The right wing in this country would die for their guns, while some of the rest of us do just that. They are jingoists down to the bone, and their patriotism has always smacked of smug, clichéd cliquishness to me. But the peace movement shaking its mothballed, tie-dyed head before our very eyes is a shameful, mocking, ironic version of its former self. This left-Susan Sontaged, Michael Lernered, earnest ideologues all-is the politically correct monster that Dr. Frankenstein (wearing a peace sign on his white coat) electrified so long ago. It has become the mirror image of the over-the-top right. I know that’s not news. Still, I’m saddened by the fact.
I was there in 1970, marching on Washington with babies in strollers and friends by my side, shouting at the Congress, shouting at the passers-by outside the Capitol, singing peace songs in buses that left New York in the wee hours and returned in the dark of night. I went to the teach-ins and ached with all my soul for the children living in the hamlets we napalmed. I believed that the war was unwinnable and that communism would not take over the entire world if we allowed the Vietnamese to run their state according to their tastes, make their mistakes on their own rice paddies and let our guys-addled and wounded, confused and abused-come home. I was not alone. Busloads of us could be mobilized in a few weeks’ time. We flinched at the sight of the American flag because it represented the triumphalism of a military state that was trampling other peoples’ lives. In those days, I did not feel patriotic. But I do now.
The difference is not just that I am older, although I did consider that possibility with care. The difference is that now the enemy is not trying to determine the fate of its own country. This enemy has killed us on our own soil and wants to force us to our shaking knees. It rejoices in our fear and loss. It is not a political difference we have with the Taliban and the terrorists they shield. It is a moral difference of a life-and-death sort.
These particular Islamists hate us for our prosperity and our pluralism; they hate us for our support of Israel, claiming that they will not be satisfied until we have abandoned Israel and withdrawn our forces from all Arab countries. They want to force other Muslims to live as they do, to hate as they do, to keep their women out of schools as they do.
This is not a shadowy bad guy set up by the military-industrial complex to sell munitions. This is as real an enemy as Hitler and his Nazi party. Yes, there is such a thing as someone hating us to death, and it has to be stopped. It isn’t sane to talk nice and throw bones to someone who wants to devour your heart and boil your brains in your blood. “Nice kitty” is not what you say to the lion with his teeth poised above your head.
These are not peasants who would rather plant soybeans than kill boys from Kansas. These are boys from Kandahar who want to kill boys from Kansas and blame all their trouble on the Jews. Just as the isolationists who wanted to keep America out of World War II did not care about the lives of the six million Jews who were soon to be exterminated, this current pacifism in the face of a hard, cruel fascist expansionism can also end up being murderous.
No, we shouldn’t antagonize populations on the ground. Yes, we should bring food to the hungry and shelter to the uprooted. Yes, we should stay on in Kabul and Kandahar, but only insofar as we are allowed to restore order and economic growth to that already-demolished country. But we shouldn’t feel like evil colonialists. Our culture is less oppressive than theirs. Our way of life leads to better medical care and inventions that make our days pass more pleasantly than theirs. This does not make our country or the Judeo-Christian religion superior to any other. Germany was considered the apex of Western scientific and artistic accomplishment, and look what they did. But right now, those fundamentalist believers in Allah who rejoice in the killing of innocents are hardly the finest examples of what human beings can be. It may not be politically correct to point this out, but there is no valor in false humility, especially when there’s a knife at your throat. It is a good thing to feel the pain of people all over the globe. But while we are doing that, we must remember the pain of women living under the Taliban’s rule, we must remember the pain of our own people who lost so much to the gleeful bin Laden.
While America may be arrogant sometimes, that’s not all we are. We are incredibly generous to those in need. We do have isolationists who would rather we went it alone, but they do not represent the majority. Yes, we should have paid our United Nations dues sooner, and we shouldn’t break nuclear-missile treaties, and we should behave with more courtesy as we stamp around the world, but we are not attacking others because we don’t like their values. We are a complicated democracy, and our interest in the wide, wide world flickers and fades from time to time. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight when we have to-and now we have to.
Should it turn out that we do something unnecessarily cruel or destructive, I may change sides. If it turns out that we should have kept our armies at home (and instead, each of us taken a pen pal from the crowds we see on television burning George Bush in effigy), then there will still be time to join a peace party, pack a sandwich and ride a freedom bus to our capitol. But these days, I smile at flags as they blow in the breeze. Now I think the college kids making antiwar noises are blowing rancid smoke in our faces.
Not every situation is the same. Not every attack on a foreign land is unjust. Civilians will die in this affair, and they shouldn’t. But the answer is not teach-ins and protest marches. I want us to find the terrorists in their cells and wipe them out before they wipe out more of us. I want us to get the regimes that protect terrorists and make them reconsider their goals. Then we can talk about Israel’s crazy policy of meeting violence with more violence without a simultaneous push for peace. Then we can talk about Marshall Plans for mountain towns with unpassable roads. Then we can let a thousand flowers bloom. Then we can talk about a fair share of the land for the Palestinians. Let’s put the peace movement back into its mothballs. Let the music from Hair blare through every shopping mall if it must, but let’s keep our resolve to conquer them clear. Let’s hope our government can conduct this action with bravery and dignity.
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