Many Thanks for all the kind words, and the dedicated readership and response. I am unworthy.
I'm also chuffed (British English I picked up in Britain - meaning happy and excited) to learn you guys are still on board, despite your misgivings. (That's OK. that's how we figure things out - and why we lead the world - freedom of inquiry married to dedicated delibertion.
War sucks. That's an understatement. Americans are dying here, and not in pleasant ways. That is the nature of war, it is an unpalatable choice. And if I must flog a dead horse I will: The world didn't have the stomach for war when Hitler annexed the Sudentenland. Many of our closest allies didn't have the stomach for much of a confrontation with the Soviet Union. And a whole heaping load of good it did, and lives it spared. Pleasant thoughts did not stop the Blitzkrieg, an unreconstructed neanderthal named George S Patton did. Wishful thinking did not stop the gulags. They churned unabated for eight decades, destroying souls who have effectively been erased from history. Liberty requires vigilance - a lesson lost, I think, after the howling-mad blood-bath of WWI. A war that's not talked about enough, because its overshadowed by the Second.
And as for this romanticized notion of the "Good war", lets not forget the mutual extra-judicial killings on the Western front in 1944, or the busy trade we had with Germany in 1915, or you want civil protest? Try the draft riots in New York in 1864. War is messy. War is failure. War is evil. War is whatever epithet you'd like to pin to it - but say it with me now: "War . . . is . . . sometimes . . . necessary." The best we can hope for is a quick victory. War swallows whole the good with the bad, the well-intentioned, the orphans, and the honorable with everyone else. We made it as "surgical" as technologically possible following the "stupid" bombs of Vietnam - and apparently even convinced ourselves that wars could be won without infantry (Bosnia-Serbia), or worse still - that great powers could choose to lose little insignificant wars like Somalia with no blow-back. (Does anyone need a history-lesson of Al Qaeda in Somalia? Did we all get that class? Ok, then.) This is war. It requires boots on the ground, and soldiers in those boots. Those soldiers, much more often than we'd like get maimed, shot through the head, cut in half, burned alive, captured and decapitated, or suffer brain damage, and horrific injuries that will plague them the rest of their natural days. Beautiful, young American boys and girls with their whole realised potential ahead of them. It is awful. Full-stop. It is horrid beyond measure. And we thought it was consigned to history, but our polling data was flawed.
This is what it looks like when people of little means decide they don't like what you're offering. It doesn't make them right, or rational, or intelligent because they're poor and brown-skinned. Nor does it automatically make your cause illegit. because your soldiers wear $200 Ray-bans, and are augmented by any number of private contractors doing everything from spying to life-saving surgery. We brought what we got. They brought what they got. It is abominable and abhorrent and unspeakably ugly in our eyes - and thus we are confused. We thought this had passed into history. Our adversaries think it is normal, and glorious and a triumph of their collective will - the ugliness, and are proud that it scares us. They seek to exempt themselves from history, by covering us both in blood. . . . And we've over-stepped the question. War is a contest of wills. And if we believe in the universality of the message in our founding documents - our collective will is stronger. Do you believe in the right of every man and woman to marry, worship, write about whom they choose? OK then. Step 2: If someone with alot of armed men decides he should arbitrate what you or your neighbors can or can't do or belong to - who lives or dies according to his dogma - are you willing to do anything about it? Because if you're not, or if you answered "that's a matter for the security council to arbitrate", then for all PRACTICAL purposes - you're for the armed man and his thugs. Or at least - not against him. It is that simple, (not easy). I see it everyday in Baghdad. Everyone LOATHES the terrorists, and are quite positive (these days) about the AMERICANS doing something about it. I mean, we're here - and most don't have the stones to inform on the bomb-builder down the street. What about when we're gone? (full disclosure: I'm not sure those "self-evident truths" are so universal anymore, upon my aquaintance with the middle-east).
In the aftermath of WWI, the West was sick of God and country (although it wouldn't attain critical mass till two generations later) - as it was under these banners so many rushed head-long into the machine guns. (such is the delayed-response of history - we are living in response to the 70's and 80's today in many important ways). So we birthed Communism, which mid-wifed fascism. God replaced by ideology. A more "scientific" means of ordering society. If you throw Mau's revolution in with WWI and WWII, collectivization, other communist revolutions, and fascist revivals- the death toll runs well over 100 million souls. Thats the history of the 20th century - and I'll put that up against any number of iterations of the "black death", or bubonic plague in the days of pre-modern western medicine.
Imagine that. Humans willfully murdering, raping, gassing, bombing, starving more human beings than the unchecked bugs could do in the pre-modern pig-slop of medieval europe. All for what? To improve their lot? The species? It's madness. But madness alone is random, unorganized, happenstance brutality. I call it evil, and I don't see it as random. In fact, I believe it has an author and a purpose. To devour humanity.
And it never goes away. Like some science fiction B-movie, the smoldering clod in the corner of the room which the camera pans to before the credits - it portends its own return. Its return is already well underway. Call it the "human condition" if you like. As authhors from Orwell to Solzenitzen have noted, it dwells in the human heart. We all have a piece of it - which is why it's never extinguished. And as a general rule, (if the 20th century is prologue), it takes the form of our ally-in-the-previous-conflagration. Yes, I realise that sounds like Orwell's 1984, and perpetual war - but take a gander at the history books. Japan was of great aid in the Pacific in WWI - they took (and held) many formerly German-held islands and bases. "Uncle Joe" Stalin was suddenly our indispensable friend after the Ribbentropp pact was broken by Hitler. And the glorious mujahadeen, whose exploits were celebrated in several Hollywood movies - broke the back of the expansionist evil empire (with our money and weapons). That's the point at which the script ends and the present begins. Unwritten yet.
Chesterton penned the unimprovable axiom, "There is one thought that stops ALL thought. That is the ONLY thought that ought to be stopped."
Evil in our generation has chosen its form. It alerted us that it was annoyed we were ignoring it on September 11. (It had tried before, but we just hit the snooze button). The smoldering clod was growing, and yearned for more blood after Afghanistan, while we partied away the 90's, celebrating the end of history. Is it our fault? Its always our fault. And who cares? Its our fault because we're engaged, and because nobody else can do more than pretend to care. UN peace-keepers? I'll have US marines, please.
And its our fault, because "their" children want to be American. That's why its our fault. I would have apologised for Madonna, Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan, Netscape, the New York Yankees, Jenna Jameson, Seinfeld, Pamela Anderson (British Columbian extraction), and Ipods - but now I'm not gonna. (Na-naaa!) What is there to apologise for? A youth culture that is happily and greedily imported around the world? You have to do a little research, but European proto-fascism actually has its roots in anti-Americanism. In the late nineteenth century, the one-way street that was transatlantic cultural exchange became a bit more of a "dual carriageway", with Europeans importing American technology, "crass" American music, "2nd rate" literature and New York haute couture. Some "avatars" of European tradition resented this change, and reacted. It got worse as time wore on. American culture, which everyone around the world characteristically presumes is imposed upon them, un-moors "their" youth. We'd feel the same way, (I guess), if we presumed our culture superior, insisted our youth received the same breeding we did, blocked outside influences, and generally not borrowed all that intrigues from the outside. That is key to understanding why we're hated. Why we've always been hated, and preumably why we always will. As the preminent nation that embraces modernity, we represent modernity to all these other Luddites I call "the rest of the world". All who hate "modernity" (define it how you will - its "what's changing now"), project that hatred onto us. How else could European Bon-vivants despise us for being too religious, while the mullahs hate us for being too decadent and a-religious? We are all things to all people. What do you hate? Pockey-mon? Auto-racing? Liberal jewish authors? Conservative neo-con Jewish authors? materialism? Nihilism? religiosity? multiculturalism? tolerance? in-tolerance? Because whatever it is, it has found it's pre-eminent manifestation in freedom-addicted America . . . Hate them.
I'm originally from small-town North Carolina. We've got nothing to do with whats known around the world as "American culture", which is basically an amalgam of New York/LA trends in showbiz, combined with Big Food (big Fast Food), except that we import it whole-heartedly. And yes - if we were a separate country - I could imagine us banning Madonna videos, Carl's Jr. burger joints and the like - in futility - as our young ones gobbled it up with all the more rebellious zeal. Kids in small town NC dress like LA gangsters, (and used to dress up like Sunset Strip Glamrockers). Whats that got to do with North Carolina?
We are an un-grounded, moor-less, wind-blown, amnesiac, young country. History has its advantages - as our European cousins never fail to remind us, but History can also be an encumbrance. --- Just ask the Irish, or the Indians, or Alabamans - for that matter. (excuse me - North Carolinians - for that matter).
That went a little long. I was working my way around to "the land that time forgot" - the middle east. Youth culture here is no different, save the Egyptian and Lebanese music videos (that ape their American parents). Yes, including Arabic-language "gangsta" rap. "50-cent" meet "Ali-Fresh". "Ali-Fresh", "50 cent". But selectively, and scrupulously - still Middle eastern. Music that apes the American is never "American" but a hybrid of host and hosted. Just ask the Beatles, or the Pizzicato Five. So what's all the fuss about? After all - we're not charging them royalties. (Note to self - write congressman and demand royalties).
The fuss is about the hand that rocks the cradle. And in this host - the Mad-East - it is about Sayyid Qutub. Qutub was not the first Moslem fundamentalist, but he was undoubtedly the 20th century's most influential. HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT: Go out and learn all you can about Sayyid Qutub. I don't have the space or the knowledge (yet) to hold forth on Qutub, but if you're looking for the origins of the Islamist idea loosed in our world now, all roads lead through him. Including one neat and narrow one back from UBL through Ayman Zawahiri - who as a schoolboy - joined the Muslim Brotherhood after hearing Qutub.
Which brings me back to bad ideas, and Chesterton. (Getting closer now). Qutub never killed anyone, (at least as far as I'm aware). He might have, but he spent his idealogue-years in Egyptian prisons. But hang on. Neither did Marx, nor Engels, nor Heideggar, nor Nietzche's sister. (who if memory serves, set off to Paraguay to found an Aryan super-colony - that collapsed - predictably - due to inbreeding and not trading, learning from the mongrel-race natives). I don't know why the founders don't do the killing (with the exception of mohammet) - I just know that the conceivers of the omelette, are rarely the same guy as the egg-cracker that invariably follows. Perhaps the progenitor is too stuck in his abstract mind-world, and the zealot that picks up his lance, has less scruples (and less marbles).
The point being - with Islamism, we are somewhere between 1933 and 1939. Or the winter of 1916, if you prefer the marxist template. We've had an Islamic theocracy for almost thirty years now, but only now is it going nuclear. Only now is it matching its bellicosity with the actions of proxies. Only now has it chosen Ahmedinejad. Thats where our template/comparison ends. Because, as I've said before, it doesn't end here - and Iran is no more its full measure and manifestation that Franc-ist Spain and Guernica was the full measure of the fascist threat. We have chosen to act (and it really didn't matter where - but Saddam was begging us) BECAUSE of this history, and because of the dearth of alternatives. If there was an Islamic "British Isles" we could bolster, defend and help - we'd have done that - as we did in Britain (albeit late - in 1942). They're too proud (Arab-pride - not to be easily overlooked), to learn from the "sons of monkeys and pigs" in Israel. So we had to create an Arab muslim Britain out of the (select-at-random) husk-state thugocracy. There are too many to choose from, but Saddam nominated Iraq early in the polling, way back in 1991, should this need ever come to pass. Moreover, because of the Baathists, not in spite of them, Iraq was thought to be relatively secular, and notionally pro-western. Hell, its what the Iraqis themselves thought. Just ask anyone of the educated, secular, notionally pro-western Iraqis.
What I'm seeing here in Baghdad today is the same elite/unspohisticate, urban/rural disconnect that bedevils us in the West. Baghdad today is full (well, not full - about 3/5 of them have already beat feet back to London, Toronto or Amman) of wonderful intellectuals and academics. They're liberal (in every sense of the word), pro-freedom of you-name-it, and sophisticated, worldly english speakers. They're forever holding conferences with other academics where they discuss the problems of Iraq, the potential solutions, and then they agree to hold more conferences with each other. The problem is they haven't been teaching or reaching your average Iraqi in, well - all of recorded history. And frankly I don't see how they can, unless they were given total control of the K-12 curricula, which won't happen in the forseeable future. I salute them for still having the guts to stay here. Academics ARE being targeted here. In ruthless fashion. (Our enemy knows who his enemy is, why do we still persist in denying ours?)
Before closing, (finally), I don't want to leave the impression I'm playing down what I've previously played up. I have a horrible opinion (thats best kept to myself - when me-possible) of Islam, its origins, and its apocalypse-hoped-for future. I don't believe it can reform itself. I believe that would already have happened, if it could. But there are other possibilities, and needless to say - I could be wrong. What our generation confronts is a conflict that could never be resolved in the span of time it took to destroy Naziism. I'm hopeful a cold-war length span is possible. (I'd like to see it off personally). What many brave journalists and brilliant writers are beginning to point out to us - is that for the contours and boundaries of this conflict - there is no template. NOTHING to glean from history. Soviet spies were generally readily identifiable by their chosen professions and activist history, (westerners who were recruited by the KGB - Alger Hiss, Kim Philby, Rosenburgs, the lot). Moreover, KGB plants always ran the risk of going native once they arrived in Sunny Florida and realised that in America they didn't have to wait two years for a new car - they could drive it off the lot. It was a terrible problem for the KGB. This is much different. What is a sleeper cell? Does it matter if they attended an AlQaeda camp or not? Does it matter if they attended a camp? Or visited relatives in Peshawar, or Yemen? Mohammed Atta not only attained a graduate degree from a Western liberla university - his degree was in city planning, and skyscraper-building. (hold the irony, please). And if he sleeps with an infidel stripper, or drives a brand new SUV off the lot - is he placated, or brought closer to madness by his insatiable envy, and esteem-righting doctrine of supremacy over that which he can't control, or clad in a burqa?
Islamic laborers have been imported to prop-up aging, post-christian, socialist, post-nationalist, nullity-nations. What is there to assimilate to - if they chose to? We're diddling about climate change, and the volume of this excahnge goes up (not coincidentally) as the Muslim threat broadens and deepens before our very eyes. Muslim immigrants are having more babies, by at least a factor of two - than the natives. And as recent history has shown - who needs jihad - when the democratic means to sharia are already in place; barriers removed, and populations inoculated to judgement and discernment by the siren-song of "multi-culturalism". (Which in my mind is short-hand for Western self-loathing.) The academics in Baghdad will continue to preach to their dwindling number of already-converted, until they find something as appealing to Arab pride, Muslim piety - as Qutub. Who, incidentally, was given the chance to renounce his views publicly, but chose death instead. And we will continue spinning on our heads until we can get the message through that freedom isn't Jenna Jameson and Kentucky whiskey - but Selma, Gettysburg, and Berlin - circa 1989. There's nothing quite like the transcendent martyr - for whatever creedo - including the American one. And the strange thing isn't the dearth of martyrs to free speech in the muslim world (ask any non-Koranic dissident - excuse me - "Scholar") - but that they aren't the martyrs who're celebrated.
Post-note: If I'm right about Islam - not even an academic breakthrough will be enough.