maybe I’m just another worried post-boomer, the kind Maureen Dowd lampoons today. Correspondents have tried to reassure me, but I’m not reassured. Why do we have to wait for the worst to happen before we take some elementary precautions to avoid it?

LETTERS: In defense of our universities; Pollitt and Lessing; a Canadian vents; Powell and Acheson – a revealing contrast; etc.

PATRIOTISM DEFENDED: “Patriotism has, then, many faces. Those who would reject it entirely do not seem to have considered what will certainly step – has already begun to step – into its place. For a long time yet, or perhaps forever, nations will live in danger. Rulers must somehow nerve their subjects to defend them or at least to prepare for their defense. Where the sentiment of patriotism has been destroyed this can be done only by presenting every international conflict in a purely ethical light. If people will spend neither sweat nor blood for “their country” they must be made to feel that they are spending them for justice, or civilization, or humanity. This is a step down, not up. Patriotic sentiment did not of course need to disregard ethics. Good men needed to be convinced that their country’s cause was just; but it was still their country’s cause, not the cause of justice as such. The difference seems to me important. I may without self-righteousness or hypocrisy think it just to defend my house by force against a burglar; but if I start pretending that I blacked his eye purely on moral grounds – wholly indifferent to the fact that the house in question is mine – I become insufferable….If our country’s cause is the cause of God, wars must be wars of annihilation.” – C.S. Lewis, “The Four Loves.”

AMERICA RISING: A small interruption for a somewhat novel way of celebrating patriotism. Freedom of expression – and a tree carved into a 7-foot phallus with Old Glory on top. Just what would Katha Pollitt say?

PATRIOTISM DEFINED

“Patriotism opposes the lone representative of democracy who was brave enough to vote her conscience instead of following an angry mob. (Several others have confessed they wanted to vote the same way, but chickened out.) Patriotism threatens free speech with death. It is infuriated by thoughtful hesitation, constructive criticism of our leaders and pleas for peace. It despises people of foreign birth who’ve spent years learning our culture and contributing their talents to our economy. It has specifically blamed homosexuals, feminists and the American Civil Liberties Union. In other words, the American flag stands for intimidation, censorship, violence, bigotry, sexism, homophobia, and shoving the Constitution through a paper shredder?” This is Barbara Kingsolver’s response to the many, many Americans who are not for intimidation, censorship, bigotry, sexism and whatever, and yet who also take pride in a symbol of country and freedom. Kingsolver still won’t sign on to Old Glory, and her view of history is, to say the least, a little undeveloped. Here she is on the Gulf War: “In the Persian Gulf War we rushed to the aid of Kuwait, a monarchy in which women enjoyed approximately the same rights as a 19th century American slave. The values we fought for and won there are best understood, I think, by oil companies. Meanwhile, a country of civilians was devastated, and remains destroyed.” Hmmm. No mention of Iraq or Saddam or aggression or the invasion of Kuwait. The selective nature of some of these people’s memory is truly remarkable. No mention either of the truly fanatical hatred of women, gays, Jews and so on, represented by the Taliban. I have been asked by many to stop quoting these idiocies of the far left. Sorry, but no deal. I absolutely, categorically defend far leftists’ right to write or say whatever they think, without fear or intimidation. But equally, it seems to me that exposing their nihilism, narcissism and illogic is also an important duty. Some people take these writers seriously. It’s time they didn’t.

DUNKIRK IN NEW YORK: A beautiful piece somewhat mitigating the dreck the Observer has been running elsewhere. An Australian, Peter Carey, pays tribute to his new city: “Now our neighbourhood has become a command centre. That evening we are standing on the corner of Houston and 6th Avenue watching the huge earth-moving equipment and heavy trucks rolling, bumper to bumper, in a never-ending parade towards the devastation. Here is the endless might and wealth of America. Here are the drivers, like soldiers, heroes. These are not military vehicles but huge trucks from small companies in Connecticut and New Jersey, from Bergen and Hackensack. Seeing all these individuals rise to the crisis, with their American flags stuck out of windows and taped to radio aerials, I am reminded of Dunkirk. I am moved. We are all moved. The crowds come out to cheer them. I do too, without reserve.”

MEMO TO REUTERS

A reader sends in some Newspeak terms for Reuters to use to describe the September 11 terrorists: “asymmetric warfare specialists” or “civilian elimination engineers.” Other euphemisms welcomed.

HITCH VERSUS THE LEFT: Hitchens goes at it again, taking on his own friends in the Nation. It’s ok for me to bang on about the Left. They hate me anyway. But Hitchens’ brilliant little piece skewers them like a well-done kebab. Here’s one favorite rhetorical flourish: “But straight away, we meet people who complain at once that this enemy is us, really. Did we not aid the grisly Taliban to achieve and hold power? Yes indeed “we” did. Well, does this not double or triple our responsibility to remove them from power? A sudden sheep-like silence, broken by a bleat.” LOL.

MOVE OVER, PETER JENNINGS: “My daughter, who goes to Stuyvesant High School only blocks from the World Trade Center, thinks we should fly an American flag out our window. Definitely not, I say: The flag stands for jingoism and vengeance and war… It seems impossible to explain to a 13-year-old, for whom the war in Vietnam might as well be the War of Jenkins’s Ear, the connection between waving the flag and bombing ordinary people half a world away back to the proverbial stone age. I tell her she can buy a flag with her own money and fly it out her bedroom window, because that’s hers, but the living room is off-limits.” – Katha Pollitt, The Nation. These domestic scenes sound like a hilarious red-diaper version of Absolutely Fabulous, where hippie mom and nerdy daughter fight their own little cultural war. I’m with the kid.

NO OLD GLORY FOR ABC

Howie Kurtz reports today that ABC News reporters and staffers are going to be barred from wearing small American flag pins during this war. “Objectivity” is the key. As if anyone believed Peter Jennings would allow something obscene like love of country to infect his broadcast. Reuters will also apparently ban the use of the word “terrorist” from its lexicon. Too biased. “We’re trying to treat everyone on a level playing field, however tragic it’s been and however awful and cataclysmic for the American people and people around the world,” Reuters official Stephen Jukes tells Howie. Then he gets to the real reason: “We don’t want to jeopardize the safety of our staff. Our people are on the front lines, in Gaza, the West Bank and Afghanistan. The minute we seem to be siding with one side or another, they’re in danger.” And what exactly do you call people who massacre over 6,000 innocent civilians? Operatives? Campaigners? Peace-workers? Newspeak is alive and well – and harbored in the cowardly heart of Reuters.

GOOD FOR HERBERT: Bob Herbert gives me the willies a lot of the time, but say this for him: he’s open-minded and his tribute to president Bush’s address to Congress was gracious and true.

FAREWELL, MARK

So fitting that Mark Bingham should have had Senator John McCain at his private memorial service. And quite typical that the Senator was glad to be there. Bingham was a Republican, gay and a hero who supported McCain’s campaign early on. For McCain to point out how much Mark did to save this country from even worse horror was particularly touching. It helps erase the stench from the Amos Brown grandstanding of last week. I’m proud to reprint part of the Senator’s eulogy here: “I never knew Mark Bingham. But I wish I had. I know he was a good son and friend, a good rugby player, a good American, and an extraordinary human being. He supported me, and his support now ranks among the greatest honors of my life. I wish I had known before September 11 just how great an honor his trust in me was. I wish I could have thanked him for it more profusely than time and circumstances allowed. But I know it now. And I thank him with the only means I possess, by being as good an American as he was.” May he rest in peace.

LETTERS: Reports on the far left’s anti-Americanism around the country; war and legitimate dissent; denial and death. Get ready to be cheered up.

SCRAP THE CONSTITUTION: It’s a pretty good rule these days that the comments of anyone writing from the faculty of a leading American university about this event will be constrained from telling it like it is. American academia is currently in thrall to post-modern, post-colonialist nihilism in which any moral judgment – except knee-jerk demonization of Caucasians – is verboten. So part of the amusement of reading these people in the mainstream press is watching their ideology collide with common sense. Take a look at Yale scholar Lamin Sanneh’s op-ed piece in the New York Times today. The following sentences ring with all the clarity of a dark, impenetrable fog: “Muslim leaders need to embark on programs of democratic renewal – with the support of the West, if necessary. The West needs to overcome its insistence that the nation-state must be secular to be legitimate. The West should recognize that specific cultural values and political policy may intersect without threatening civil liberties, and that religion can play an important role in public life. That would enable Muslims to engage with the West without endorsing secularism.” What on earth does that mean? There are simply no Arab-Muslim states with even a semblance of democracy, and none that looks like fertile ground. They are all dictatorships or theocracies or some hideous combination of the two, despite billions in aid from the U.S. The pro-democracy forces in, say, Egypt or Saudi Arabia, are all but non-existent, and the main challenges to the despots come from even more fanatical mullahs. I’m sorry but a blithe call for “programs of democratic renewal” in those countries is all but meaningless. Besides, the West has accepted as legitimate the semi-religious satrapy of Saudi Arabia, while that regime has fostered the very fanaticism we now confront. The second point from Sanneh seems to be some sort of call for the Western nations to abandon their own sharp delineation between Church and State, i.e. a repeal of the First Amendment. Or some sort of greater fusion of presumably Christian public values with our politics. And this is supposed to help Muslims engage with the West? Gee, smart thinking on that one. Maybe if we put a cross in the middle of the Mall, they’ll have a better target next time. I think this article is a classic in seeing how many of our current academics, parroting leftist dogmas to themselves and their poor, bewildered students for so long, have nothing much to tell us at a moment like this. In fact, their long endorsement of moral nihilism paved the way for the decadence and irrelevance we now see endemic on the far left.

DOWD’S SCOOP: Maureen Dowd, who has seen her entire year-long analysis of George W. Bush demolished before her eyes, keeps up the animosity in Sunday’s column. I wish Maureen would give the guy a second chance. Bush has shown he is not lazy, not dumb, not incompetent, not a puppet. Today’s New York Times’ story about the president reveals someone adept at management and decision-making, trusting a black woman as his most important confidant. You’d think that combo might make some liberals take a pause and reassess the man. Dowd even has a scoop on her hands, at least I think it’s one: “Karl Rove, Mr. Bush’s political strategist, is in the middle of our national security crisis. First, he called around town, trying to sell reporters the story – now widely discredited – that Mr. Bush didn’t immediately return to Washington on Sept. 11 because the plane that was headed for the Pentagon may have really been targeting the White House, and that Air Force One was in jeopardy, too.” Funny, but I haven’t read anywhere a story showing that the alleged coded threat to Airforce One and the White House was made up to give the president political cover. That is an extraordinary claim and surely deserves some evidence. Dowd is accusing the president of a bald-faced lie about our national security at a uniquely dangerous and important moment. Can we have something a bit more solid than “widely discredited”? Come on, Maureen. Tell us what you know.

FAREWELL, PTOWN: Finally flying back to DC tomorrow. They’ve just draped the hideous Pilgrim Monument with red, white and blue lights, and the mist is coming in off the bay. I feel enormous sadness leaving this little place, not least because it’s far safer than where I’m headed; but also because its calm and eerie beauty has helped keep me and others sane these past couple of weeks. I do want to say, however, that this little town of such diversity and counter-culture has done itself proud. The memorials, the crowds, the gentle hugs on the street, the bonfires and tears, the flags jammed onto boats and trucks – they all showed that beneath our differences, some things endure. A drag show benefit at the Atlantic House raised over $10,000 for the American Red Cross a few days ago. How’s that for a symbol? My one deep hope is that through this awful conflict, we may relearn the importance of a citizenship and community that transcends our particular identity. And part of that started here.