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The opportunists

By Barton Wong
web posted September 17, 2001

Let me say this first before I begin. This heinous attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center was not just an attack on the United States and its American citizens, nor just an assault on the West and its way of life, as some commentators have written. This planned massacre of tens of thousands of people was a direct blow against decency and universally held human values. As a Canadian citizen, I have often loathed the policies of the American government, Democratic and Republican. As a writer, I was disgusted by the global spread of the crudeness and crass commercialism too often associated with your country's pop culture. As a person of Chinese ancestry, I despise those who so smugly speak of the "superiority" of the West and its culture. But this time it is different. I join with you in your country's grief and anger at what occurred on Tuesday and I wish you luck in catching those responsible who are still alive to face the wrath of your justice. Hanging is too good for those who meticulously financed, planned, and carried out this deed. May they rot in hell.

Perhaps the only good thing that has come out of all this, is that finally, after months of bitter bickering after the Florida fiasco, there is something that the Blue zone and the Red zone can agree about. It is at times like these, that the best in human nature comes out, and the fundamental patriotism and sheer human decency of ordinary citizens and yes, even politicians, unites them in a just and common cause. But this is also a time when the very worst in human nature also comes to light, not just in the perpetrators, but in the victims as well. Pundits from both the Right and the Left, for whatever reasons, will use this event as a pretext to serve only their own partisan ends. Whatever has happened, the government and the people of America must not give into these shallow opportunists who will call with all the eloquence at their disposal for the most extreme and obscene measures. America must not lower itself to their level.

On the Right, we had the paleo-conservatives do their usual whine: "This is a judgment on us for our interventionist foreign policy..." While I try to recall when in American history, the US Air Force launched fully-fueled jets into their enemies' civilian buildings, I will say this. While there have been immense mistakes in the past, (My Lai and perhaps the entire Vietnam War) the American military in the twentieth century has been mostly a force for good in the world. Without them, Nazis would have held continental Europe, South Korea would now be a People's Republic, and Saddam Hussein would be in control of half the world's oil supply. If anything, as the world's only superpower, the United States has an obligation now to act as the arsenal of democracy and the world's moral center. Let these right-wingers complain all they want. Half a million people in Rwanda needed our help and we just sat back and watched. Remember that.

At the National Review, we have had Stanley Kurtz call for a revival of the draft. The idiocy and hysteria of coercing young men and women from their homes is obvious (remember Vietnam?). No, America might be at war with terrorism, but it must allow its citizens as much freedom as they enjoyed before September 11th and not allow their country to become an armed camp. Only then can you show the world, you truly are the "land of the free." A bloodthirsty Ann Coulter, perhaps crazed by grief by the death of her good friend Barbara Olson, wrote at the end of her elegy for Olson, these chilling sentences, which should have never gotten pass the editor's desk:

We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war.

I like the part about forced conversions. It gives new meaning to the term "get medieval" on someone. Perhaps once Ms. Coulter gives up on her dreams of reliving the Crusades and liberating the Holy Land from the "infidels," she'll recover her sanity. Meanwhile, the right-wing Washington Times published a frightening editorial by 22-year veteran former intelligence officer, Thomas Woodrow, actually entitled, "Time to use the nuclear option," which unbelievably advocates the loony tune Dr. Strangelove-like Final Solution of "delivering nuclear strikes against the instigators and perpetrators of the attacks...At a bare minimum, tactical nuclear capabilities should be used against the bin Laden camps in the desert of Afghanistan."

I've never been the biggest friend of the Religious Right and after today, I suspect I never will be. 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." This requires no comment from me at all.

On the Left, we also had plenty of hot air. The Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, drew a breathtakingly perceptive parallel when its press release declared: "The terrorist disasters of September 11 may well have been the ultimate 'faith-based initiative.'" As always, Noam Chomsky couldn't resist commenting. The MIT professor wrote, "The primary victims, as usual, were working people: janitors, secretaries, firemen, etc. It is likely to prove to be a crushing blow to Palestinians and other poor and oppressed people." Gee, and here I was thinking that the bombings were a crushing blow to people of the United States. As well, the friend who sent me this asked rather pointedly, "Like how many janitors are around in the office building at 9:00 A.M.? Answer, none. They work swing shifts when everyone's gone home for the day." I also like how Chomsky kind of ignores all those business people who too must have died when both towers of the Trade Center came down. We can't be mourning all those young corporate executives now, can we?

There will also be those who will do just about anything in their partisan anger to pin the ultimate root cause of this disaster to President Bush and the vast "military-industrial complex." Joe Conason tells us for the nth time that, "No Vast Missile Shield Could Have Prevented This," and others will follow his lead, as they always do. Of course, Mr. Conason is right on this. As Tuesday proved, those "rogue states" and their associated terrorist organizations would never, ever, ever launch a nuclear attack on the United States. No doubt, they'll just limit themselves to committing atrocities which kill only tens of thousands of Americans, instead of millions. We should thank them for their generosity. Newsweek's Howard Fineman had the actual gall to write a "news" piece that criticized Bush not for his actions, but for his lack of natural eloquence and inability to be an "Empathizer-In-Chief." As if Bush should have spent his valuable time practicing actorly emoting and crocodile tears, instead of worrying about national security.

As Rep. Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat and another one of the "appearance over reality" crowd, explained patiently to the Boston Herald, "It's not a question of what he's saying. The content is fine. But the blandness with which it is delivered has caused considerable reaction." Even my own country's right-wing (but for how long?) National Post got in on the act. The TV critic (yes, the TV critic!) actually had the temerity to scold President Bush for his "silly" city hopping on Tuesday. As if Bush was not under some sort of credible security threat as it now appears, though the Washington Post's Mary McGrory takes a predictably cheap shot at Bush, by faulting him for "allowing himself to be hauled around the country like a fugitive." McGrory compares Bush unfavorably with Tony Blair and even New York Mayor and fellow conservative Republican Rudolph Giuliani, and concludes that Bush "flunked" the test of leadership but has "three years to take a makeup exam." Ms. McGrory must be one hard marker because according to her own newspaper's polling, Bush passed this exam with 91% of the American people. But I guess they don't really count, do they? And then there's that very reliable intelligence source, Democrat Rep. Martin Meehan of the great state of Massachusetts, who rather suspiciously claims to know something that American investigators apparently don't, "I don't buy the notion Air Force One was a target," he told the Boston Herald. "That's just PR. That's just spin." The National Post's television critic also said that Bush's national address "lacked the hallmarks of greatness. Where were the turns of phrases destined to stick in the history books? Where was the soaring oratory to ignite a nation...There is no faulting the accuracy of these statements, but they lack emotive power and imagination." The triumph of taking words more seriously than actions seems almost complete.

Consumer "activist," filmmaker, and big (in every sense of that word) Ralph Nader fan Michael Moore wondered openly on his web site why the terrorists didn't bother to do us consumers all a great public service by trying to kill more Republicans:

Many families have been devastated tonight. This just is not right. They did not deserve to die. If someone did this to get back at Bush, then they did so by killing thousands of people who DID NOT VOTE for him! Boston, New York, DC, and the planes' destination of California--these were places that voted AGAINST Bush!

Why kill them? Why kill anyone?

These remarks of Mr. Moore's also require no comment, absolutely no comment from me at all. If I did, they'd probably be unprintable.

Andrew Sullivan called John Lahr's paranoid ramblings in Slate, "the most obscene comment yet." The reader may judge for himself:

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.

Mr. Lahr may care to tell the thousands of people in all those body bags, just how "mean-spirited and violent," the country they were citizens of is.

The news media, whose coverage has been very thorough and mostly praiseworthy, also had their share of obscene moments. After a special report which analyzed how long people would rally around President Bush, while tossing in the occasional objective comment about how Bush has been learning about foreign policy on the job and it's really his cabinet that has the leadership skills, NBC's Tom Brokaw closed the story by thanking the reporter for the report on our "President Clinton." He became immediately embarrassed, got flustered, tried to cover it, couldn't, and moved on. He actually made the excuse that he "got Clinton on the brain," a disease which seems to have afflicted the entire bi-coastal liberal media establishment ever since the guy left office. The September 11th New York Times had an adulatory profile of former Weatherman Bill Ayers complete with this unbelievable quote from him: "I don't regret setting bombs. I feel we didn't do enough." There has been a suspicion that the major networks were suppressing footage of Palestinians dancing in the streets when news of the bombing spread. There have certainly been threats made to cameramen if they dared to air their footage.

And then there was the case of another major "Big Three" network news anchor, that high school dropout and fellow Canadian of mine, Peter Jennings. On behalf of all Canadians, I apologize for his loathsome performance on Tuesday. Several times I wanted to smash my own television set, especially when he seemed to be actually making excuses for those Arabs who were cheering on the attacks. A particularly horrible moment came when President Bush remarked something to the effect that "Freedom would be defended," and Jennings replied snidely, "Well, it sure wasn't defended today." It was quite a time for Jennings to act like a superior smart aleck. But astonishingly, he topped that heartless, little wisecrack with this astounding commentary, "Mr. Bush [it must be physically painful for him to say 'President Bush'] seems to be running around the country with no clear direction and by the looks of that speech in Louisiana he seems to be mentally unstable at the moment." Did it even occur to this qualified psychologist that President Bush might have been under a great deal of stress at that moment and that the reason he was moving around with "no clear direction" was that Bush and Air Force One might have been a target of the terrorists, as they apparently were? Jennings shamed both me and all Canadians by his disgusting behaviour on Tuesday. Frankly, ABC should have fired him.

So what should America do after this, if they are not to follow the advice of the various opportunists? It's very simple really. First of all, do not allow any hooligans to harass any American Arabs. If it does turn out to be Arab extremists, fine, of course any American citizens who helped or harboured the terrorists, whatever their ethnicity, must and will be arrested, convicted, and given the fate they deserve, but ancestry and skin colour must not be counted. But do not assume then that every Muslim is now guilty by association. The racists will be out in full force. Already, the New York Times is reporting that a nationwide campaign of harassment is beginning. If anything, the police must be sure to give American Arabs and their places of worship extra protection from these thugs in the next weeks and months. Americans must not give in to their understandable feelings of rage and anger. They must instead provide an example of tolerance to the world, especially the Arab world, that they are better and more decent human beings than the monsters who committed this crime. And let those Palestinians who were celebrating in the streets and passing candy around to children hang their heads in shame.

As well, the American government must never make the mistake of going after innocent people. The bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was one time too many. Definite proof must be had first. Once identified, the government must not do what some conservatives are advocating and assassinate the surviving perpetrators point-blank. Nor should we give in to the absolutely ridiculous suggestion by certain foaming-at-the-mouth fanatic NRA types, that pilots, stewards, and yes, even passengers be allowed to carry handguns aboard airplanes. Only if you want real-life reenactments of the "Gunfight at the OK Corral" occurring every time a plane is taken over by terrorists. Let the terrorists have a monopoly on such barbaric practices. The people who perpetrated this crime must be captured and held for questioning to see the true extent of their threat to the US. Demand their extradition. If refused, threaten sanctions economic and diplomatic. If these still don't work, then go in with Marines. If they or anyone else resists, do what Prime Minister Blair suggested, "eradicate" them and all who ally themselves with them or harbor them. Put anyone who's left on trial for war crimes. And oh yes, one final suggestion. Be sure to re-build the World Trade Center in all its skyline-hogging glory.

America and the American people know in their heart of hearts what they must do. Now is the time they must summon up the will to stand united and simply do it. ESR

Barton Wong is a regular commentator at the Houston Review and studies Literary Studies and Philosophy at the University of Toronto.

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