1. How the world sees us.
It is important not just to remember the past, but also learn the truth about the past. Let me give two examples. A few years ago I met a young, beautiful French girl. She looked like Bridgitte Bardot from the “And God Created Woman” era (which is irrelevant to matters at hand but a nice memory for me). Anyway, she was a typical middle class bourgeoisie Frenchwoman. One day the discussion turned to politics. She said that America’s involvement in Vietnam was the moral equivalent of Nazi Germany. In case any of my readers are not up to speed, America’s involvement in Southeast Asia was not the moral equivalent of Hitler’s terror. The fact that this is so is simply so true that it deserves no explanation on its face.
My friend Brad Cole (the actor who portrayed Prince Richard on CBS’s daytime drama “A Guiding Light”) lived in France for years and told me this girl’s views were typical, and that he was a lonely beacon of Yankee patriotism fighting a daily wave of Frenchmen who “hate America.”
Now this is France, not our best friends but still an ally, a people whose favorite sport is running from the Germans. However, these revisionist, anti-American sentiments are rampant all over Europe. God knows what Russian, Chinese, Turkish, Australian, Japanese and African kids are being taught.
My daughter, when she was a student at a suburban California high school, was taught that the only reason we bombed Hiroshima instead of Tokyo was because it was cloudy that day. Harry Truman, according to the logic, would have preferred to extract as high a death toll as possible, ostensibly for racial reasons. I have read that Hiroshima was not the first target. The main target was not bombed due to cloud cover, but the main target was not Tokyo. Again, folks, without getting into this too deeply, this revisionist look at the way we desperately fought and won in the South Pacific theatre is garbage.
The point this is that Americans fail to grasp that common sense often does not drive the attitudes of people outside our borders and sometimes within them. The failure to teach history has distorted ideas domestically and internationally.
Do you think more than one percent of the Afghan population (and this goes for most Middle Eastern countries) knows the Holocaust happened, and the details of it? Or, if they have heard of it, they probably were taught that it was a lie. How many people anywhere know details of the American Revolution, the framing of a Constitution that was the anvil that destroyed slavery once and for all, in America by Americans? If they “know” anything they believe Washington and Jefferson were terrorists. Slavery is of course an ugly fact of life that we have put in the storefront window to view, anguish over, talk about and learn from.
No doubt our “enemies” are taught that George Patton committed crimes against humanity. The regrettable conflicts that came about when America expanded into Indian territory are made out as an all-encompassing feature of our existence, not Manifest Destiny. Western civilization as a whole is seen as imperialism, colonialism, of Christian Crusaders perpetrating an inquisition on a world of peaceful, indigenous peoples. No credit for building roads, hospitals, planes, developing medicines, bringing about the Age of Enlightenment in the form of books, the arts, film, ever seems to be accorded. Technological advancements of the West that have bettered the lives of billions of planetary humans for centuries are framed as expansionist tools of the Rudyard Kipling crowd.
Yes, Western Civilization gave the world guns, disease, smog, and by no means holds an exclusive patent or morality, but these facts are widely and freely disseminated and used to educate in order to learn from past mistakes.
Yes, the United States and the CIA rigged elections, fomented coups and backed unsavory guys in places like Guatemala, Iran, Cuba and Chile. Using 20/20 hindsight, some of these actions were wrong, but darn it, things were mostly done by men of goodwill who felt justified in doing it and had good intent. None of it is hidden. It is all displayed. It is us. Compare that to the despotism of our enemies, and our crimes are modest. Besides, the world starts now. Our previous adventures are irrelevant to our quest for survival. In that quest we will make more mistakes. They will be done for what seem good reasons without the benefit of historical analysis. All of it will be in the American spirit of taking on a heavy burden to provide safety and security for freedom-loving people.
Common sense is not at play in the way most of the world thinks, because few have been taught the truth. Who is to blame them, however? We Americans do not teach ourselves about ourselves, so why should we expect foreigners to do any better? In fact, foreigners who live in the U.S. often do better. Coming from miserable huddles of poverty and oppression, many arrive on our shores and immerse themselves in learning all that makes America so fabulous - aspects of life that we ourselves take for granted. I suspect that the locals instinctively believe something magical is behind MTV, the Rage Against the Machine and the other humdrums of the Dumbellionite class.
Now that I have raged against my fellow citizens’ apathy, allow me to state that the instinct I speak of is what makes me confident in a new generation of Americans to confront this great 21st Century challenge of terrorism, on and off our shores. I see it in my daughter, who for the first time expresses the vestiges of resolve that so many young people suddenly have beating within their red-white-and-blue hearts. Millions of kids like her have been taught that we unreasonably bombed Japan and Germany, that the overriding aspect of the South Pacific War was Japanese internment, that U.S. businesses exist only to pollute the planet. You know what? As they stare at CNN and Fox News, read the newspapers, listen to the radio, and join a world that once seemed to have been built for their indulgence, it seems they have this feeling in the pit of their stomachs, this stirring within their souls that all that anti-American garbage was just that: Garbage.
Failure to know history will help bring down our enemies, too. Tojo thought the U.S. was too rich, too soft, a slothful giant to be destroyed at Pearl Harbor. The "sleeping giant" destroyed his empire and tried his ass. Osama bin Laden and his ilk may have had cursory knowledge of U.S. history, but they too believed we lacked the will to fight back. They do not know us, but they got a costly education. They bit off more than they could chew. Saddam thought we would just threaten, little more. Not so.
They may believe that we used the atom bomb only to terrorize, that we firebombed Dresden in 1945 for no reason other than to export evil. They are wrong about our motives, but if they think 55 years of Political Correctness has destroyed our will to use the weapons of freedom to defeat them, they are mistaken.
In the battle of wills, these terrorists are badly unarmed. I would also like to add that when these suicide bombers die thinking they are going straight to Heaven, they surely must be terrified when they find themselves in the clutches of the devil, informing them that the Western infidels are the ones in the right (damn it).
Finally, however, while an understanding of history is important, we are entering into a battle for hearts and minds. I would suggest as good reading material William Shirer’s “The Nightmare Years”, in which he describes his early years as a journalist traveling the rugged Khyber Pass of Afghanistan in the 1930s. This is a good window into the tradition, religion, and mind of the people of this region.
It is vital that those in the business of conducting intelligence understand that whether these people know the truth is not of immediate consequence. What is of consequence is what they believe the truth to be. Teaching and changing people who have been wrong for so long will not be easy. Lest I allow myself to be completely jingoistic in the manner of a John Wayne character, let me say that an honest approach to our partners and future partners, acknowledging mistakes where mistakes exist, made by the West from the time of Lawrence of Arabia to our handling of the Israel alliance, is better than a bulls-ahead, America-first approach.
We have tried. Sometimes we have failed. Most of the time we had our hearts in the right place, certainly more so than any other nation.
Will a future, peaceful Middle East resemble an alliance of former enemies the way Germany and Japan came around? One can hope.
2. Making the world safe.
Lord Almighty, George W. Bush issued a tall order when he said we would eradicate evil from the world. This makes the Marshall Plan look like the allocation of funds to build a new junior college. What we will do is try to make the world as safe a place as possible for Americans, Westerners, and all peoples of the world.
How do we do this? How do we make it so that the fewest possible people die in future attacks? Unfortunately, the time may come sooner rather than later when the answer to that question is to kill a lot of “their” people to save a lot of “our” people. Right now, our enemies are questioning whether we have the stomach to engage in such a task. Unfortunately, more of “our” innocents may have to die before our government feels they have that will, that mandate to “go all the way.”
The calculation of killing is a chilling one. Take this hypothetical: We know the terrorists will kill 100,000 Americans, and the only way to prevent it is to kill 1 million Muslims. Yes or no?
Consider history. President Truman calculated that more Americans and Japanese would die in Operation Magic Carpet Ride, the land/sea invasion of Tokyo, Japan, than would die in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so he dropped them. It can be reduced to math.
Next, take a look at Dresden, Germany in February, 1945. We firebombed a mostly civilian population with little military hardware. Why? It was not because Truman, George Marshall and Curt LeMay just plain hated German people and wanted as many dead as possible. It was because we had just repulsed the wehrmacht in the Battle of the Bulge, but they kept coming. Our planners knew we would have to press on in battle march through the Low Countries, towards Berlin, against stiff resistance. They calculated the resistance would lessen, thus saving as many American lives as German dead in Dresden, in this process.
Cold? Yes, but this is the kind of tough decision W might soon be faced with. We also must face the fact killing civilians can be a strategy. Jimmy Doolittle’s raids on Tokyo, like Dresden, helped weaken morale, an important factor in war.
What about biological weapons? If we knew we could send bombs that kill 100,000 Muslims to save San Francisco from an anthrax attack, do we do it? At what price tolerance, compassion, compromise? These beautiful human traits should of course be tried, but they do not always work. What then?
Victory in our new war will not likely look like it did in Europe or Occupied Japan. Rather, it may look like our victory in the Cold War. This lets us re-examine the work of George Kennan, who in the late 1940s devised the U.S. policy of containing, rather than outright defeating, Communism. Attrition played a major part in the strategy, which certainly worked for years against the U.S.S.R. and is working against China.
4. The role of the media.
Watching rioting protesters in Kabul on TV in 2001, I got the sense that the entire Muslim world hated us and desired to protect Osama bin Laden. However, a poll of Afghanis apparently indicated that 62 percent of the nation wanted the Taliban to hand over bin Laden. This tells me the media is somehow working against us. Quick film clips and sound bites provide stirring images that lead us to see and believe certain things that are probably not indicative of reality.
The American instinct
A video store I frequent was closed right after 9/11 because one of the tapes was found covered in white powder. The fire department arrived, and it turned out the powder was not anthrax, but gypsum. A customer whose house was being re-modeled had returned the tape. The store was re-opened and everybody went about their business; no freakouts, no panic, no big deal.
It occurred to me that in a small kind of way, my country had defeated Osama bin Laden in a small battle in the War on Terrorism. This brings me around to something else I am beginning to notice, and that is an instinctive kind of Americanism that seems to happen to people here, almost by osmosis. If bin Laden had hired me as an advisor on what his enemies - the American people - were all about, I would have some things to tell him that I think would surprise him, and this is why he did not prevail.
I am not an expert on the military, or the government, or the inner workings of the Bush Administration, but bin Laden’s war was not just with those entities. His war was with the spirit of America, by playing on our fears, our phobias, our softness and lack of resolve. When it comes to the inner workings of being an American, by God I am an expert!
I suspect much of bin Laden’s human intelligence came from a very small group of Arabs who have lived in the United States for five or 10 years, long enough to be very knowledgeable of life here. These guys, many of whom have been working as cabdrivers, hanging out in bars and strip clubs, renting and watching Hollywood movies, listening to rap and angry rock music, were bin Laden’s spies.
Bin Laden probably heard about disenfranchised teenagers in black Goth clothes, pierced, spiked and tattooed. He had heard about kids who have no idea what World War II was fought over and do not care, who eschew church, family and morality for sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. He heard about girls who live for shopping sprees in which they max their parents’ credit cards, and cannot wait to augment their breasts with silicone. He heard about boys who slack their time away on skateboards instead of pursuing wholesome activities like baseball or fishing.
Bin Laden must have heard about how Americans are addicted to on-line pornography and videos that depict the flower of our young womanhood getting debauched in extreme gangbangs and orgies. Or the kids who drop ecstasy, or listen to lyrics that urge them to kill themselves because society has no place for them.
Surely bin Laden heard from his operatives about racial tensions dividing us from each other. Of blacks demanding affirmative action and victimhood, and of angry white rednecks who would just as soon chain 'em to the back of their pickup trucks on a lonely country road.
Or bin Laden heard about gay pride and official policies that give rights to the Sodomites of the New Gomorrah.
Of course, bin Laden was told all about selfish, wanton Wall Streeters whose very existence revolves around the Almighty Dollar. He heard about parents who do not spend time with their kids, and kids who never see their fathers.
Gleefully, bin Laden’s spies saw all this and more, reported it verbatim, and the conclusion based on all this “intelligence” was that the United States of America did not have the stomach to overcome a challenge.
Bin Laden had bad intel on two fronts. First, he did not understand history, and his biggest mistake was believing all the information he got from his people about the nature of our people, particularly our young folk. What those transplanted Arab terrorists could tell their leader was what they saw, but they lacked an intrinsic feel for what makes an American.
A kid grows up in this country, flush with freedom and opportunity. The schools teach them all kinds of garbage, like the Manifest Destiny of Westward Expansion was nothing more than an Indian Holocaust, or that we dropped the Atom bomb on Japan because the white leaders at the time hated yellow-skinned, slant-eyed little people.
They are told that our Vietnam experience was on a moral par with Hitler’s Germany, that we are warmongers and racists who meddle in the affairs of innocent countries just trying to get by.
They are certainly not told that the leaders of Communist Russia and China were for years unadulterated mass murderers, and that they would have kept murdering if not for our stopping them. On the other hand, they are told that the only reason we have not replaced gas-guzzlers with electric cars is because a handful of Big Oil families will not allow it. That the Ozone Layer cannot possibly be a naturally occurring phenomenon. That companies that employ millions are nothing more than exploiters of the human condition, especially in Third World countries where folks working for them would die on the huddled streets if not for the jobs created by the “exploiters.”
I know this is what they are being told, because I have a daughter who has been told this kind of thing in the public school system for 11 years. I told you, I am an expert. It is not just schools that tell our kids what a piece of crap America is. Hollywood is excellent in this regard. Our news media is very efficient at it, too.
So, getting back to Osama bin Laden’s “eyes and ears” in America, they heard all of this stuff and told him about it, no doubt. What he did not get from them, he got from CNN.
There is a point, however, that these people are missing. For some reason, there is a common sense factor that young people raised in this nation seem, thank God, to possess. An adult who moves here may possess it after a long while, but they are much less likely to understand it than the young.
What it comes down to is that the young boy or girl growing up here, listening to all the “down with America” rhetoric, is smart enough to figure a few things out for themselves. Okay, we’re warmongers and racists and greedy exploiters, but…but…
something does not add up. We are free to think for ourselves, to express opinions and live our lives as we see fit.
“How can we be racists if every person of color I know seems to be doing just fine, and none of my friends are down on them, and what about all those black dudes makin’ coin in music and sports? Have they accomplished all of that despite our narrow-mindedness?”
A kid looks around and sees streams of foreigners here and thinks to himself, hey, if we’re so bad, how come everybody keeps moving here? Dot-commers especially saw what Democracy is in this nation. What about the guy from India who started that Internet company that went public? Or the black-Jewish kid with computer skills who commanded a $70,000 salary?
A girl is told that we are a nation of homophobes, but has a hard time squaring this concept with the fact that all the gay people she knows about seem to be doing fine, thank you.
Kids hear about how we just blow people up without regard for human life, but common sense tells them that something is wrong with that picture because they know if we wanted to, we could obliterate a country like Afghanistan from the planet. Instead, we painstaking bombed only military targets and strove to keep casualties to a minimum.
Some of the smarter kids even study things like the Roman Empire and colonialism. They make mental note of the fact that the heavy-handed tactics of Rome and the British occupiers are not our style.
Hey, I thought Pat Robertson might have had a point when he said that we had gone so far from God that we had become vulnerable, but Pat missed a point that occurred to me. That is that we are free, and we are human, and we make mistakes, but as Frank Sinatra once said, the fun is in correcting our errors.
The young sense all of this much better than we give them credit for. They see injustice and do something about it. This generation sees racism and they gang up not to keep it going but to stop it.
They also sense instinctively that this is their time. There was nothing really special about the youth of the 1930s and ‘40s who took up the challenge of stopping Hitler, and later the Stalinists. A young man today sees our flag waving, and may not be inculcated by overwhelming patriotism, but they know that flag stands for something really special. They know because they have been here all their lives and that is long enough to understand such things. They know because they have been allowed to think for themselves, and down deep they know this country is the best in the world despite what they were told. They realize that if we were not the best we would never have the confidence to let everybody go around badmouthing us. We are such a great country that we know our greatness can sustain the slings and arrows of anti-U.S. sentiment. They know that the freedom to speak ones’ mind is something special, and that our enemies do not have that right.
So they will fight. They will volunteer. They will sustain us in our time of need. They will not give up. They will never surrender. They will make us proud. Bin Laden's followers hear of it, and will do understand it. His prognostications will prove inaccurate, his calculations slightly off.
Not long ago, I read an article in Newsweek about fighting terror. Apparently, many terrorists and suspected terrorists are under surveillance from the CIA and the FBI. They have decided that they get more from watching them move around than simply rounding them up. But in this article was something interesting. Apparently, a large number of terrorists stop becoming terrorists. Sometimes, they just become Americans. They get a job, they get married and start families, and they fall in love with America. That says it all.
Eventually, “thousands who will rise to replace” bin Laden will whither. They will become yesterday’s news, like the Kaiser, Hitler, Pol Pot and others who clutter the dustbin of history. As for future generations of Americans, they will go back to their selfish, cynical ways. God bless ‘em for it.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism