SEPTEMBER 14, 2001

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

– John McCrae

REBUILD IT: Someone sent me this small quote from a book on architecture. It’s from Minoru Yamasaki, the designer of the World Trade Center. Yamasaki wrote: “The World Trade Center should, because of its importance, become a living representation of man’s belief in humanity, his need for individual dignity, his belief in the co-operation of men, and through this co-operation his ability to find greatness.” No wonder these demons destroyed it. I want Bush tomorrow to say that we will rebuild it – taller, bigger, stronger. And that the flag that was placed by firefighters in the rubble should fly one day on its roof.

FALWELL GOES BEYOND THE PALE: So far relatively few have used this terrible tragedy for political points. Here is what Jerry Falwell said on the 700 Club: “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way – all of them who have tried to secularize America – I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.'” Pat Robertson concurred: “Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted their agenda at the highest levels of our government.” I cannot express how personally wounded I and so many others are by his attempt to associate many Americans – some of whom were victims of this evil and some of whom were heroes – with the demons who carried it out. It is unspeakably wrong and inappropriate. We are at war. We must stand together or we will fail.

APOLOGIES: I’m sorry for the thin dish today. I have just finished two essays for the New York Times magazine and the Sunday Times of London on this event and its meaning. I’ve written over 6000 words in one day and I’m spent. Worse, it was impossible to think and write honestly about this without seeing the screen blur with the tears in my eyes. In my life as a writer, I’ve never come across an event that I could not somehow professionally analyze and dissect with some enthusiasm and zest. But this was just something I deeply didn’t want to write. I just wanted the event to be undone. I realize more than ever that, seventeen years after coming to this amazing place, I am an American now. When they placed the flag on the rubble, I wept as I have rarely wept before. And then when I saw the Queen’s Guards at Buckingham palace play the Star Spangled Banner, it occurred to me how deeply appropriate this was. Isn’t everyone on the side of civilization an honorary American now? It is hard to realize after this unspeakable act that we are not alone. There is hatred for America and it is loud and powerful. But beneath that, around the world, there is also a quiet reservoir of love and gratitude that foreign national pride will not always allow full expression. We must remember that. And we must not let them down. They are watching now to see what we do and what kind of people we are. We must show them as we have never shown them before that a deep humanity and an unremitting rage are not incompatible. We must show them what we are made of – and keep their hope alive.

APPEASEMENT LIVES

A classic piece of appeasement appeared today under the guise of restraint and reason. My former colleague and friend Robert Wright argues in Slate against unilateral American action against the forces and states that have just declared war upon the United States. “[K]illing Islamic fundamentalist terrorists (which the perpetrators almost certainly were) can be not just ineffective, but counterproductive.” This is the familiar argument of those who believe that these acts of fanaticism cannot be avenged without spawning more fanaticism. Kill one suicide bomber and you create four more. Wright’s argument is that our new enemies are “simply not susceptible to normal deterrence.” If Wright means by this that the indoctrinated handful of young fanatics who will always remain a threat cannot be deterred, he may be right. That is why these people must be hunted down and assassinated, and why we must kill any and all who surround or abet them. But the states and regimes that survive by fostering this evil surely can be deterred – and not by polite threats or warnings. In fact, the absence of a serious deadly response will only convince them to continue to foster the evil in their midst, and it will only get worse. Wright entertains the fallacy that because we can never eliminate all threats, we cannot eliminate any. His argument is simply defeatism. In 1940, many similarly well-intentioned urged Chamberlain to sue for peace, as whole swathes of the British establishment wanted, and as narrow British self-interest might even have required. Look what the consequences of war were back in 1940: the destruction of almost every major city in Britain. But Churchill was right to fight – even though it meant the deaths of hundreds of thousands of British soldiers and civilians. And he was right to say that there would be no surrender even if the entire city of London were reduced to rubble. A shocking statement that, isn’t it? But it reflects an iron will that we must now summon for ourselves.

THIS ISN’T TERRORISM, IT’S WAR: Besides, this enemy is not simply a band of thugs, but several regimes that aid and abet these people and have celebrated this atrocity. These regimes have declared war on the United States, and it is time we repay the favor. The precedent is not the Sudan under Clinton or even Libya under Reagan. Under Clinton, these regimes were encouraged. Under Reagan, they were scared, but, under Reagan, they had not yet launched this kind of war. Now they have – even daring to target one of the citadels of our democracy: the White House. This is the most grievous declaration of war against America in history. What Wright hasn’t absorbed, I think, is that we are no longer fighting terrorism. We are at war. And we are not at war with any old regime or even a handful of terrorists. We are at war with an evil that will only grow unless it is opposed with all the might at our command. We must wage that war with a ferocity that doesn’t merely scare these monsters but terrifies them. Merely murdering bin Laden is a laughable response. If this new war can be waged with partners – specifically Russia, NATO, China – so much the better. But if not, the United States must act alone – and as soon as we can be assured of complete success. There are times when it is not inappropriate or even immoral to use overwhelming power merely to terrify and avenge. Read your Machiavelli. We must shock them more than they have shocked us. We must do so with a force not yet seen in human history. Then we can begin to build a future of greater deterrence. I repeat: we are not responding to terrorism any more. We are at war. And war requires no restraint, simply massive and unanswerable force until the enemy is not simply defeated but unconditionally destroyed. To hesitate for fear of reprisal is to have capitulated before we have even begun. I don’t believe Americans want to capitulate to anyone. The only question is whether we will get the leadership now to deal with this or whether we will have to endure even worse atrocities before a real leader emerges.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade;
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night

– W. H. Auden, September 1, 1939.

THE IRAQI POSSIBILITY: Check out this 1995/1996 Public Interest essay on the first World Trade Center bombing. Some of it sends chills down your spine with its prescience. But its most important suggestion is that Iraq might have been behind the bombing. Ditto today. Saddam is not only capable but willing – especially against a nemesis like the son of the first George Bush. More evidence that Colin Powell’s tragic abandonment of the war against Saddam might well be one of the biggest blunders in recent history. If this coordinated massacre needed real state-sponsored support, which nation would you pick as the prime suspect?

THE MOST OBSCENE COMMENT YET: Ignoring Peter Jennings’ constant reiteration of the reasons for Muslim and Arab hatred for the West, the following passage from today’s Slate is the first time I’ve actually felt revulsion at anyone’s reaction to the horror of September 11. Here is John Lahr’s attempt to insinuate that the United States was responsible: “We still don’t really know who killed Kennedy or Martin Luther King; it took us a long time to find out the hidden agenda to the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Gulf of Tonkin “incident,” which tipped us into Vietnam and a war we should never have fought. Perhaps it’s eerie serendipity, perhaps it’s my paranoia, but an acid thought keeps plaguing me. Isn’t it odd that on the day–the DAY–that the Democrats launched their most blistering attack on “the absolute lunacy” of Bush’s unproven missile-defense system, which “threatens to pull the trigger on the arms race,” what Sen. Biden calls today in the Guardian, his “theological” belief in “rogue nations,” that the rogue nation should suddenly become such a terrifying reality. The fact that I could even think such a thought says more to me about the bankruptcy and moral exhaustion of our leaders even in the face of a disaster where any action, in the current nightmare, will seem like heroism. But I do smell destabilizing violence in the wings. In fear, the nation, to my mind, has always proved mean-spirited and violent.”

BIDEN’S BAD TIMING: “Senator Biden’s remarks are expected to mark the start of a concerted campaign, reflecting the Democrats’ belief that Mr Bush is politically vulnerable on foreign and defence policy, which has been characterised by a unilateralist approach, and a belief (ridiculed by Mr Biden as “theological”) in building a missile defence system against possible attacks from “rogue states”.” – The Guardian, September 11. Rogue states a threat? Naaahhh.

TODAY

I have been unable to think of anything substantive to write today. It is almost as if the usual conventions of journalism and analysis should somehow remain mute in the face of such an event. How can one analyze what one hasn’t even begun to absorb? Numbness is part of the intent of these demons, I suppose. So here are some tentative reflections. It feels – finally – as if a new era has begun. The strange interlude of 1989 – 2001, with its decadent post-Cold War extravaganzas from Lewinsky to Condit to the e-boom, is now suddenly washed away. We are reminded that history obviously hasn’t ended; that freedom is never secure; that previous generations aren’t the only ones to be called to defend the rare way of life that this country and a handful of others have achieved for a small fraction of world history. The boom is done with. Peace is over. The new war against the frenzied forces of what Nietzsche called ressentiment is just beginning. The one silver lining of this is that we may perhaps be shaken out of our self-indulgent preoccupations and be reminded of what really matters: our freedom, our security, our integrity as a democratic society. This means we must be vigilant not to let our civil liberties collapse under the understandable desire for action. To surrender to that temptation is part of what these killers want. And the other small sliver of consolation is that the constant American temptation to withdraw from the world, entertained these past few years by many, will perhaps now be stifled. We cannot withdraw; we cannot ignore. We live in a world where technology and hatred accelerate in ever-faster cycles, and in which isolation is not an option. Evil is still here. It begets evil. When you look at the delighted faces of Palestinians cheering in the streets, we have to realize that there are cultures on this planet of such depravity that understanding them is never fully possible. And empathy for them at such a moment is obscene. But we can observe and remember. There is always a tension between civilization and barbarism, and the barbarians are now here. The task in front of us to somehow stay civilized while not shrinking from the face of extinguishing – by sheer force if necessary – the forces that would eclipse us.

EVIL

The forces of barbarism have clearly struck an extraordinary blow against freedom this morning. This is not about the United States alone. It is about the survival of free societies in an open, interconnected world where forces deeply hostile to freedom can wage a new kind of war against our humanity and our success. Words fail me. But my hope is that this will awaken the sleeping tiger. When our shock recedes, our rage must be steady and resolute and unforgiving. The response must be disproportionate to the crime and must hold those states and governments that have tolerated this evil accountable. This is the single most devastating act of war since Nagasaki. It is the first time that an enemy force has invaded the precincts of the American capital since the early nineteenth century. It is more dangerous than Pearl Harbor. And it is a reminder that the forces of resentment and evil – so prominent only recently in the Durban conference – can no longer be appeased. They must be destroyed – systematically, durably, irrevocably. Perhaps now we will summon the will to do it.

THE LEFT VERSUS SCIENCE

With the exception of stem cell research, the international Left has become, to all intents and purposes, one of the strongest forces restraining scientific research in the world. The attacks on pharmaceutical companies have already meant a slowing of research on important diseases. The hostility to genetically modified food will only hamper efforts to advance the day when no-one in the world has to endure hunger. The opposition to nuclear power will only raise the cost of energy in the long run and ensure that the more environmentally damaging fossil fuels will remain our major energy source for decades. Now comes news from the Independent in London that an important tool for understanding human genetic diversity has been scrapped after a political campaign against it. After ten years of effort, the Human Genome Diversity Project is now all but history. It was an attempt to understand genetic variations between different ethnicities in order to fashion better tools for curing disease, and enhancing our understanding of human pre-history. Of course, the Left loathes the possibility that actual genetic differences exist between racial groups, despite evidence that subtle differences do in fact exist. Representatives of indigenous peoples – groups that may soon disappear as separate genetic entities because of urbanization, inter-marriage and migration – complained that the data might be used for – shock, horror – commercial purposes. Much of the Western scientific establishment, terrified of any politically incorrect science, also helped stifle the project. The result might be an understanding of the human genome that is useless in addressing specific diseases in different populations. The notion that this research in itself is racist reminds me of the know-nothing attitude of so many liberals to the data of “The Bell Curve.” We don’t want to know, was the liberal refrain. I like the quote from one of the scientists on the project addressing this issue: “”The blatant lies that went on,” Professor Kevin Kidd of Yale University, said. “I was insulted to my face. The project was called unethical when it was an attempt to put the research on an ethical basis. To study differences is not racist. Racists don’t need to study differences, they are doing just fine as they are.” Amen, but try telling that to the Luddite fundamentalists on the left.

THE ANIMAL HOLOCAUST CONTINUES: After the Blair government’s alternately horrifying and incompetent attempt to deal with foot and mouth disease this spring comes new horror. The inhumane and hideous slaughter of hundreds of thousands of cattle and sheep for purely economic reasons didn’t rescue the British market and didn’t immediately wipe out foot and mouth disease. Now, consumers have gone off beef altogether, prices for cattle have collapsed and the cost of transporting calves to France where they can still be sold for veal has out-stripped the value of the calves. So now they’re killing the calves at birth – all 200,000 of them – and burying them in mass graves. I thought it couldn’t get any worse than last spring’s massacre. But it has. “Ethically, it stinks,” is how one farmer put it to the Daily Telegraph. To high heaven.

LETTERS: A chilling economic parallel between Britain in 1989 and America in 2001.

MR BLANK: My take on Colin Powell’s non-influence in the Bush administration: woohoo. Check out my new piece opposite.

ADVANTAGE BUSH

Mickey Kaus makes a sensible if boring point that the current budget debate is being over-played. Neither Bush’s predictions nor even the direst prognostications from outside see the future fiscal situation heading back to the kind of deficits of the 1980s and early 1990s. The most likely scenario is one in which the government is largely starved of much money for the next decade except to finance social security and Medicare (without much of a senior drug benefit). Mickey thinks this is good for Democrats because they can always rescind some of the tax cuts in future years to pay for their spending plans. It’s all going according to plan, Mickey reassures his Democratic readers. Really? Already, there’s mounting pressure not to raise taxes any further but to reduce them still more. Republicans are pushing for a capital gains tax reduction; Democrats want to see a reduction in the payroll tax. I’d pick the Democratic option myself, since I’d like to see a more even-handed tax cut than the one proposed by Bush. But whoever wins, doesn’t this mean a deep change in the debate? A year ago, we faced a Congress spending double the rate of inflation and a candidate Al Gore wanting only modest tax breaks for middle-class heterosexual families and a vast expansion of government spending. Today, we have a big tax cut, neutered spending plans, and perhaps a bigger tax cut coming soon. Yes, you can make the semantic point that Bush wants spending increases as well. But Bush doesn’t need to deliver on spending the way the Democrats do. And I’m still not convinced that any tax hikes in the near future – especially in sluggish economic times – can be anything but political poison. What Bush has done is to squash a small and rare window in fiscal history where a real expansion of government for more middle class entitlements was imaginable. Those of us who will paying taxes for decades to come will eventually be grateful we closed that window swiftly. And Bush’s sense of priorities in this respect seems retroactively exactly right.

EDWARDS WATCH: Interesting snippet from the somewhat unread Saturday edition of the New York Post, highlighted by one of my readers among Edwards fans. He’s clearly someone to watch closely. If Clinton is behind him, all the more so: “AL Gore didn’t want Bill Clinton’s help in last year’s presidential race, but other presidential wannabes – gearing up for the 2004 election – do. Citing Clinton’s phenomenal way of pulling in the cash, spies in D.C. say North Carolina Sen. John Edwards has been haranguing him for help with a presidential fund drive. “Edwards calls Clinton [in Harlem] at least once a week,” our source added. So far, Edwards’ tenacity has paid off: Clinton has been raving about Edwards in private to some of his biggest fundraisers. “These are private conversations,” said Julia Payne, Clinton’s rep.”

ROLLING OR STONED?: Diverting piece in the Village Voice echoing some of my beliefs about the relative harmlessness of Ecstasy compared to many other legal, prescription drugs. It seems there is much scientific debate about how harmful ecstasy is over the long term and how the costs weigh against benefits in only occasional use. But finding some sane resolution to this debate – which would require studying Ecstasy’s beneficial and therapeutic effects as well as its dangers – cannot be fully conducted until the current loopy official prohibition of the drug is lifted. So we’ll never know, and the prohibitionist mentality, with all its baleful effects on our criminal justice system, continues. And no leader in either party is prepared to open up this debate.

LETTERS: My double-standard with Garry Trudeau and Roger Ebert; gay cookouts, etc.

WHAT A DRAG: I dropped by the kind of drag show in Provincetown last Friday night I would never usually attend: a drag show for straight people. It was called “Guys As Dolls,” and featured Barbra and Marilyn look-a-likes and brought lots of appreciative oohs and aahs from the largely hetero crowd. The gay guys in audience, I’d say, found it tedious (although one of the performers was pretty great as Susan Lucci in her final Emmy acceptance speech). In fact, there are clearly two kinds of drag shows now around: celebrity imitators for straights and a much different form of theater for gays. Drag for gays these days actually eschews trying to pass off as women, instead caricaturing the way in which our culture promotes and rewards crass diva-dom. The uglier and crasser the impersonation the funnier. In many, there’s a whiff of misogyny as well, but it’s saved by equal doses of sympathy for the way in which straight women still contort themselves for the pleasure and amusement of straight men. But my point is that this newish kind of drag is ironic, amused, detached, self-mocking. It’s post-drag, if you will. And what this goes to show is that drag is changing as the role of gays changes. Gay men do not need to pretend to be women any more to win attention; we can merely play at being men playing at being women. Within a couple of decades, I think, even this may dissipate some, as the whole conflation of homosexuality with gender-transgression fades, and as gay men and lesbians reclaim more fully their respective genders. Drag may eventually disappear altogether – which will be a shame in one respect, since it’s a glorious and wonderful tradition. But I won’t be sad to see the days pass when gay men had to pass as effeminate or almost indistinguishable from women to gain a foothold of recognition or acceptance. If drag collapses because gay freedom thrives, then it will be a worthwhile trade-off.

CLINDIT

Hitch scores a home-run on this one. Are we the only two people who think Clinton’s crimes were far, far worse than Condit’s sins?

PIGS FLY: Could it be that the gay left is waking up? This following passage could have been written by yours truly: “The bottom line is that GLAAD has more in common than not with right-wing, religion-based groups that have railed against such works as Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi and Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. In condemning Dogma, a film about two renegade angels who have been kicked out of heaven (played by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck), the Catholic League was, in essence, saying that there is only one correct way to represent Christian beliefs. GLAAD, in condemning Jay and Silent Bob, is claiming that there is only one correct way to represent homosexuality through art. If the former is religious fundamentalism, the latter is sexual-identity fundamentalism.” In fact, it’s by Michael Bronski, a far-left activist, who delighted in trashing my private life earlier this year. Has he received new instructions from the Red Guard?

SHARPTON’S THUGS: A very similar piece to Rod Dreher’s about the weird excess of Aaliyah’s funeral and media hype has been written in Salon. I doubt whether Sharpton will call out his hoodlums for this one. It doesn’t serve his political agenda in New York. Which only makes his persecution of Rod Dreher that much more disgraceful.

LETTERS: Why Rod Dreher is a boor; why I’m a sell-out; why Trudeau is a wimp; etc.

THE PRICE OF BARREL SCRAPING

Perhaps the most depressing media news of the month so far is that Paula Zahn, the woman who put psychics on her show as serious commentators, is rewarded by tripling her salary and moving to CNN. Somehow I think the worst of media hell is yet to come.

THE WAR AGAINST FREE SPEECH: Imagine if a black columnist had written a column about some stupid and overly elaborate funeral of some minor white television celebrity. Legitimate cultural criticism, no? It certainly wouldn’t prompt an outpouring of threats, protests, multiple hate-filled calls to the Post’s switchboard and over 2,000 angry emails to the columnist’s newspaper. Yet this is what has happened to Rod Dreher of the New York Post, who had the effrontery to write a pointed criticism of the extravagant funeral for a young black singer Aaliyah, who died recently in a plane crash. Read it for yourself. It may betray a certain ignorance of Aaliyah’s relevance in hip-hop subculture, but I can’t see anything even vaguely racist about it. Still, Al Sharpton unleashed his thugs, calling a press conference to denounce Dreher as a bigot. Dreher is now besieged, according to his friends and colleagues. He may have to work at home because of threats on his life at work. I’m told he’s growing a beard to disguise his appearance. One recent message on his voicemail went: “Look, white bitch, you’re not answering your phone, but you can’t hide forever. One of us is going to be waiting for you outside your building, and you’re gonna be thinking you’re going home, but we’re gonna step out and choke yo’ muthafuckin’ neck.” Now where are all the usual guardians of free speech defending Dreher and condemning this vile campaign of intimidation against him? Or are condemnations of people who threaten the lives of writers only appropriate if the target is a liberal? The New York Post, friendly hacks tell me, is apparently imposing public silence on Dreher so as not to stir up even more hostility. I emailed Rod for confirmation, but he referred me to the p.r. company handling this for the Post. This is chilling. Dreher’s column was innocuous enough – but even if it was not innocuous, he shouldn’t be frightened of walking on the streets without being attacked. The response of any other journalist should not be to acquiesce in this cowardly silence, but to speak up and out about this pathological hatred that is now so sadly accepted among some minority groups. This is a form of terrorism. It’s designed to intimidate journalists from doing their job. I’ve gotten death threats before – but nothing this terrifying. And the most terrifying thing of all is the silence of Dreher’s professional colleagues. Perhaps they don’t know yet what he’s going through. I hope they do now.

LETTERS: A Heche-free zone; what really happened to Chandra; the trouble with steroids; why some criticism of Israeli racism is legit; etc.

THE FORMER EASTERN BLOC VERSUS DURBAN: One heartening piece of news from the World Conference Against Racism and Stuff is the statement from the Non-Government Organizations from the former eastern bloc, including many Russian democrats. They knew the score, arguing that, “We must emphasize that the language of the chapter “Palestinians and Palestine” as well as the deliberate distortions made to the chapter “Anti-Semitism” is extremely intolerant, disrespectful and contrary to the very spirit of the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.” Their post-script is priceless: “PS: On top of all the troubles of the NGO Forum, at the closing ceremony, the delegates had to listen for over two hours to a speech by Fidel Castro. We are offended by the fact that one of the worst dictators in the contemporary world, particularly notorious for gross violations of human rights, was invited to address this world gathering of non-governmental organizations. Listening to Fidel speak, we only had to wonder why the organizers had failed to invite Alexander Lukashenko, Turkmenbashi, Saddam Hussein, or a representative of the Taliban regime.” Amen.

TRUDEAU’S NON-APOLOGY: We all make mistakes. But someone’s character is best displayed in how they fess up to them. See what you think of Garry Trudeau’s attempt to respond to his own parlaying in a comic strip a hoax story about the allegedly low I.Q. of President Bush: “Many thoughtful readers, including those sampled above, have expressed an interest in the “Presidential IQ” story, an internet hoax which was portrayed as factual in a recent strip. This was a regrettable error, although perhaps inevitable, given that this feature uses the same fact-checking house as Saturday Night Live and The Drudge Report. Trudeau takes full responsibility, acknowledging the use of fictional material from an outside source instead of simply making it up as he usually does. The creator deeply apologizes for unsettling anyone who was under the impression that the President is, in fact, quite intelligent.” Graceless, in my book.

KKK UPDATE: The Washington Post and the Boston Globe have run fair retractions of their previous stories on the alleged hate crime. Good for them.