Friday, March 29, 2002

NOTHING IS INEVITABLE. The good guys don't always win. Thousands, millions of them lose, get shot, hanged, or garroted and buried in unmarked graves, or rot their lives away in god-forsaken holes in god-forsaken countries. Do you think Czechs and Poles thought victory was inevitable when the Panzers rolled in, the Brits when London lit up like a bonfire, the Chinese when the Japanese burned their cities, raped their women, and choked the streets and rivers with their dead? Maybe Americans thought victory was inevitable after Pearl Harbor, but only because we're lucky and powerful enough to be so foolish. But we didn't have to win. We could've cut a deal, accepted the new world order, and gone to bed with the devil. Yet on September 11, I thought victory must be inevitable. How could we suffer that blow, that violation, that insult to our culture and not unleash the primitive fury and violence at the heart of even civilized people? We would change everything. No more diplomatic niceties, just: "Here's a list of men we want you to give us; if you don't, we'll take them, and if we have to kill you and conquer your people along the way, too bad, so sad." I mean, what else could we do? War didn't just seem moral and necessary; it seemed instinctive. Then came Afghanistan. We went to war, and our soldiers and airmen killed and defeated the enemy -- but only after military lawyers thwarted an attack on the enemy's chief political leader, diplomats scurried about planning loya jirgas and demanding that conquering allies "envelope" but not enter Kabul, and pundits fretted about "brutal Afghan winters" and the consequences of bombing the enemy during Ramadan. Now our president worries that that all this talk about "killing" might turn off American women, and asks Oprah and other women to tour Afghanistan promoting the softer side of war. This is insane, but it's not farce. It's reality, and the reality isn't a society bent on war. It's a society inexplicably apologetic about waging war. When we send the Vice-President to the Middle East to prepare for war against Iraq, our Arab "allies" make demands on us. And instead of looking them in their collective eye, lowering our collective voice, smiling a collective unpleasant smile, and asking, "Oh, would you like to be next, you woman-, Jew-, Christian-, black-, gay-hating and -killing animal?" we listened to them, and our "experts" told us we just couldn't do what we wanted to do in Iraq without first placating our "allies" because we "needed" them. So we humiliate ourselves. We accede to the demands of a pint-size Arab state that raised most of the men who killed our citizens on September 11 and has spent billions of dollars of oil money to export Islamic extremism throughout the world. We tell the Israelies that, "yes, we're sorry that those Palestinians keep blowing the arms and legs and heads off of school children, mothers, and grannies, and we know that your situation arguably justifies the kind of military retaliation we've undertaken, but -- sigh --it's just not helpful at this juncture for you to retaliate, so could you please show some restraint." If truth, justice, and the American way were inevitable, we'd have called the Israelis on September 11 and said, "OK, now we get it, sorry about those memos from the State Department, and -- well -- would you mind killing the ones dancing in the streets first?" If right always prevailed, Colin Powell wouldn't be asking Sharon if Arafat was OK. He'd be asking why he was still breathing. On September 11, it felt like 1941. Now it feels like about 1937, and that's frightening, because it means one of two things. Either it means we don't have the guts, courage, anger, and moral fervor to win, that we're going the way of other fat, wealthy, impotent empires. Or it means we just haven't bled enough. Maybe we're so big that 3,000 dead people just won't cut it. "Sure, a couple of thousand was enough in 1941, but you know, we only had 132 million then and now we're at 281 million, plus you have to factor in inflation, so now it's gonna take a few hundred thousand people melted by a nuclear explosion or choked and blistered to death by chemical weapons before we'll be good and mad." Is that what's inevitable -- near-suicidal complancency, until some wild-eyed enemy finally kills a lot more of us and says, "Hey, infidel, I'm serious, and I'm going to grind you into the dirt?" God help us.

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