Been getting interesting nibbles on the issue of the War on the Military. But let me pause for a moment to be timely.
In his September 30 column “9/11 Is Over,” Thomas Friedman, one of the brightest but also most erratic and infuriating of pundits, said: “9/11 has made us stupid. I honor, and weep for, all those murdered on that day. But our reaction to 9/11 — mine included — has knocked America completely out of balance, and it is time to get things right again.
“It is not that I thought we had new enemies that day and now I don’t. Yes, in the wake of 9/11, we need new precautions, new barriers. But we also need our old habits and sense of openness. For me, the candidate of 9/12 is the one who will not only understand who our enemies are, but who we are.”
Friedman is cogent. It is an excellent article and I urge anyone and everyone to read it.
Alas, though wise, it strays by focusing on evidence-for-stupidity that amounts to relative minutiae, like a decline in the number of tourists who are choosing America as a destination. Yes, that is telling; our declining popularity translates directly into declining influence, wealth and power to influence change. Still, tourism?
Even when Friedman speaks of our decaying infrastructure, deprived of investment in favor of futile “nation-building” in a faraway desert, I am less than fully moved. Because all of these things are second order effects, compared to the main show.
Indeed, I have been saying pretty much everything that you’ll find in Friedman’s piece, for three or four years. Back when he was among those hooked by the Iraq War fever, I declared that --
“We (Americans) won the Terror War the very day that it began. Our victory It happened the moment supposedly-decadent Bostonians and New Yorkers, aboard flight UA 93, did what enemies of our civilization always find surprising -- they stood up.
“In their spontaneous eruption of grit, mental agility and sheer moral competence, those passengers showed what their ancestors did, after Lexington and Concord, after Fort Sumter, after Pearl Harbor -- that attempts to terrify or intimidate our people would face a steep, uphill journey, resisted by average citizens at every turn.
“Disproof-of-decadence is a test and a trial that each generation of Americans must pass. This time in fact, compared to other generations, we took care of the chore with remarkable efficiency and got off super-cheap.”
Of course it was a bit of a polemical reach to say “the war started and ended on the same day.” I suppose one might extend its duration a bit, to include the Retaliation. The overwhelmingly competent, fierce and surgically professional way that our armed forces, diplomatic corps and intelligence services collaborated with allies to topple the enemy Taliban regime -- in Afghanistan -- using operational plans mostly worked out during the Clinton Administration. (Do the math. Bush had little chance to meddle with an off-the-shelf scenario, only just enough time to say “go!”) Certainly that display of the Powell Doctrine in action was enough to cause any likely foe to blanch and think twice about sponsoring terror against us, ever again. That is, if we had stopped there, declaring victory.
Indeed, at that point, both the Iranians and the Saudis began offering frantic olive branches! Both were turned down, for diametrically opposite reasons.
Compare that situation to the way our military’s precious aura of invincibility has been frittered away since, a daunting reputation, now transformed into an image of floundering futility. And that is only the surface of the demolition of our armed forces.
So, other than claiming that I was three years ahead of Friedman (on the other hand, he reaches three orders of magnitude as many people), what else can I complain about?
1) Has Thomas Friedman pondered in whose interest it has been, for us to spend the first part of the 21st Century “stupid?” The old Watergate phrase “follow the money” leads -- at minimum -- to use of the word “emergency” to over-rule defense and homeland security contracting procedures, leading to billions flowing to Bush family friends. (The liberal obsession with oil as a reason has amounted to monomaniacal tunnel vision.)
At maximum, following the trail of who has benefited leads to a certain group of people -- also Bush family friends -- who were the only civilians allowed to fly through American skies, on 9/12, while the rest of us were kept on the ground.
2) “Stupid” has many levels. Friedman seems to be pointing at something societal - a pervasive, cultural, turning-away from the assertive confidence that used to characterize America. Is this why the lesson of flight UA 93 has been so thoroughly downplayed?
Indeed, that event wasn’t the only sign of powerful vibrance on that day. The behavior of citizens, in New York and Washington DC, was also superb. Indeed, the only actions that worked, on that day. Elaine Scarry of the Boston Globe, pointed this out. I have repeatedly called it the “Day of the Citizen.”
In effect, New Yorkers stood atop the rubble, turned to face east, and snapped: “Is that the best you got?”
No, Friedman needs to take a closer look at his thesis -- (which seems, at the surface, to be a lot like Jimmy Carter’s whine about “malaise..”)
For one thing, on a cultural level, this mood of trepidation has never overwhelmed the parts of this nation that -- ironically -- remain in the cross hairs of any future terror attack. So-called “Blue America, which consists in large part of the cities that will inevitably bear the brunt, next time. Citizens in those cities have demanded -- and not timidly -- to be allowed to get back to business and back to the 21st Century, despite the danger!
No. The drumbeat of fear -- justifying a permanent state of emergency -- has risen primarily from portions of the country and the population who seem the least at-risk. Is that odd? Just one more weird aspect of “culture war.”
3) If, on the other hand, “stupid” is all about the management of a skilled civilization, then why have Thomas Friedman and his fellow pundits paid so little attention to the Bushites’ central obsession? To their relentless War Against Professionalism?
Subsuming the GOP War on Science and the oppression of the military officer corps, it also covers the campaign of intimidation and distraction that has kept the civil service, the law enforcement community, the FBI and intelligence community from doing their jobs -- uncovering corruption and shining light, the great disinfectant.
4) Friedman asks: “If Disney World can remain an open, welcoming place, with increased but invisible security, why can’t America?”
The answer? For a problem to be fixed, it must be in the interests of those who are in power to fix it. Ideally, that should mean the people. But let’s not kid ourselves. Things have changed. A combination of gerrymandering and Diebold have rendered the vote relatively ineffective. But there is worse.
The restoration of the American class system has accelerated to a point where (just to offer one stinging example) the rich no longer fly first class. Hence, they do not share even a mild version of our pain, at the crowded, awful airports. The new lords avoid frisking and probing, simply bytaking a limo ride to the charter or business jet terminals. (A majority of “first class” passengers are now regular folks, bleeding off frequent flyer miles -- hence the steep decline in first class service, which has thereupon helped fuel the trend, driving the rich elsewhere.)
This is just one example of how a deteriorating situation will force moderate people like me -- who hated communism and believe in free enterprise -- to recall something important from history. That Adam Smith was the first “liberal” and he hated, above all, market-warping shenanigans by “cronies of the king.”
American liberalism is not currently as radical as Fox News commentators paint it to be. But if this goes on, it is sure to rediscover its roots. And the middle class will rediscover theirs.