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June 18, 2005

Terror Is Not The Enemy

I am beginning to think that the War on Terror was all a big mistake.

From my morning paper the headlines leap out: Americans losing patience with war on terror. Voters disapprove of Bush's handling of Iraq. Congress demands withdrawal timetable. And they have a point. Whatever possessed us to launch this ridiculous war against the terrorists anyway?

Terror - fear - is no threat to the survival of our civilization. The people quoted in my morning paper, pundits who inveigh against the administration, friends and neighbors who oppose the war, none of these people are afraid. September 11th is just a distant memory. The passage of time, (four years - an eon, really, in today's hectic news cycle) has reduced it to a remembered headline in some digital archive. We struggle to recall the details but the message comes back, "Page Not Found".

"On This Day", 3000 people died... How sad. But looking back, it hardly seems like a reason to go to war, does it? And would you just look at the price of gas nowadays?

We should have declared war on Ignorance. Ignorance: of the line between objective news reporting and opinion, of current events, of our history, of the larger geopolitical context in which the United States acts, is a far greater enemy to this often frivolous and complacent nation than terror could ever be. Terrorists may attack us every few years, for contrary to the popular spin there have always been terrorist attacks on Americans, even before 9/11. Beirut, our embassy in Kuwait, Lockerbie, the first WTC bombing, Oklahoma City, Khobar Towers, the USS Cole to name just a few. I guarantee that you will not see those dead in Ted Koppel's rollcall of victims in the War on Terror.

But ignorance is an enemy that never sleeps, totally without fear or remorse. It is relentless. Day in and day out, it chips away at the foundations of our society, erasing our memories, clouding our judgement. Eroding our will.

The first target in the war on ignorance would have to be The NY Times. When Maureen Dowd left the Op-Ed pages, many naively hoped the tone would be raised; that we would be spared her perennial hot flashes of irrational pique. Unfortunately Ms. Dowd was replaced by a young lady who should have been the poster child for No Child Left Behind. She begins her editorial with a statement of breathtaking irony:

It used to be that the longest unprotected border in the world was that between the United States and Canada. Today it's the one between fact and fiction. If the two cozy up any closer together The National Enquirer will be out of business.

What set Ms. Schiff off? She has learned, to her horror, that more than 60% of Americans don't trust the press. A writer with even rudimentary critical thinking skills might consider the possibility (however remote) that the press might have done something to earn their distrust. Not so: Ms. Schiff has the answer all neatly wrapped up. It's those darned paperback novels:

Why should they? They've been reading "The Da Vinci Code" and marveling at its historical insights. I have nothing against a fine thriller, especially one that claims the highest of literary honors: it's a movie on the page. But "The Da Vinci Code" is not a work of nonfiction. If one more person talks to me about Dan Brown's crackerjack research I'm shooting on sight.

And lest we be distracted from The Metamessage (you didn't think this was really about distrust of the media, did you?), Ms. Schiff immediately does a Saudi Sweep, segueing with reckless abandon from bestselling paperback thrillers to the War On Terror:

We're happier to swallow a half-baked Renaissance religious conspiracy theory than to examine the historical fiction we're living (and dying for) today.

And then, in that combination of condescending finger-wagging and unintended irony that is unique to the Times' editorial pages, Ms. Schiff proceeds to lay another stunner on us:

And not only is it remarkably easy to believe what we want to believe. It's remarkably easy to find someone who will back us up.

Words to live by. Perhaps she could send them to Dan Rather.

The media are in the vanguard of the assault on knowledge in America. The rest of Ms. Schiff's deplorable ode to cluelessness explains why. She was infuriated by the LA Times' introduction of an interactive Op-Ed page. This, Ms. Schiff piously intones, will not stand. "What if we all vote on the truth?", she fulminates, never once stopping to contemplate that the Op-Ed pages aren't the Truth.

They're opinion, hence the name "Op-Ed". And if a professional journalist can't see the distinction between factual news stories (which the LA Times is not allowing anyone to edit) and the opinions of a few overpaid blowhards, then America is in a lot bigger trouble than she suspects. Here's a thought for Ms. Schiff: perhaps critical thinking failures like hers are the reason Americans no longer trust the media.

Daniel Henninger picks up where Ms. Schiff left off. Americans are losing the will to fight. Fortunately his thinking skills are better-developed:

As far as I can tell, this is the recent news out of Iraq:

Yesterday: "Six U.S. Servicemen Die in Iraq Violence."

Wednesday: "Surge of Violence Leaves 52 Dead in Iraq."

Monday: "Iraq-Bombing Update: Additional Bombings, Death Toll 10."

It is possible to extend this headline exercise of Iraq news to the horizon. As a physical principle no less established than the second law of thermodynamics, U.S. opinion polls in June outputted these headlines and stories:

June 12: "A Growing Public Restlessness: The June [Post-ABC News] survey found that 58% of its 1,002 respondents now disapprove of the way Bush is handling both the economy and the situation in Iraq.

June 11, AP: "Only 41% said they support Bush's handling of the war in Iraq, also a low-water mark." The "war," of course extends no further than these bombing reports.

He sees the connection. Voters who learn only part of the Truth (interactive or not) are ill-equipped to make informed decisions about whether to stay the course in Iraq. Henninger goes on to point out what our media, who pride themselves on providing "balance", somehow forget to mention in their in-depth exposees on the war:

According to the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (established after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing), there have been about 8,300 terrorist bombings in the world the past 10 years. They have killed more than 10,000 human beings and injured--often appallingly, one assumes--some 43,000 people. (There are separate tallies for arson, kidnapping, hijacking, etc. September 11 is listed as an "unconventional attack.")
Before September 11 happened in the United States, and ever since, factions with grievances have been blowing up unprotected people going about the act of daily life--shopping, praying, taking their children to school, laughing with friends, burying the dead--all over the world. Places where the sudden cloudbursts of blood don't always merit our front pages include Spain, Colombia, Israel, Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Northern Ireland, Russia, Afghanistan, India, the Philippines, Indonesia, Egypt and elsewhere.

Ten thousand people dead. We did not start the war on terror. It has been going on for decades, heedless of our shopping trips or who just got voted off the island on Survivor or the latest discovery on American Idol. But we are not afraid of the terrorists. No, we are afraid of the Patriot Act - afraid some rogue FBI agent will somehow get ahold of our library cards and find out about all those cheesy Danielle Steele novels we checked out last summer.

We are afraid that religion is taking over our government, despite the complete and total lack of a single shred of evidence or a solitary law passed by Congress to support this fear.

We are afraid that total strangers will snatch our children off the streets and do unspeakable things to them, despite the evidence that virtually all child sexual abusers turn out to be someone known to the family.

We are afraid that 1700 dead in the War on Terror is too high a price to pay, and that the violence will never end and that Iraq is incapable of democracy and we are only turning the terrorists against us (as though the jihadis were lying about in caves, eating PopSecret and watching John Wayne flicks before we invaded Iraq).

Why are we afraid of these things? Because every morning when we open our newspapers and every night when we turn on our TV sets, the media tell us to be afraid of these things. That's all we hear about.

The mainstream media is our number one source of information about what is going on in the world today. And they are not telling us the whole story about what is going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. Things have gotten so bad that 60 percent of Americans don't trust them. And so we remain perilously ill-equipped to make decisions of grave import to our children and our grandchildren.

Ms. Schiff is alarmed too. She doesn't think anyone but professional journalists (read: those unable to distinguish between news and editorializing) should be allowed to talk about the news. This rude democritization of the news cycle disturbs her profoundly. Undoubtedly she fears that allowing peons to link to and discuss AP articles will tarnish the media's record for astonishing reporting accuracy as exemplified by Dan Rather:

If you are 6 years old and both your parents read one online, you can be forgiven for not knowing what a newspaper is. You would also be on to something. The news has slipped its moorings. It is no longer held captive by two-inch columns of type or a sonorous 6 p.m. baritone. It has gone on the lam. Anyone can be a reporter - or a book reviewer, TV star, museum guide, podcaster or pundit.

But it's not just ignorance of current events that poses a danger to our way of life, for even if we manage to get the right news, how can we ever hope to put it all in perspective without a knowledge of history?

My son told me about a high school event that (at first) I didn't understand. A girl in his English class praised the Vietnam War-era draft dodgers: "If I'd lived at that time and been drafted," she said, "I would've gone to Canada too."
I thought she was merely endorsing the anti-war position. But my son set me straight. This student actually believed that if she had lived at the time, she might have been drafted. She didn't understand that conscription in the United States has always applied to males only. How could she have known? Our schools teach history ideologically. They teach the message, not the truth. They teach history as if males and females have always played equal roles. They are propaganda machines.

This is alarming for three reasons: this student didn't know females weren't drafted in the 1960's. And if she doesn't know that, what are the chances she knows all the complex reasons the draft didn't work well for the military, and why we don't favor its return? And most importantly, I wonder whether this girl understands that neither she, nor any other female, is subject to the draft today?

Because politicians like John Kerry and websites like MTV's Rock the Vote have no compunction about lying to our young people, and as Joseph Perkins pointed out, a big lie is easier to believe than a little one, especially to students who lack the experience and knowledge to spot a whopper when they hear one.

How can students of alternative history evaluate Dick Durbin's comparisons of our military to the Nazis? How can they place the grievous loss of 1700 Americans into perspective when they never learn how many died at Normandy? When they never hear that 400,000 Iraqis lie dead in mass graves? Comparisons of Saddam to Hitler are ridiculed by comedians like Jon Stewart as over the top. Guess what?

Hitler was a mass murderer.

Saddam was a mass murderer.

Or does Jon have some magical tally in his head that Saddam didn't quite reach?

Victor Davis Hanson points out a little-noticed story: a Syrian smuggler of jihadists single-handedly refuted all the blame America, anti-war rhetoric:

Note how in this one Washington Post story how almost every one of our Western myths promulgated by the antiwar Left is shattered by a candid jihadist himself. First, there was always radical Islamic anti-American hatred that preceded Iraq. Indeed, celebrations were spontaneous immediately after September 11 on the mere news of slaughtered Americans.

We have been told that jihadists and secular Baathists have little in common, and that only our war brought them together. But like the Japanese and Nazis in World War II, autocrat and jihadist have shared interests in hating liberal democracies — and well before our response they were jointly fanning efforts against the United States.

Why wasn't this front-page news? Isn't this something the American public "needs to know"?

It is not surprising that many Americans do not support the war on terror. We have not had another catastrophic attack on American soil since 9/11, and with each passing day the memory of that horror fades. We are confronted, day in and day out, with a constant stream of negative news reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan. The blogosphere manages to smuggle some good news through the Iron Curtain, but many Americans still aren't tuned into Radio Free Iraq. And above all, we are perilously ignorant of our own history: of the dear cost our forefathers paid to earn the relative peace and affluence we enjoy today.

And so we take them for granted. We assume this is the way it has always been, and the way it will always be. Like electricity, freedom and security should be there at our command, at the touch of a finger. Like petulant children, we whine when it comes time to pay the light bill.

No, terror is not the greatest of those things which threaten our way of life. It has the power to injure, but not to destroy. It is ignorance which imperils us, which blinds us to what we know is right, which tips the scales when we try to evaluate our options, which leads us to believe we can go on like this forever, enjoying the freedoms earned by forgotten generations, and somehow pass the torch to a new generation without lifting our eyes from our flickering TV sets.

It is Ignorance that I fear.

Posted by Cassandra at June 18, 2005 06:12 AM

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Comments

Wow, great post.

It is always a good idea when you start a column to insult your audience, or would Times readers be in the 40% that "get it"?

Posted by: Pile On [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 18, 2005 10:48 AM

I am speachless. That was incredible.

Posted by: William Teach [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 18, 2005 11:48 AM

I don't know Pile. I just know my head nearly exploded when I read her piece. The stunning arrogance of some members of the media is frightening - I'm surprised that one got past the Times' editorial board when they are under fire for being insular and out-of-touch.

Further proof they still don't have a clue.

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 18, 2005 11:50 AM

Great post! I find that you very often put into words what's banging around in my head, and help me put my thoughts into perspective.

I came to your site first through BlameBush, which, obviously, I frequent for the humor. Although I also enjoy the sense of humor you display, these serious posts are what keep me coming back here!

Posted by: JannyMae [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 18, 2005 12:39 PM

Not me, I come for the art pictures. And for the fat guys washing cars while eating videos.

Posted by: Pile On [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 18, 2005 01:10 PM

Pile On, I know. I've been to your blog! :D)

Posted by: JannyMae [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 18, 2005 07:56 PM

Thank you for the kind words.

I sort of write for myself (in the sense that I get up and just sort of blather on about whatever gets my pantyhose in a knot that morning) but when I write something really long, or on a theme I've hit a few times, very often I feel a bit foolish after I hit the Publish button.

Sort of like your old maiden aunt who always has too much Gewurtztraminer at Thanksgiving and bores the living crap out of everyone with the same old rant she delivered last year.

So I guess what I'm saying is, even though I don't expect compliments and sometimes don't know what to say when I do get them, it sure is nice to hear them sometimes :)

I'm a lot quieter in real life than I must seem online - maybe why I write so much. I really do appreciate your kindness.

It means a lot.

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 18, 2005 10:14 PM

Excellent post. Clear-headed thinking is in short supply these days. We really are reaping what we have sown the last few decades. The good news is that the next generation of leaders is getting their news from non-traditional sources, or serving on the front lines of this war. It's that gap between them and us that's the problem.

Posted by: Chris Hunt [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 18, 2005 10:40 PM

Cass,
Wow. The apathy that goes hand in hand with the ignorance is the worst of the fifth columnists we have in this country.

I need to re read this, but I will tell you that your blog is one reason why I still care about the WOT.

I want to be safe. I want to believe in the goodness of people all over the world. I would love to buy the world a coke.

yeah in a pig's eye.

I learned that it is an ugly hard world out there and the only way we can keep our way of life is to NEVER FORGET and CONSTANT VIGILANCE.

Carry on.

Posted by: Crckt [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 19, 2005 06:46 PM

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