the Gods Would Destroy
Afghan air defences still pose a threat to the United States."
So Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld, the latest in a long line of robotic
technocrats who have held his post (remember McNamara?), informed
the world on the airways recently. If you resist Americans bombing
you, then you are a threat to the United States. To resist the U.S.
government is to embrace prima facie evil and to deserve destruction.
Doubtless, General Sherman is smiling through the sulphur fumes.
You can hear "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" in the
the President himself is so incoherent that he can nasal on about
enemies that are "cowardly," "faceless," and
to be understood simply and only as "evil" attackers of
"freedom." The first moment of clear thought tells anyone
that the perpetrators were not cowardly, whatever else may be said
about them. And they were not "faceless" either. They
were known to the government and had been operating freely in our
country. September 11 was a vicious attack on life and property.
It was an attack on freedom only if we allow it to be. To misconceive
your enemy is a dangerous fault.
are not everything, and can be used for evil (remember Clinton).
However, Bush’s crippled style indicates more than a problem of
articulation. It indicates a lack of thought, a lack of focus, a
disconnection between the words and the realities for which they
are counters. And that betrays an inability to encompass the big
picture, to grasp the essential elements of the situation, which
is the sine qua non of good leadership and administration. Every
successful statesman (and soldier) that I can think in history has
been eloquent (though often laconic) in crisis, for eloquence is
simply clear thought. In the President we have not a lack of articulateness,
but a lack even of simple plain-speaking shrewdness.
ever so much deadly power at the command of one so lacking in wisdom
briefing by his handlers, the President shifted from describing
the situation as terrorism to describing it as "war."
In law, international and domestic, "war" has a rather
exact meaning. Constitutionally, that grave evocation can come only
from a declaration by Congress of the existence of such a state
between the United States and another state.
the rhetorical "war" allows a shift from hunting terrorists
to a war against the institutions and civil population of another
state alleged to have sheltered the terrorists and one that is surely
not on board the "New World Order" proclaimed by George
Senior had the same disconnect. I recall his fuming about Panamanian
rowdies harrassing the wife of an American officer. There was an
unacknowledged racist implication, but the disconnect was that,
thanks to the federal government, such incidents occur a thousand
times a day in the United States. And Senior was "sickened"
by the video of Los Angeles police officers’ tactics in subduing
a muscular felon high on PCP. At the same time he was authorizing
the "turkey shoot" that murdered thousands of unresisting
non-felonious Iraqui soldiers (not to mention the civilians).
then, our born-again leader proclaims "Operation Infinite Justice."
One would think that a Christian would understand that there is
only one Source of infinite justice. But America and God are the
same thing in minds like those of our leaders. We had to get rid
of that slogan, not because it offends a Christian majority but
because it offends Muslim sensibilities.
while fighting a war against Muslim terrorists, we must be so obedient
to ethnic sensibilities that airport security must body search little
old ladies whose families have been in the country since the 1600s to
avoid "profiling." And how about the disconnect between
fighting Muslim terrorists in the East while killing Christian men,
women, and children in the Balkans in aid of Muslim terrorists?
few weeks ago, our long-time member of the US House of Representatives
from my district in South Carolina, Floyd Spence, passed away. He
was, as politicians go, a pretty plain and honest man. He left instructions
that a Confederate flag be displayed and "Dixie" be played
at his funeral in the country town near which I live. However, one
of the princes, Vice Emperor Cheney, refused to make his ceremonial
appearance at the occasion if anything reflecting the South appeared.
So, the family, the community, and the wishes of the dead must defer
to the ideology of an imperial government that, with billions in
treasure, cannot fend off murderous mass attacks on the population.
One would think that in a crisis, some of the best American symbols
of courage and loyalty would be celebrated (as they were in World
of correcting and punishing the incompetence and failures of the
bureacrats, Congress rises to the crisis by voting them still more
billions. And our solons, in peacetime, blithely vote away personal
liberties against search and seizure that are the products of a
millenium of struggle, in pursuit of an illusory security.
hope I am wrong, but so far as one can tell, the people at large
have not displayed much reason or morality in their responses to
the crisis. Enthusiasm to get the enemy (never mind which) resembles
the fervor displayed for the favorite athletic team a stupid but
potent force. (In my area lots of people now have two flags on their
vehicles the Stars and Stripes and the banner of their favorite
college team.) In decadent Rome the citizens engaged in bloody battles
over the respective merits of the Blue and Green chariot racing
teams with the same zeal they held against the foreign enemy.
increase in barbarity goes on until everything is dissolved in blind
violence...and the pleasure of destroying and punishing," wrote
Richard Weaver in contemplation of World War II. The end result,
he said, is nihilism, the loss of all humane values. Long before
Weaver it was common wisdom that: Whom the gods would destroy, they
first make mad.
Wilson [send him mail]
is professor of history at the University of South Carolina and
editor of The
Papers of John C. Calhoun.
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