Merry Christmas – Happy New Fear

I very much would like to tell Tom Ridge what he can do with his orange alert.

I guess it’s just not the Holidays here in the good ol’ US of A anymore without a healthy dose of fear courtesy of Uncle Sam. Just when you thought you could perhaps relax a little, shift the weight of the world from your shoulders a little and take a small amount of comfort in what remains to you in this fractured, soulless society – namely, family – along comes our beloved, rumor-mongering officials with yet another cry of wolf, another announcement that the sky is falling, another whimper into the pillow.


Eventually they will be right, just as I would be if f I step outside every day and say, “Today it will rain.” But that doesn’t make what they are doing right. On the contrary, they have already squandered their stock of credibility on the parade of orange alerts that have come and gone with no disaster. Their message may be an authoritative warning in their eyes, but to me and everyone I know it is heard as a pathetic excuse for a spectacular failure to fulfill their mission to protect this nation.

When Tom Ridge speaks, this is what we hear: “We are incompetent and impotent in the face of this small band of loosely organized thugs. After all, we’re just the United States of America, but these guys are fanatics with e-mail. They frighten us. Aside from announcing the coming strike, there’s really nothing we can do except await the next blow from these half-mad, unarmed, rag-tag outcasts of society. Because despite a $400 billion defense budget and the combined resources of the wealthiest nation on earth arrayed against them, they remain one step ahead of us at all times. After two years on notice that they are out to destroy us, we continue to scratch our heads and wonder what to do.”

Here’s the tally on the U.S. versus al Qaeda:

  • They attacked New York and Washington, so we attacked the Taliban
  • They remained a threat after the Afghan war (because we let them run away), and Osama remained alive, so we attacked Iraq

We know where the leaders are – always have known – but even though they have no arms to speak of, no tanks or missiles or even significant numbers of men, we can’t go get them. The reason? Simple – they are in a “lawless mountain” region. Again – $400 billion a year, the most sophisticated equipment in the world, half a million soldiers – but we just can’t hack it in those mountainous, lawless regions. So we wait for them to strike us again.

But in contrast to the fatalistic hand-wringing of Tom Ridge, at least we have General Myers, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, who the other day provided us with this confidence-inspiring analysis in the press:

“There is no doubt, from all the intelligence we pick up from al-Qaida, that they want to do away with our way of life,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”

“And if they could use another catastrophic event, a tragedy like 9-11; if they could do that again, if they could get their hands on weapons of mass destruction and make it 10,000 (deaths), not 3,000, they would do that.” (my emphasis)

So, for reasons that can be known only to himself, General Myers has in effect handed our enemies the recipe for victory against the United States. Myers–the supreme commander of U.S. military forces–either believes that we cannot withstand an attack of such magnitude and will crumble, as a society, in the face of it, or he is simply thoughtless enough to appear to say so to the world.

It’s unfortunate–Myers probably meant merely that “they would do that” (kill 10,000) if they had the means, not that “they would do that” (succeed in doing away with our way of life) if they could pull such a thing off. But it’s too late now to clarify. The gaff–the latest of so many–belongs to the spinners now. In the East, it will be interpreted as the former, not the latter.

But in light of the season I close with unequivocal words of wisdom: Peace on Earth, good will toward men.

Snow Falling on Laws

Snow falling again – the second time in a week. It hasn’t been much snow, but it’s bitter cold as well, so no picnic blowing it off the walks and driveway. I’ve been battling some bizarre illness the last few weeks, which has me very tired and lazy, and so I haven’t done as good a job on it as usual. I tromp out there in the evening and blow off the cement, but it keeps snowing, so there’s a new thin layer there by morning. And no way am I going out there in the dark of morning to blow snow. I see my neighbor out there plowing away, doing his duty as I’m guiltily pulling my car out into the uncleared mess, smashing down the snow on my driveway into ice and leaving the pedestrians to the whims of fate on my snowy sidewalk. But It’s just not in me. I hate that morning cold.

What I’ve been thinking about is the idea of decisions a society makes–or fails to make–as it stands on a threshold between what it was and what it will become. We have a few of these flitting around lately, mostly involving the rule of law versus the chaos of human nature. And no, it’s not clear which is better.

In fact human nature was all we went by for millennia, and for sure it resulted in some major atrocities. But after several hundred years of societies supposedly founded on laws, the atrocities continue. War itself is like a “time out” from lawful rule. Normally, it’s a big no-no to slaughter children. Individuals who do it are “monsters” whom we routinely put to death. But we, the U.S., a force for good in the world, now routinely launch weapons into our proxy “battleground” countries (Afghanistan, Iraq) that we know will kill innocent children. The only difference is we’re not intentionally targeting them. But it doesn’t change the knowledge that it will happen. And it’s OK because it’s war. And in war there are unforeseen casualties and, that most meaningless of euphemisms, “collateral damage.”

So people like me have to qualify an idea like “rule of law” with an undeniable knowledge that the rules are routinely broken by states that find them inconvenient. It is argued in high circles that nations retain an “escape clause” from codified laws–such as those prohibiting mass homicide–when they find it necessary to act to protect their own existence. In other words, in self defense. So each act of belligerence these days is carefully couched in the rhetoric of defense–we are merely defending, if not our actual sovereign land, then “threats” to our safety or our “vital interests” in other lands. We now launch unprovoked attacks that we know will kill innocents by the hundreds, if not thousands, because someone in those lands “might” be plotting something against us.

We decide to be a nation of laws, and this is perceived as a good thing. Because the high emotions of the lynch mob or the oppressive majority are supposedly held in check by a code of allowed and proscribed behavior, we can say we have an orderly society. But I submit that we have stretched the “escape clause” definition to an extent that ambition, or thirst for power or revenge, or mere political gamesmanship are too easily masked as “defensive” grounds for mass killings of the world’s surplus people–whose only fault is that they were born in backward countries, in chaotic times, in a world devoid of the rule of law.

We need to define our nation’s acts as they are actually wrought, so that we might embrace our future as a nation of warmongers, or reject it and pursue another course.