Ephemerides (October 2001)
October 28, 2001
The United States is the least military-minded superpower in the history of the world, and its allies, with the exceptions of Israel and, to a far lesser extent, Britain and Turkey, are disarmed pacifist states incapable of serious self-defense, much less offensive action against an enemy. It was utterly predictable, then, that the continuance of the war beyond its first few weeks would, despite the President's warnings that this would not be a short campaign, lead to a bout of uneasiness and pessimism. Today's New York Times carries a front page story about the Taliban's "stubborn resilience". One might dismiss that view as the product of liberalism, but National Review Online and even the normally tough-minded Daily Telegraph have weighed in with morose analyses. NRO wonders whether American strategy has been proven "bankrupt" by the failure of the enemy regime to collapse instantly, while the Telegraph claims that last week's raids by ground forces ended prematurely due to "unexpectedly fierce resistance".
What can one make of these worries? "Fierce" and "stubborn" are strange adjectives to apply to an opposition that has yet to inflict a single casualty or damage one piece of American equipment. The butcher's bill so far is exceedingly meager: one man killed in a forklift accident, two dead in a helicopter crash hundreds of miles from the battle line, two parachutists with twisted ankles. On the other side, the body count is unknown but evidently not trivial, all air defenses have been destroyed, and the defenders against our incursions, while they may have been subjectively fierce, were too feeble to kill or wound anyone during an operation lasting for several hours.
Meanwhile, the enemy's fifth column within our borders can do nothing more deadly than try to spread a noncommunicable disease through the U.S. mails! The right words for that assault are "infuriating" and "annoying". Three more deaths to add to the thousands of September 11th remind us of the inhumanity of our enemies but have nil impact on our country's capacity to wage war.
In any conflict in which one side can do damage at will and the other can do nothing in return, the outcome is inevitable. A purely passive opponent located at a great distance may take some time to pummel into submission, and victory will certainly entail loss of life among our troops, but the only way that America can lose this war is if it grows so impatient of triumph that every delay is transformed into a psychological disaster. "We have nothing to fear but fear itself" has never been truer.
October 25, 2001
For the November Atlantic Monthly, Byron York, once The American Spectator's lead inside-the Beltway reporter, has written a history of his former employer's rise, fall and transmogrification into a techno-political mag. TAS was the first journal that ever paid me for my work ("Booze and Pot: The Metaphysical Distinction", February 1973, later reprinted in the magazine's 20th anniversary anthology), and, until its effective collapse a few months ago, I looked forward to it more eagerly than to any other periodical. Its forte was the long, provocative, solidly reasoned policy essay, which it leavened with cutting wit, a sharp eye for cultural follies, some of the best book, movie and play reviews around and a wonderful page ("Current Wisdom") that did no more than quote embarrassingly stupid left-wing utterances. Some of its regular writers were wrong-headed - one mixed sharp analyses of economics and foreign policy with crackpot attacks on the theory of evolution, modern physics and Shakespearean scholarship -but none was pompous or dull. Even the occasional nuttiness was subject to rational standards of discourse. TAS once ran a "the Mafia murdered JFK" piece. The writer's theory had a gaping logical hole, which I pointed out in a letter to the editor. To my utter amazement, the writer responded that, yes, he had overlooked the flaw in his reasoning and therefore was abandoning his hypothesis. Never before or since have I seen such a concession in print. In a more serious vein, despite intense pressure from a major benefactor, the magazine denounced the "Vince Foster was murdered" theory propounded on the fringes of the Right.
York's article does not say a lot about what made TAS exceptional, but it does chronicle its rise from a campus gadfly (originally published at the University of Indiana as The Alternative) to a respected member of the circle of right-of-center intellectual magazines. Until the neoconservative journals began to appear, the only comparable periodical was National Review, which was narrower in scope and more inclined to shout from the rooftops rather than argue in the salons. (Chronicles of Culture was promising for a while. Then its founding editor Leopold Tyrmand died, and it was taken over by kooks.)
So what happened? Why did TAS collapse financially and end up in the hands of broadband guru George Gilder? York, perhaps with an eye to pacifying the Atlantic Monthly's leftish audience, implies that the fatal mistake was editor-in-chief Bob Tyrrell's obsessive pursuit of the crimes of Bill Clinton. Actually, "implies" is too strong a word. He writes about the magazine's Clinton investigations, about Tyrrell's gullible acceptance of wild charges (carefully neutered by the TAS staff before publication) connecting Governor Clinton to drug running, and about early, overlooked symptoms of the unreliability (to put it mildly) of star investigative reporter David Brock. Intermingled is the story of TAS's increasingly severe money problems. The reader is left to infer cause and effect, and Clintonistas will no doubt grin in smug satisfaction at this comeuppance dealt to a key element of the "vast right-wing conspiracy".
The truth, which appears plainly, albeit not emphasized, in York's account, is more mundane. TAS's anti-Clinton articles were mostly well-founded. (York reminds his readers of the fact, invariably hushed up by the pro-Clinton crowd, that Brock's "troopergate" revelations were amply confirmed by the less slapdash reporting of the liberal Los Angeles Times.) The magazine did spend a lot of money on the "Arkansas Project", in which amateur sleuths tried and failed to dig up spectacular dirt about Bill and Hillary, but that money came from Richard Scaife Mellon and was never available for general expenses. The real effect of anti-Clinton journalism was wholly positive: It made TAS highly visible and boosted its circulation to dizzying - and absurd - heights, 309,000 at the peak.
This sudden prosperity led Tyrrell and his colleagues to two decisions, one laudable, the other fatal. On the laudable side, they did not change the character of their journal. It remained erudite, wide-ranging and witty. Fatally, though, they imagined that the influx of new readers would be permanent and that TAS could now hope to attract advertising revenue that would render it self-supporting. They expanded their budget ambitiously, to keep pace with the anticipated readership and revenue inflow.
Unfortunately, while millions of Americans were delighted to browse gossip about the odious Clintons and their hallelujah chorus, far fewer than 309,000 were interested in high level explications of political and cultural ideas. The subscription bubble burst. For a while, TAS spent desperately on direct mail advertising and cut-rate pricing to try to keep up the numbers and meet promises to advertisers, but that was a disastrous game. Circulation finally settled down to about 75,000, which would have been cause for rejoicing ten years earlier but was now too small to pay for a bloated structure.
Nevertheless, the old TAS might have survived. York reports that publishing magnate Conrad Black (proprietor of the London Telegraph, IMHO the best newspaper in the world) offered a large, permanent subvention. Attached were a couple of reasonable conditions: Tyrrell was to step down as editor-in-chief in favor of the younger and intellectually more energetic David Frum, one of North America's best conservative journalists, and oversight was to pass to a board of directors chosen primarily by Black rather than Tyrrell. That Tyrrell rejected this bailout seems, ironically, to have been due to his own acquiescence in the liberal diagnosis of TAS's problems. He declared that his stepping down to a lesser role would demonstrate that anti-Clintonism was personally ruinous - not just that small businesses can come to grief by overexpanding and misjudging their markets.
The name American Spectator survives. Its current incarnation is even interesting, but it is not the TAS of old. In a single issue (I pluck September 1994 at random from my closet), one could read James Bovard on HUD's counterproductive Section 8 program, Mordechai Richler's account of returning to Israel, Brit Hume on the ineptitude of the new White House travel office (to obtain the services of which the Clintons fired, smeared and tried to jail a veteran civil servant), the latest installment of Ben Stein's mordant Hollywood diary, James Bowman on The Lion King, Little Big League, Angels in the Outfield and A Tale of Winter, Kenneth S. Lynn on a new biography of H. L. Mencken, Elliott Abrams on Mario Vargas Llosa's bid for the presidency of Peru, Bob Novak on David Frum's Dead Right, and much else worth reading. Not a word about broadband. Sic transit gloria punditatis.
October 24, 2001
Did September 11th wake up Democratic liberals and convince them that they love their country more than they loathe George W. Bush, or were they just play acting out of fear of the voters? One would prefer to believe the former - and it must be true in many cases - but Senator Joseph Biden (D-Md), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has made his own true feelings clear. In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, he declares that the U.S. had better stop dropping bombs in Afghanistan "sooner rather than later". If it doesn't, it "faces complaints that it is a high-tech bully that only attacks from the air." If Senator Biden had gone on to say that such complaints are ludicrous, that it isn't "bullying" for the side that is in the right to apply all of the force at its command against its enemies, no one could quarrel with him. But he made it as clear as he could, without shouting the words, that he agreed with the hypothetical complainers, warning that Democrats' "honeymoon" with the Bush Administration "might get rockier soon". The implications of the senator's terminology are interesting and appalling. The defining characteristic of a bully is that he attacks without good justification, simply to show off his ability to overpower those who are weaker. To associate that word with America's war against terrorism is to label our cause unjust and to suggest that al-Qaeda and the Taliban are objects of legitimate sympathy, just like the 90-pound weakling on the beach. Does the Democratic Party's highest ranking foreign policy formulator really believe that? Alas, very likely.
* * * *
Pinellas County lost its peacenik nerve even faster than Madison, Wisconsin. The day after declaring that dropping eggs on an Osama bin Laden poster would be culturally insensitive, the school higher-ups said that teacher Patricia Thomas' science project could go ahead. But, just as in Madison, the surrender was anything but graceful. The spokesman who yesterday moaned that unfriendliness toward a mass murderer was "controversial" now grumbles to the St. Petersburg Times that the issue was "is this sending the right message [of tolerance], but at the same time it becomes a question of academic freedom on the teacher's part. . . . I think the feelings are still the same but they're going to go ahead and go through with it, and we'll see what happens." What's going to happen, fella, is that the eggs will break.
October 23, 2001
During World War II, American schoolchildren sang, "Heil, heil, spit, Right in the Fuehrer's face!" Nowadays, we are too multiculturally sensitive for that. A Florida teacher's science project involving dropping eggs onto a 9-foot by 9-foot photo of Osama bin Laden has been vetoed by higher authorities. The St. Petersburg Times quotes a Pinellas County school district spokesman as mumbling, "I reviewed it with a couple of people and I thought perhaps, especially with our emphasis on multicultural issues . . . that it would not be a good thing to do. Perhaps we could [drop the eggs on] something less controversial (sic) . . . maybe a poster that said terrorism." The unspoken implication - that Moslem-Americans would be offended at insults directed toward a mass murderer - is, of course, infinitely more "insensitive" than the teacher's egg toss. (For those who are wondering, the pedagogical purpose of the exercise was to see whether students could cushion eggs in a manner that would survive the 35 foot fall.)
October 21, 2001
Now that I've had my first taste of the new look in airport security, I am only moderately discontented. (Cf. my remarks on October 1st). At O'Hare the elapsed time from getting into the baggage check-in queue to reaching the other side of the security checkpoint was only 16 minutes. (It would have been longer, but still not appalling, if United didn't have separate check-in for my grade of frequent flyer.) At Seattle-Tacoma, the time was half an hour, no doubt reflecting the mellower attitudes of the Pacific Northwet.
While I thus cannot call my discontent worse than "moderate", discontent is not delight. That the carry-on baggage screeners are looking more carefully at their x-ray pictures is right and proper. That one must show identification three times before boarding is not. All of the September 11th terrorists had impeccable ID, and a fanatic eager to murder for Mohammed isn't going to be discouraged by having to show his photo three times to bored gate agents (or is he supposed to be disconcerted by the subtle allusion to the Trinity?). Nor can I see much point in the new insistence that laptop computers be removed from their carrying cases before being x-rayed. The procedure seems to reflect lingering paranoia over the lethal potential of personal technology. All in all, one sees too much of the philosophy that inconveniencing travelers will make them safer. What is really needed is more eyes focused on real dangers and fewer distracted by administrivia.
October 17, 2001
The Madison, Wisconsin School Board voted last Monday to allow the children under its tutelage to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner", demonstrating that their fear of outraged voters was stronger than their dislike of their native land. Milwaukeean Michael M. Uhlmann tells the story of the climbdown in "Dangerous Patriotism". In his earlier "Madison vs. the Pledge", he recounted the Board's effort to protect sensitive young minds from patriotism.
October 12, 2001
One of the Chicago Tribune's silly columnists penned an inanity today that one is already hearing whispered in bien pensant circles and that will grow louder as the nation drifts back toward normalcy: "Until we understand why much of the world hates the U.S. - hatred born, however irrationally, of our social behaviors, their religious and cultural beliefs, our global political actions and the wealth and information gaps between us - we'll never conquer their hatred or escape its dangers." Perhaps not. But understanding that hatred in full won't conquer it either or make it less dangerous. This columnist's syrupy words conceal two fallacies.
First, when World War II broke out, much of the world hated the U.S., hated it enough to launch sneak attacks on its harbors, invade its territory and kill its soldiers. How much good did it do then to "understand" the whys and wherefores of that hatred? Actually, our government tried. It commissioned Ruth Benedict, a highly skilled anthropologist, to analyze Japanese culture and beliefs. Her efforts produced a fascinating book, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. But did they shorten the conflict by so much as a day? I somehow doubt it.
Second, Osama ben Laden and his ilk have told us, as loudly and clearly as they can, what they hate and why. They hate Judaeo-Christian civilization. They hate trade and intercourse among nations. They hate the fact that infidels get rich through commerce while pursuing "Islamic" economic principles brings only squalor. They hate the fact that a few Arabs are rich and decadent (conditions that they blame on the West). They hate the fact that, when its interests are attacked, America defends itself and is powerful enough to do so effectively.
Exactly what can or should America do to assuage hatreds that arise from causes like those? Convert to Islam? Force Jewish citizens to wear yellow stars? Close down our banks, stock exchanges, international corporations and airlines? Replace the House of Sa'ud with the House of Laden as lords of Arabia? Let ourselves be pummeled by every third world loudmouth with a grievance? All that "understanding" can really do, under these circumstances, is make us aware of how little hope there is for peace between the Western world and Taliban-style Islam, unless those who would like to murder us are too weak and fearful to carry out their designs. Oderint dum metuant was spoken defiantly by a tyrant, but it can also be a civilized man's resigned acceptance of a sad but unchangeable fact of life.
The subtext of our columnist's nonsense is, of course, that our enemies don't really hate us for the reasons that they express. Their true grievances are hidden to themselves, but, if we can find and cure them, hatred will disappear. The quoted words even hint at what form the cure should take: "the wealth and information gaps between us". To the naturally socialist mind of the modern chattering class, redistribution of wealth is always the answer. It scarcely matters what the question happens to be.
October 11, 2001
Today Ronald Reagan became the longest lived President in our nation's history, surpassing the lifespan of John Adams. Adams lived 33,119 days (90 years, 8 months, 4 days). God grant you many years, Mr. President!
We must take a stand against terrorism in the world and combat it with firmness, for it is a most cowardly and savage violation of peace. We must remember our heritage, who we are and what we are, and how this nation, this island of freedom, came into being.
And we must make it unmistakably plain to all the the world that we have no intention of compromising our principles, our beliefs or our freedom, that we have the will and determination to do as a young President said in his inaugural address 20 years ago, "Bear any burden, pay any price."
Our reward will be world peace; there is no other way to have it.
-- Ronald Reagan, August 1980
October 10, 2001
Upon hearing from their constituents, several members of the Madison School Board abruptly decided, according to the Wisconsin State Journal, that they hadn't really understood what they were voting on. The Pledge of Allegiance and the lyrics to the National Anthem will be given a second chance at a future meeting. Meanwhile, schools under the board's jurisdiction can use either. The sponsor of the anti-Pledge ukase, unlike his colleagues, is firm and unapologetic, though he tolerantly disclaims any desire to prevent students from saying the Pledge "before school or between classes" (but what if an oh-so-sensitive Taliban sympathizer is scarred by overhearing them?). As for "The Star-Spangled Banner", he continues to object to its "militaristic tone and phraseology". One of his supporters, president of the Madison-based Freedom from Religion Foundation, calls legislators who advocate the Pledge "religious zealots" and "dingbats".
October 9, 2001
For those who are afraid (and I know that there are some) that America has been swept up in a wave of patriotism since September 11th, there is good news. The Madison, Wisconsin School Board is resisting! At its meeting on October 8th, the Board took up options for complying with a new state law mandating that every public school day include either the Pledge of Allegiance or the National Anthem. Its decision: to forbid principals and teachers from leading recitations of the Pledge and to allow only an instrumental version (none of those nasty, warlike lyrics) of "The Star-Spangled Banner". The vote was three to two. That doesn't mean that the two dissenters thought it proper for schools to foster loyalty to our country. Rather, they objected that the majority hadn't done enough to shelter the tender psyches of pupils who might not feel allegiance to the United States of America. During the debate on the measure, a Middle School "education assistant" likened the Pledge to "indoctrination" and warned that "totalitarianism" was approaching. If this story did not come from the sober Wisconsin State Journal, I would be positive that it was an Onion parody.
October 6, 2001
A friend who works at the Pentagon passes along this grimly heartening analysis:
I share with you . . . THE GOOD NEWS
By now everyone has been made aware of the death toll rise and reports of the destruction from the terrorist attacks on the US on 9-11-2001. These were deplorable acts that we will never forget.
But now is a time to look at the other side of the numbers coming out of New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. The sad but somewhat uplifting side of this that the mainstream media has not reported yet: the SURVIVAL rates and some positive news about the attacks.
The World Trade Center
The twin towers of the World Trade Center were places of employment for some 50,000 people. With the missing list of just over 5,000 people, that means 90% of the people targeted survived the attack. A 90% on a test is an 'A'.
Some 23,000 people were the target of a third plane aimed at the Pentagon. The latest count shows that only 123 lost their lives. That is an amazing 99.5% survival rate. In addition, the plane seems to have come in too low, too early to affect a large portion of the building. On top of that, the section that was hit was the first of five sections to undergo renovations that would help protect the Pentagon from terrorist attacks. It had recently completed straightening and blast-proofing, saving untold lives. This attack was sad, but a statistical failure.
American Airlines Flight 77
This Boeing 757 that was flown into the outside of the Pentagon could have carried up to 289 people, yet only 64 were aboard. Luckily 78% of the seats were empty.
American Airlines Flight 11
This Boeing 767 could have had up to 351 people aboard, but only carried 92. Thankfully 74% of the seats were unfilled.
United Airlines Flight 175
Another Boeing 767 that could have sat 351 people only had 65 people on board. Fortunately it was 81% empty.
United Airlines Flight 93
This Boeing 757 was one of the most uplifting stories yet. The smallest flight to be hijacked with only 45 people aboard out of a possible 289 had 84% of its capacity unused. Yet these people stood up to the attackers and thwarted a fourth attempted destruction of a national landmark, saving untold numbers of lives in the process.
Out of potentially 74,280 Americans directly targeted by these inept cowards, 93% survived or avoided the attacks. That's a higher survival rate than heart attacks, breast cancer, kidney transplants and liver transplants - all common, survivable illnesses.
Pass this information on to those in fear and the media. Don't fear these terrorists. The odds are against them.
October 5, 2001
When Arming America, an historical study asserting that few Americans owned firearms in the Colonial period, came under attack from Second Amendment advocates, I didn't pay much attention. More than a few gun proponents tend to, well, shoot from the hip, and their charge - that author Michael Bellesiles, a professor at Emory University, had faked large portions of his research - sounded overblown. His data might, of course, be amenable to other interpretations, and his historical conclusions did not necessarily have any compelling implications for current policy, but he apparently had punctured a time-honored American myth, for which he deserved the Bancroft Prize that Columbia University awarded him last April.
But I may have been too charitable. The Boston Globe reports that the chairman of Emory's history department has asked Professor Bellesiles "to write a detailed defense of his research for the book". That is the first time that I have ever heard of a respectable academic institution investigating the work of a tenured professor.
Articles, written in reasonable tones, by Kim Strassel of The Wall Street Journal and Melissa Seckora of National Review describe the questions that have been raised about Bellesiles' work. Critics, some of them declared supporters of gun control, assert that many records that he cites as sources of his data either do not exist or contradict his conclusions. For instance, Bellesiles concludes, based on examination of probate records, that, during the immediate pre-Revolutionary War period, the personal property of only 14.7 percent of American male decedents included firearms. Another researcher, reviewing the same records, calculated that the ownership rate was 58 percent. One party or the other must be seriously mistaken.
Bellesiles says that he would have responded to his critics long ago, except that his notes were destroyed by flooding shortly after he completed the book. (The dog ate his homework, say the scoffers.) He now promises a response in the newsletter of the Organization of American Historians. Perhaps he will vindicate himself, or perhaps he will become a sad example of the power of preconceived political opinions to warp standards of scholarship.
October 4, 2001
Isn't it finally time for America Online, Microsoft Network, EarthLink and other Internet service providers to re-examine the juvenile practice of allowing customers to hide behind multiple "screen names," instead of requiring them to conduct themselves online using their real identities or e-mail addresses that correspond with their real names? We don't go around wearing masks in the real world. There, we are responsible -- by name -- for what we do and say. That makes it harder for malefactors to operate.
I'm not suggesting that skilled terrorists can't and don't forge their identities, even in a real world where real names are the norm. But why make it easy for them, or for lesser criminals and scam artists, to operate with impunity online? Why provide a sea of anonymity for them to swim in?
-- Walter Mossberg, The Wall Street Journal, 10/4/01
October 3, 2001
We thought for a long time that the Clinton years would be seen in retrospect as a mixed blessing. He was sleazy and unprincipled, we surmised, but he was also competent, he led an economic recovery, and he conducted a foreign policy of multilateral distinction. But the further we get away from the Clinton years, the more damning they seem. The narcissistic, feckless, escapist culture of an America absent without leave in the world was fomented from the top. The boom at the end of the decade turned out to include a dangerous bubble which the administration did little to prevent. The "peace-making" in the Middle East and Ireland merely intensified the conflicts. The sex and money scandals were not just debilitating in themselves. They meant that even the minimal attention that the Clinton presidency paid to strategic military and intelligence work was skimped on. We were warned. But we were coasting. We were deluding ourselves. And the main person primarily tasked with correcting that delusion, with ensuring our national security - the president himself - was part of the problem. Through the dust clouds of September 11 and during the difficult task ahead, one person hovers over the wreckage - and that's Bill Clinton. His legacy gets darker and darker with each passing day.
October 2, 2001
The New York Times "discovers" (obviously because it was told by somebody who wanted it to know, not because its reporters pried out secrets through detective work) that the United States was just about the present a proposal for a "Palestinian State" before September 11th intervened. It requires little cynicism to see the strategy at work here. "Moderate" Arab states are reluctant to support the War on Terrorism openly - perhaps because their kingpins aren't all that horribly shocked by massacres (most of them have killed far more than 6,000 of their own people), perhaps because they fear rebellion by Islamic extremists. Now the U.S. offers the political cover of concessions on the issue that is supposedly the Arab world's greatest concern, viz., the creation of a sovereign mini-dictatorship for Yasser Arafat and the PLO. That gesture will presumably make it easier to enlist the much desired "broad coalition" against terrorism and spare the U.S. State Department from having to reflect seriously on the corollaries of President Bush's warning that "he who is not with us is against us".
On both sides, the insincerity is patent. We won't (at least I'm reasonably confident that the President won't) do anything concrete for the PLO except on terms that it is certain to refuse (such as introducing the rule of law, freedom of speech, economic liberty and fair elections into its domain). In return, the Arab "moderates" won't do all that much for us - certainly not cast aside the terrorist groups that they themselves protect or sponsor. But that's okay: The elements in our government who don't want to "expand" the war beyond chasing Osama bin-Laden will have as much Arab cooperation as they really want, while the "hawks" know that, in a real war, the militarily negligible Arab governments cannot prevent the United States from taking whatever unilateral steps it chooses.
Thus we are left with what looks like an exchange of words with some PR value and no concrete harm. Tactically, all is well, but the strategy is potentially disastrous.
One of the searing images of the aftermath of September 11th was the eruption of joy, euphoria, celebration within the area controlled by the Palestinian Authority when the news arrived of the slaughter of thousands of civilians on American soil. For anyone who paid attention, those Palestinian cheers were revelatory. A well-known Australian leftist, who, by her own admission, had been as virulently anti-U.S. and anti-Israel as anyone on her continent reacted this way:
I was so into siphoning blame away from the perpetrators of violent crime that friends tell me my views were parodic, almost Pythonesque. Society did it. Arrest society.
Hence my willingness to take swipes at Israel and the Jewish lobby, to accuse both (without distinction) of paranoia, of reverse racism, of exploiting the Holocaust for political and territorial gain. "It's so much easier to clobber the Palestinians," I wrote in 1995, "if the world feels sorry for you over something that happened 50 years ago.
The images of Palestinians cheering as planes carved into skyscrapers made me sick at heart. One fat woman in ugly specs will stay with me for a long time. Don't go there, I chanted under my breath as she ululated with joy. Don't go there. That's where the Nazis went, and that way lies madness.
If this self-declared enemy of the West saw the ugliness behind the Palestinian facade, why can't we?
Offering concessions now to Arafat and his henchman is to reward our enemies - which is a prescription for gaining more enemies in the future. We, in our sophistication, may know that the concessions are a public relations game, but to the people who a fortnight ago were swearing symbolic blood brotherhood with mass murderers, they are just as likely to be proof that the United States is not only hateful but afraid. Meanwhile, those Palestinians (and such must exist) who realize on some level that the anti-Western cause is a jihad for tyranny, impoverishment and degradation will not be encouraged to believe that any trust or hope can be placed in the Western nations. If Americans aren't outraged by mobs baying for the blood of their countrymen, they will surely remain indifferent to the suppression of Palestinian dissidents.
The right strategic policy is to make it clear to those who proclaim themselves our enemies that we will treat them like enemies. In particular, we should scotch all notions of an independent Palestinian state and say forthrightly that the Palestinians themselves have killed every chance of our favor so long as the present generation lasts. Any policy less firm is like telling the Nazis in 1939 that, no matter what happens in this unfortunate war, we respect the right of Naziism to continue as a legitimate political movement and to have a territory of its own.
Letter of Comment from Erwin S. Strauss (3/24/02)
October 1, 2001
My most recent airplane trip was on September 7th, so I haven't yet seen the new regime in airport security first hand. If news stories can be trusted, when I do see it I won't like it.
A psychologist has an explanation for the confiscation of pen knives, safety razors, fingernail clippers and other such deadly weapons:
People at airports seem to favor stringent enforcement of these policies. For example, after the World Trade Center tragedy, one passenger at United Airlines stated that she was glad the authorities were keeping lines long to check for coffee cups with sharp edges. (No, really.) "This makes me feel really safe,"she said. "I feel like they are doing something." Doing something is nice, but perhaps it would be better to do something effective. "Feelings" may not care about effectiveness, but terrorists do. We see a similar dynamic with zero tolerance weapons policies in schools. Sure, it makes sense to expel a kid who brings a real loaded gun to school, but most of the time, innocent kids are expelled for drawing a picture of a weapon (something boys have been doing since time immemorial) or for pointing a finger and going "bam, bam!" Has this averted one act of school violence? It's doubtful.
What these rules actually do is punish the average citizen who is not doing anything wrong. But that's actually part of the dynamic. There are far more law-abiding citizens: by punishing them the authorities reassure other law-abiding citizens that they are acting. If they only acted against people who were actually violent, most ordinary citizens (i.e., voters) wouldn't notice. Unfortunately, these policies also leave the rest of us with a false sense of security. At least, that is, until the next mass murder takes place and we are left shaking our heads, wondering why our symbolic solutions have done nothing to solve the problem. Of course, this is what these kinds of symbolic solutions are all about--the appearance of doing something. Whether or not that something works to reduce random acts of violence is not even the question.
That sounds plausible, but is it the whole of the dynamic at work here? Like all "zero tolerance" policies, this one removes the need to exercise judgement. If everything is forbidden, the screener's burden is eased. Everyone may be annoyed with him in general, but no one can be angry with him in particular. That he is protecting his own peace of mind at the expense of weakening real security probably goes unthought.
Still, I suppose that a degree of irrationality is to be expected in the wake of a catastrophe. The worry is that irrational restrictons will become a habit. Within a few months, a large proportion of flights will have armed guards, and pilots may be permitted to carry guns. Except for firearms, bombs and serious edged weapons, nothing that a passenger can carry on board will be a threat. Will we then relax and recognize that, after what occurred last month, a couple of hijackers armed with scissors and corkscrews won't survive confrontation with a hundred or more potential victims? Or will it remain more convenient to "punish the average citizen who is not doing anything wrong" in order to reassure him of the vigilance of the authorities?
And apropos "I feel like they are doing something", let's not fall into the syllogism:
Something must be done.
This is something.
Therefore. . . .