|Welcome to the Neighborhood
Precipitous thoughts about the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks
In the last years of the Plains Indians, their doomed culture, as if awakening from a long, tribal dream, produced mystics. Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse and others had a kind of enlightenment, and their thinking, without stepping out of the aboriginal idiom, embraced a level of universality which speaks to everybody in any age. They spoke of the Great Hoop of the tribes, broken and forever gone with the coming of the white man. Angry, bereft of illusions, like a woman unexpectedly forsaken by her husband, they attained to the stark clarity of a people who know that much has been lost and that nothing will ever be the same.
It is hard to get a clear perspective on the fact that not more than a dozen guys armed with imaginary bombs and $15 worth of box knives just took out the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, or to establish the meaning of this event in terms of conventional thinking. Something, everybody seems to agree, has changed forever. But exactly what has changed is still disputed. This issue will clear up when the American mindset gets used to the new situation and develops the cognitive tools to speak of it. Right now we are like children encountering realities for which we have no names. Descriptive concepts will emerge like salt crystals from the facts of the new environment. Understanding will come. I wish I could say the same for wisdom.
Understanding has not yet come to our President. Nobody but a cartoon villain, not terrorists or bogeymen or Osama bin Laden or Fu Manchu, attacks us because we are a bright beacon of freedom and opportunity, or because they are just plain evil people. As much as our academically challenged leader might choose not to consider it, people attack us for a reason, and I dont hear him or anyone else seriously asking after that reason. In our zeal to vilify our antagonists we neglect to ask ourselves why it is that our enemies are our enemies to begin with. (Or am I wrong? Maybe it has been so obvious as to go without saying that this thing has been in the mail since Dubyuhs daddy butchered those 100,000 teenaged Iraqi soldiers a few years back. Since we printed those Desert Storm t-shirts and danced in the streets.)
It is a strange fact that we (humans), for very unChristlike reasons, tend to love our enemies. What, joked the Russian diplomat around the time the Soviet Union folded, are you going to do now without an enemy? Actually the crisis occurred long prior to that, when the sophistication of our weaponery made aggression and retaliation equivalent to suicide. A kind of social necessity was denied us when we lost our ability to count coup on an enemy, and worse, when our enemy moved out of the neighborhood leaving us without even the insane possibility of picking a viable fight. How we must unconsciously envy the bond of enmity between Palestinian and Jew, Serb and Croat, Hutu and Tutsi, the reciprocal dance of death by which they assert and define themselves and draw their substance. If only we had such a partner, someone of comparable stature willing to embark with us upon a meaningful cycle of provocation and retaliation, an unholy nuptial of hatred to fill the hours of our lives down through the bloody generations like the tribal mayhem we see on tv. Like Snaggletooth the Dragon we are just too big, too dangerous. Until yesterday, nobody has been willing to play with us.
It may be that there is an anthropological need for the blood feud. It does seem that people treat one another better within a society when they are able to foray across the borders and abuse people whose foreign appearance and customs distinguish them and call into question their claim to brotherhood. Something is appeased during a scalping raid, that no longer needs to emerge among family and friends. The downside is that your victims owe you one. But the upside is that when it returns to you you can blame it back on somebody else. As if original sin could be turned into a small, black bird and kept always on someone elses side of the badminton court. It wouldnt be a bad way to go if it didnt sap your energy and retard your civic progress. And cause your children to go up in balls of fire. People who maintain enemies tend to live in easily rebuilt mud huts and say goodbye to their lives with relative ease. Although my granddaddy the eugenics enthusiast would have maintained that they are probably more highly evolved due to the salutary demands of a difficult and survivalist lifestyle.
The illusion that we are immune from substantial retaliation by our Muslim enemies has been lifted from us. We have been hazed and welcomed into the fraternity of nations. Smite whom you must, but do not expect to remain beyond the reach of consequences. We have earned the right to get our asses kicked like everybody else, and the next time one of our preppy presidents sends the army off to kill a bunch of people, with or without justification, hell need to factor that into the cost of the operation. Perhaps the Great Hoop is not, after all, broken. What goes around still comes around. Karmic law, like gravity, is a law.
Well, thats all philosophy and armchair analysis. Time to reveal my solutions to the current crisis:
Heres what I would do if I were Bush. Id surprise them and give up. There is a distinction between giving up and going belly up, however. I would direct the air force to fill hundreds of B-52 bombers with fresh roses, and drop them on Kabul. I would drop leaflets with the roses, expressing remorse for our ignorance and unconscionable treatment of Islamic people, and setting out our first steps toward reconciliation. I would announce immediate action to: (1) Remove American military bases from the Arabian Peninsula. (2) Lift the sanctions on Iraq. (3) Stop supporting Israel militarily.* There is some very good biblical advice about prevailing over a thief by giving him more than he asks for, so while they are still reeling from the rose blitz we should begin educating our diplomats in Islamic languages, history and culture, and stop treating Muslims as though their religion were stupid and their concerns didnt matter. We will do these things not as a capitulation, but out of a newfound sense of common decency. The resolve of the American People will not be shaken in this. We will forsake bullying assholery, no matter what the cost, no matter how long it takes, until every last enemy of America actually is our friend and we are buried in chocolate chip cookies.
Heres what I would do if I were the evil Osama bin Laden. Id give up. Again, however, only because it would be the best exercise of power. Stepping up to the plate to save the Taliban from the wrath of the Great Satan, I would surrender myself to the United States and certain death. The night before I did this, I would call together my followers for one last meal. I would sign over to them access to my multi-million dollar trust fund saying: Take this all of you and spend it. This is my money which will be parceled out to you for the destruction of the United States. Do this in memory of me. Then, promising to be first to greet martyrs in the next life, I would give myself over freely to the lethal injection gurney, knowing that before the needle was dry a devastating new religion would emerge upon the world.
Heres what will probably actually happen. Unless restrained by cooler heads and wiser counsel, our moronic president will send our children off on a fools crusade to rid the world of anti-American sentiment from Pakistan to Morocco. Like burning holes out of a blanket, it will make matters worse, and pretty soon our waterpipes will fill up with smallpox and our subways with serin gas. Moe will twist Curlys nose, and Curly will slam Larrys fingers in a door and Larry will poke Moe in the eye. Revenge will be the order of the day. Everybody will be angry all the time, and nobody will ever feel sad or stupid or guilty because everything will always be somebody elses fault.
* I dont think Im defaming anybody if I say that Israelis are even bigger assholes
Osama bin Ladens epiphany came during an early combat experience with the Russians. As he describes it, at the moment he got his first Soviet soldier in the sights of his American-made rifle and squeezed off the lethal round, a great peace came over him. Carried forward in the dreamy calm that only a combination of submission to the will of Allah and unlimited family money can bestow, bin Laden became an instrument of divine vengeance. Such men are locked up in our part of the world, but in the middle east they are charismatics and tend to attract many followers, so great is the backlog of injustices over there. This week, at least, bin Laden and Pat Robertson are in agreement about one significant thing. Last Tuesdays devastation was a just and overdue punishment from an angry God. I dont know that Dubyuhs war chariots are going to be effective against a spiritual enemy, especially one as upset as the unholy ghost who smote us last week.
Some concern has been expressed over the fact that our war machine is geared toward hitting targets, and Afghanistan simply contains no targets, unless you count Kabul and are willing to commit genocide. The Russians reduced every goat enclosure and freestanding shack to rubble several years ago, before gathering up their dead and withdrawing in consternation and defeat. So the task of destroying the physical infrastructure has already been done for us. Our tanks and aircraft and combat-innocent infantry are going to have to zero in on a homogeneous population of relatively young, uniformly armed people, every one of whom has known nothing but war, harbors absolutely no regard for death, and has been a sharpshooter since the age of six. We will win when we have cornered and killed every last one of them, and then we can start on the rest of Islam. George has his work cut out for him.
The logistical problem might be framed by comparing European with Middle Eastern culture generally. Rich in wood and granite and other physical resources, Europeans tend to wage war by means of physical devices like catapults and battering rams and warships and cannons, designed to target fortified enclosures, clusters of uniformed soldiers and other fairly clearly defined objects. Europeans live in houses and palaces and barracks. Our forebears gave us architecture, nautical engineering, the truss, the cantilever, the battered escarpment, the bridge, the aquaduct. We glory in things and also in bombs to blow things to kingdom come. After a European war, the countryside is littered with smoking rubble, the ruins of our craftsmanship and skill. Our moats and shields and fortifications are worthy of military assault in themselves. The sight of their destruction is as satisfying as the bodies of their defenders. It is all corporeal with us. We occupy territories, fight for hills and mountain passes, whang on each other, steel against steel, lead ball against hull, cudgel against breastplate. Modern armies have raised this warfare of physical boundaries, physical destruction, to a ludicrous pinnacle of Jurassic specialization.
Contrast the cultural contributions of the Arabs: astronomy, geometry, math, mysticism, religion, theology, philosophy. Their barren homelands are devoid of building materials. Their cities are made of mud and plaster. They wear sheets and live in tents. Their exports, never more substantial than silk or jasmine perfume, are made almost entirely of thought. They live their lives in blinding sunlight, a shimmering dream of goats milk, hashish and pencil-thin daggers, an Aristotelian hallucination, an emanation from Allah who alone is real. Wars are fought with holy zeal and little else. Cowled combatants materialize like ghosts, vanish like smoke. Does anyone doubt that bin Laden can step through stones? Go invisible in Kenya and reappear in Lebanon? Reach around the earth without leaving the tranquillity of his prayer rug to bring a hurricane of destruction upon the infidels? Our troops landed at Normandy with countless tons of equipment, countless pages of maps and marching orders. Bin Ladens agents arrived here with the shorts they were wearing and a single thought in their brains, an undifferentiated purpose, primitive, indeterminate, unmanifest. A lie detector test administered at that point might have revealed nothing - no plan, no information, no training, no timetable. A sheer seminal intent, floating clear as a breeze past the metal detectors, past the FBI, past the drug sniffing dogs, down the street to Best Value to pick up a copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator.
Having brought the worlds mightiest economy to its knees, having emasculated the worlds most powerful army, it is just as well that the terrorists have returned to vapor. They had no clubhouse to go back to anyway, at least not in this world. As the smoke clears and the horror congeals to a lump of sickness and fear*, we are left with a very good question. It is not a military or a diplomatic question, not practical, not pertinent to courses of action. It is a philosophical question. Is the physical subsumed by the intelligible? Does mind contain matter? Because if the arena has shifted from the pockmarked battlefields of mother earth to the magical landscape of the human spirit, we and all our massive hardware could very well be screwed.
* The Arabic word, according the mourning issue of the New Yorker, is hayba:
For nearly three weeks now we have heard a litany of pronouncements spinning this thing into an overwhelming victory for freedom and democracy. The evildoers (as specific a reference to our shadowy enemies as anyone can yet assign) clearly thought they could collapse our spirit, spoil our democracy and weaken our resolve. They stupidly tried to strike fear into our hearts. But they have miscalculated. They have failed. Far from destroying our society, they have only strengthened and united us, brought us together in our belief in freedom. Like our noble firefighters, the best in us has been revealed today. American values will not be subdued. Well build a bigger and better World Trade Center. We have prevailed. America rules! America kicks their camel-humping asses! Who did they think they were fucking with?
But (and I almost hate to bring this up in the middle of all this jubilation and self-congratulation) didnt something bad happen to us earlier? Didnt we take some kind of a hit? If this is such a big win for us it seems ungracious to continue punishing the rest of the terrorists back in Afghanistan. Since they are already so thoroughly trounced, why not just let that be a lesson to them?
Those bad men didnt do that terrible thing because they hate the goodness and liberty that is America. My guess is that those bad men dont know what that jingoistic palaver means any more than the rest of us do. Collectively, as Americans, we have enormous good in us. We are not heartless. We are generous when our contributions to the relief of human suffering are measured in sheer dollar amounts.* Some of us feel that our largesse ought to buy us something, but most of us send relief to mudslide victims because we are compassionate people.
* Measured against our ability to give (according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation
In addition to that we are also the source of a great deal of pain and death and consternation and suffering in the world, and the people who maintain that we contribute more to food relief and developmental programs than everybody else on earth combined tend not to want to look at these other, unpleasant things. Dont give me that blank stare. There are countless thousands of dead children in Iraq because of our embargo, and everybody on earth knows it except us. What kind of monstrous people would do something like that? Look in the mirror.
Do you know how my generation of warriors controlled Viet Cong prisoners in 1968? They made them put their hands up to their cheeks, and then they ran wire through their hands and through their cheeks, so that all they had to do then was hang onto the wire and the Viet Cong went along with them.
We are shitheads, like everybody else.
Why do they hate us? It isnt just a good question. It is nearly the only question. They dont hate us because we are resourceful or rich or free or powerful. We are universally admired for those things.They hate us because we project an arrogance that is so hard-wired into our machinery that we can not see it without the assistance of foreigners. Were the obnoxious tourists who think that God made little brown people to carry our luggage. Were the calloused people who buy $9.95 shirts made by runny nosed Burmese children with the buttons sewed on by political prisoners in China who got arrested for wanting to be free like us. Were everything that Ugly Americans were destined to evolve into. Were the only industrialized country left on earth in which the death penalty is both legal and popular. Human rights are rapidly disappearing for us internally, our frenetic life style is no longer the envy of the world, and our unilateralism hardly recognizes that non-Americans have a point of view at all. This just drives people nuts. When you are the size we are, you can choose to be like God or Killer Americans from Outer Space, and not much in between.
I dont say that other people behave any better than we do. I say that we dont behave any better than they do. If we are worse, it is not on account of cruelty, but only in the sheer quantum of destructive effect.
The Augustininian definition of evil is: privatio boni, deprivation of the good. Hell is where God utterly isnt. Not unlike Afghanistan where we werent after the Russians pulled out. Or the Bay of Pigs where we werent when the mission went sour. Or Saigon where we skedaddled from the rooftops leaving our brave little allies to the re-education process and calling it peace with honor. Or Rwanda where we werent ever. To have the power to bestow so much good, and then to withhold it, is analogous to God issuing a curse. The Third World is hungry, not stupid. The infernal fire that filled the Iraqi horizon on our television sets may be a forgotten light show to us, but the real people who were burned alive in it are survived by brethren who to this day are more upset with us than we can imagine. They dont buy the beacon-of-hope thing one bit. Neither do the thousands of forgotten, duhumanized, warehoused inmates (one in a hundred of us) in our prisons. Untouched by the American dream, theyll spill back out onto our streets, each one a terrorist cell unto himself, born and trained in the good old USA.
I dont want to dwell on this. We are a beacon of hope to some, and the Great Satan to others. Being both or either of these things is our choice. The outcomes and consequences of our dispositions are predictable and within our own control. If we seem to be the hapless victims of evildoers, we are also the creators of evildoers. What peaceful Muslims politely endure, their lunatic fringe does not. Once activists are created, of course, we cant just reverse their nativity and wish them gone. We have to hunt them down like escaped gorillas, and kill them. But it is within our power to prevent the birth of tomorrows enemies, just as we can choose to send the Special Forces off to midwife new ones, to cook up a whole fresh batch of wild-eyed hijackers to bring down as-yet-unbuilt skyscrapers full of future innocents. The bad news is that were responsible for our own enemies. Never mind the psychotic murdering bastards they turned out to be, we generated and nourished and ignored the animosity that spawned them. What happened on Sept 11 was arguably a self-inflicted wound, and certain of our elected geniuses are cocking the gun for future disasters ten years out.
The good news, on the other hand, is that our security is in our own hands, and not in the hands of foreign loonies. We are perfectly free to turn down the thermostat on global warming (granting that there is a fifty year delay before things stop getting worse), and we likewise have the power to put the kibosh on terrorism, given a comparable time lag, any time we decide to. All we have to do is click our heels together three times, get rid of our hubris, grow up and start being more respectful of people who dont wear wingtips or watch football games. Whereas we might have an obligation to insert our military to prevent humanitarian catastrophes, we are not the supervisor of the world, nor do we have the right to bully others into conformity with our political or religious values or to export our frivolous, obscene, consumer-driven culture to people who find it offensive. If we believe it is might which confers this right upon us, that has changed. Like hundred storey buildings, civilizations come down much easier than they go up, and for sillier reasons. Humility is all we need to add to the impressive list of things at which we excel. If we can not find that redeeming quality on our own, then we will perhaps find it through humiliation.
Fully three weeks after the disaster, while re-reading the black cover edition of the New Yorker, the immense sadness of the human loss finally caught up with me. The cold observer of the human condition actually shed a tear for the unimaginable, horrible waste of it. You are moved by individual tragedies, the desolate guy whose beautiful new bride called from the tower, the broker who dropped off his kid at school and arrived 20 minutes late to find all his employees gone. The stories multiply until the mind cant hold them any more. So there is nearly something false in presuming to weep for New York, for so vast an erasure. New Yorkers, for all their rudeness and cynicism, are in love with their city and in their odd way, with each other. They dont deserve this.
Liberals are such cruel bastards. We see homelessness as a symptom of an uncompassionate society, crime as a function of poverty, or the failure of prisons to salvage or repair people, or a dearth of transformational alternatives. We focus on systemic causes, not on individual, responsible sufferers or perpetrators. Like surgeons, we forego sympathy and go for the fix. Fix society, and its evils will go away. Fix the arrogance of the ATF and the rest of all-powerful governments bullying extensions and federal buildings will stop blowing up. Emotions are appropriate for funerals, but not for rebuilding the world.
So in one way Sept 11 was a terrible human tragedy, the destruction of countless innocents whom we mourn and the acts of evil men at whom we rage. In another way it was just another predictable event. It simply happened, like when hills become soaked with rain avalanches happen, or when pressure builds up in the earth Vesuvius happens. Sept 11 is what happens when you become prideful and torpid and ignorant and fat. It is what happens when the wall of invulnerability is breached and the people upon whom you have been dumping your garbage for eighty years are able at last to let you know what they think about it. Any scientist should have predicted it. If the reliable operation of natural law is any comfort to us, it would be even scarier if no chickens had come home to roost.
Reuters, according to George Will (sure, I read his pseudo-intellectual baloney), has decided to stop using the word terrorist in its dispatches. The word is, they feel, a mere invective and does not indicate any real group or set of motivations. It is, like Dubyuhs evildoers, enormously uninstructive. It tells us nothing about the individuals who did these deeds, but only expresses our horror at it. The individuals, it should be said, did not think of themselves as terrorists. People dont go around being evil, hating freedom, destroying decency. Not even Hitler felt himself to be a villain. If we are going to deal intelligently with our enemies, we had better stop simply demonizing them and start understanding their mindset. Unless we are in a position to obliterate them point blank, not knowing their point of view puts us at a strategic disadvantage.
The human spirit is, as we all agree, irrepressible. Like light, it will illuminate every nook and cranny of the unknown. Like water, it will find a way. It will not be imprisoned. Consider the grenade. What is an explosion, after all, but inevitable expansion coupled with unburstable containment? A Texas jailbreak/crime spree is equally Bubbas wantin out and Cell Block Bs holdin him in. A steel jacket without gunpowder is just a hollow object. Gunpowder without a jacket will burn like a fizzler, fairly harmless unless it catches something on fire. But put the two together, libido + repression, tiger + corner, and kablooey! Nothing bottles up the human spirit like a bully. Whether the locus is a high school in Colorado or a bulldozed-into-rubble neighborhood on the West Bank, when there is no place for rage to vent, reasonable human beings become bombs. I dont know why we elect lawyers and politicians to be our leaders. The presidency could really use a chemist right now.
What is most frightening to me about the extraordinary events of the past year is not so much the human suffering or the machinations of justice and injustice as the eery geometry of it, the mathetical improbability. The election result, both nationwide and state-by-state, was almost exactly 50-50. The fact that this is not uncommon (only the third closest election in our history) doesnt make it less remarkable.
The Trade Center thing proceeded on the lines of a gargantuan Marx Brothers expanding slapstick disaster sequence starting with a dozen box knives, escalating into the simultaneous hijacking of four airliners, followed by direct hits to the nerve centers of the military-industrial complex, the collapse of the towers (thousands of lives), the devastation of lower Manhattan, the staggering of the economy, massive layoffs (thousands more lives) and, looming up within the realm of possibility, an unimaginable holy war with Islam. If Harpo doesnt get a grip soon, theres going to be creme pies and wallpaper all over the place. History, like vaudeville, is made of thought. We get together and cook it up. For things to get very strange and very unpleasant is not beyond the scope of the creative imagination.
It would be easy to say (if our collective behavior is a quantum phenomenon, describable by physicists) that we are today in the middle of an anomaly. Having pushed the variables beyond some kind of normal limit, we appear to find ourselves at one of those crossroads in the natural world in which things happen that arent supposed to happen. I dont believe this myself. No matter how crazy things get, it is all normal stuff, natural and predictable, business as usual. History is full of inevitable events that must have come as big surprises to people at the time.
Taking a hit is scary to us only because it very seldom happens. We are not yet accustomed to the reality of countless thousands of angry folks constantly trying, with occasional success, to kill us. Most other countries have gotten okay with it over the centuries. Living with Vandals. Living with Hutus. Living with F-16 Rocket Attacks. Living with Anthrax. It isnt so bad once you give up on survival.
But right now its all brand new, and our nations capital is a little jumpy. Maybe tomorrows weather will not be the same as yesterdays. We are so uncomfortable with uncertainties about our heretofore sheltered life experience that we will not even hear of it unless it is processed through some news medium and whomped up into a story. It is an Arthurian shitkicker, an epic tale of good vs evil in which we can all participate by ceding our power to the king and hunkering bravely back into the fields to generate more wealth. The first thing the news companies do is design a logo for it. And a musical theme. Attack on America! America Strikes Back! America Unites! Ford takes it to the limit! Jordan scores! Who writes this shit? The collective miniseries is a product of romantic storytellers. WWII vintage hacks, most of them, full of steadfast resolve and righteous purpose. Can you imagine this crap on Taliban tv? (Allah Scourges Infidels!) Actually, Islamic fundamentalists dont watch tv. They live without a gloss of out-and-out fiction. Comfortable in mobs, they are much more gregarious than we are, and better disposed to generate a consensual script without hiring professionals.*
* Note from the future (10/29/01) ~ This is a first for me: Condi Rice, according
Bombs away! I have to say that so far the Bush Administration (by which I dont mean Duhyuh himself, who is a ventriloquists dummy as far as I am concerned) has done a pretty good job of balancing the countrys thirst for revenge against the sobering realities of the situation, i.e. a distressing lack of targets in the vast midrange between some tents and card tables in a deserted terrorist training camp and the entire Islamic world with its discontents. So yesterday, from airplanes bearing NYPD logos, Americas vengeance rained down upon Afghanistan from border to border, in what must have been a spectacular batch of explosions. This Tomahawks for you, motherfucker! The hawkish ladies in the office where I work are looking pretty satisfied today, and I, a pacifist, am also satisfied. Bombing Afghanistan accomplishes very little. They claimed 20 civilian casualties, but couldnt produce their bodies. (This will change. Many civilians will die, since they are easier to target.) Bombing creates topsoil (some future nomads might take to farming) and holes, which are useful for hiding surface-to-air missiles or burying garbage. Unexploded bomb casings can be made into cooking utensils. Rumsfield says that when we have crippled the Taliban Air Force (sic) we will venture lower and pinpoint specific objectives: horses, water tanks, those of the countrys 25 million population dumb enough to stand in suspicious groups, etc. Then we will send in the Northern Alliance to smoke em out of their caves. These guys are already mad at the Taliban, and they might be the only people left on earth who have never heard of the Bay of Pigs. Well need to work with them to give up some of their odious habits: raping, pillaging, killing lots of people, heroin smuggling and whatnot, so that we will not seem to have aligned ourselves with yet more evildoers. The tried and true technique of pumping arms and viability into a pack of murderous, surrogate, counter terrorist locals so we dont have to get down and dirty with our enemies has worked so well in the past (the Mujahideen, the Taliban itself, and Hamas over in Israel) that theres no point in developing a new paradigm is there? Brainlessness has taken us this far, hasnt it?
American commandos could be all over the place soon, aggravating local situations they dont know anything about, recruiting future enemies so that our children (yours, actually ~ mine are safely unborn) dont dare go anywhere. The energy of individuals like myself could be directed to the support of this, or toward another outcome, or simply negatively, toward the failure of the Pax Americana in its self-bestowed entitlement to world hegemony. What is best? Pax Americana, Pax WTO, if it is achievable, has historical precedent. If it is a brutal violation of other cultural realities, it is at least a kind of peace. The alternative (apart from endless war) would be a resolution in favor of universal respect and decency, though this is without precedent and possibly is only a hippie fantasy.
The depth of Dubyuhs wisdom is evident today as the early results of the food drops trickle in. The food drops were calculated to send the message that our war is not with Islam or with the people of Afghanistan. They were intended as a show of compassion for the poor souls who have been disrupted by our bombing campaign. The video clips are coming in. Refugees arriving in Pakistan were apparently not told that we are on their side. Angry about their bombed homes, dead relatives and bloodied children (Georges Kids), they have been attacking news teams. Back in the war zone, one video bit shows a guy holding a bag of American food. He is grinning at the cameraman. Thank you! he says. Another shot shows Afghan children dumping peanut butter out onto the ground. They think it is some kind of silly putty or play slime. One older gentleman has passed up the offer, saying he prefers to eat his own kind of food. Entrepeneurs gather up stacks of food packages and offer them for sale in open markets. Some give it away to anybody who wants it. Another shot shows people feeding it to barnyard animals. It would be funnier if it werent so symptomatic of the problem that even in the effort to make a humanitarian gesture nobody in our government thought to ask what Afghans actually eat.
Enough already. It is getting time to cool our jets. We are just blowing off rage and embarrassment here, against the closest people we can find to the people who actually hurt us. It is important to remember, while reverencing the value of the lives of our New Yorkers, that the loss we have suffered is far from the worlds first, or its worst. Americans have trouble seeing themselves as they are seen by others. Imagine anybody else demanding that the world choose up sides for a global war to rescue-civilization-itself-from-the-minions-of-evil over any similar localized atrocity. We urged the Rwandan Tutsis not to seek revenge after half a million of them got individually dismembered by identifiable evildoers and floated off into Lake Victoria. Half of Bangladesh gets wiped out every summer during tidal wave season, and every year they manage to get over it. As many innocent people have been dug up from mass graves in Kosovo as died on September 11, and their murderers are drinking capuccino in public today. Vast numbers of people are dying like flies all over the planet, some as a result of U.S. sponsored terrorist dictators and some not. Far more than 6000 people are maimed and killed in car accidents every year, but you dont see their survivors bombing Detroit. I dont remember reading anything in our newspapers about the brave firemen and volunteers who pulled the melted-together bodies of civilians out of that bomb shelter in Bagdad we nailed with one of our smart bombs a while back. I didnt hear any apologies or remorse for the Iranian passenger plane we shot down by mistake. The things we find so monstrous in others, we find ways to excuse in ourselves.
Our allies dont really owe us any more than their heartfelt condolences. It is immodest and naive for us to demand of them that they break out the hounds and deliver all their terrorists to us, or that they suit up their sons and send them off to revenge somebody elses country. We wouldnt do that for them, and they arent going to do it for us. Only a stupid playground bully has such blind ideas of reference. 9/11 was a terrible thing, very difficult for us, but only about two on a ten scale globally. It will properly sadden us for years to come, but its time to stop beating up villagers like some storybook villain who cant find Robin Hood. Its time to stop hollering and pounding our chests, because this is an obvious form of unmanly sniveling. Osama likes it when you cry. He likes it when you go crazy and waste bombs and put anthrax in your own mail.
Real information continues to disinterest Americans at all levels. Nobody at the CIA, we now discover, speaks Pashto, which indicates that our foreign intelligence service lacks the ability to buy a cup of coffee in enemy territory, and would have no idea what was being said, whether it be strategic information or directions to the fish market, in the ordinary local parlance. Government statements reflect this in their fantastic descriptions of reality in the middle east : freedom-hating terrorists hiding in caves and coalitions of Islamic moderates joining the West in the war against evil. All educated foreigners know that this is horse shit, but they arent about to speak up, given the ugly mood around here these days. With nobody to talk to but each other, our policymakers are like a clique of high school dropouts: when ignorance is total, the trick is to make something up. The same trick is invoked, according to Seymour Hersh, when things are going badly at Operation Enduring Freedom, George IIs comic book war. The minute our super-elite Delta Force lands a hundred strong on Afghan soil all hell breaks loose and they barely escape with their super-elite lives.* The next day, as the Taliban is seen on Al-Jazeera holding up the shot-to-pieces landing gear of our getaway helicopter, some doofus general is on Good Morning America claiming victory. When reports come back that our massive bombing campaign is actually improving Taliban morale, we make up a bunch of hokum. Say it isnt so.
Fortunately for Bush, the public is still reasonably credulous. As long as nobody asks him what hes trying to accomplish (short of purging the world of wrongdoers) hell be fine for the short term. The final cost is spiralling sickeningly beyond the sticker price on this lemon, including doc fees, trashed civil rights, tanked investment values, massive unemployment, heightened fear and a credible demonstration of our vulnerability to lethal attack by a long list of enemies for whom the concept of empowerment has recently hit home with the force of an est Seminar. Soon the fraternity party will be over and the bills will start coming in. The dawns early light will reveal our yuppie soldier boys stuck without an exit strategy in what Molly Ivins calls de Tar Baby. (The length of our resolve for this kind of thing was established by Ho Chi Minh. Four to five years, given a cumulative American body count of 55,000, and a purpose of no less than stopping the expansion of a Worldwide Communist Conspiracy.) What happens when the moron at the helm has a negative approval rating when the ship runs aground? He resigns in disgrace. What happens when he runs aground with a 90% approval rating? Do we all resign in disgrace? Do we invoke Adams argument, that we were foully deceived? Who knows? Time will tell.
* Note from the future (11/6/01) ~ Reports from Kandahar claim that the deliberate targeting of