Thursday, March 13, 2003

I remember writing shortly after September 11th that the event hadn’t affected me. In most ways, I’ll still stick by that. I haven’t been terribly affected personally. It isn’t as if I lost anyone I knew, or as if I was so scarred by the imagery that I lost the ability to sleep at night. The effect is nothing like that at all for me. The effect is harder to understand and explain, I think. Particularly because, I’m at an age when my thoughts ought to be somewhat sporadic anyway.

Things seemed to speed up after September 11th. Politics suddenly got bigger. I mean, I was far from an isolationist before the event, and I wasn’t so ignorant as to not know that places like Afghanistan and Pakistan and India and Iraq existed. I was vaguely aware of the problems that faced those nations. But I didn’t worry myself over them. Sure, it was sad to see pictures of people suffering. But it only made me thankful I lived in a country like America, where these things were relegated to glossy magazine articles. I didn’t suffer anything personally, and so I was able to keep that sort of apathetic objectivity that Americans naturally keep about foreign affairs. If we’re really quite concerned by something, well, we’ll send our wallets, we will. And that’s as close as we care to get to the thing.

Now as we face a possible war with Iraq – a very likely war actually – I’m trying to figure out how exactly it was that everything has gotten to the point it’s gotten. I mean, it seems just yesterday my prime concerns were domestic issues like capital punishment, abortion, home schooling, ending the war on drugs. I had a vague paranoia about China, but that was all nonsense about spy planes; I didn’t expect real war, it was all very benign. And now, suddenly, I’m puzzling over budgets to rebuild countries we’ve yet to knock down.

I was too young to have a real understanding of the first Gulf War when it happened. I remember dressing up as an Arab for Halloween once, and I remember boring news reports from hot countries interrupting my cartoons. But I didn’t have a tremendous grasp on foreign policy when I was nine, so I haven’t a terrific memory for it now either. I know that we didn’t take out Saddam Hussein at the end of that war. I know that we didn’t because the UN asked us not to and we deferred.

The election of George W. Bush surprised me. I didn’t vote for the guy. I voted for Harry Browne, the Libertarian candidate. I was tempted to vote for Bush just to be voting against Gore, but I wanted my vote to reflect my conscience, so I voted third party. With all the fuss about Ralph Nader stealing the election from the democrats in 2000, I remember thinking it very funny that every election 3-4% of voters who, in my experience anyway, would ordinarily have voted for the Republican candidate, voted Libertarian, and Republicans only rarely complained of it. But in any case, I was surprised that Bush was elected. I didn’t like that he used the same irritating liberalisms that Gore used. I had a hard time trying to tolerate a guy who’d executed the mentally retarded trying to pass himself off as compassionate. But I was happy that he’d won, just because I hated Gore so much. I was glad to get away from the Clinton administration, and away from what I considered a new generation of radical environmentalists.

When September 11th came about, I was glad indeed that we’d elected George W. Bush. Though it’s the usual charge that Gore would have done nothing about the event, my fears lead in an opposite direction. Surely nothing substantive would have been done. But an immediate, knee-jerk reaction, with heavy bombing was assured with Gore in office. Bush impressed me with his cool tone. I’ve tired of the coddling of Islam in the media since, but it was comforting to hear a bit of coddling from an Evangelical President on the eve of what could have been the retaliation to end all retaliations.

Actually, that’s what’s surprised me most about George Bush in all of this. Though the media constantly portrays the guy as “cowboy,” “isolationist,” and “hawk,” he’s actually worked incredibly closely with the international community. The fact is that America is the world’s only superpower, and if we wanted to, we could do literally anything we wanted with little to no fear of reprisal. We could destroy world power numbers two and three, simultaneously, without allies, if we wanted to. People whine about “freedom fries” and boycotts of French wine, but in prior generations, a superpower’s displeasure with France might have ended in the immediate leveling of Paris. Imagine asking Rome at the height of Rome’s power to take the advice of its inferiors. Anyone who’s studied history knows that it’s laughable to suggest that powerful countries ought to be ruled over by powerless countries, and yet, America singularly, not only tolerates, but even props up international organizations, which seek to tell the world’s only superpower what to do. American charity on the matter is immense, and amazingly, I don’t suspect it’s wearing thin.

The European Union has really shown its stripes throughout this. Otherwise known as the German and French initiative to rule over Europe even where Napoleon and Hitler failed, the charade has been revealed, and is, I think, in the midst of its death throes. Or rather, I should say, it will not dissolve and die, but it will be proven quickly ineffective and dubious, and this Pan-European dream will fade as its predecessors faded. Germany and France, who’ve both been involved in shady deals over Iraqi oil fields, are gambling the EU on anti-Americanism. The problem is, the whole of Europe is not so anti-American as France and Germany. The United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and the like prefer American tourism, funds, and protection to hollow German and French promises. And as well they should. America, with its oh-so-offensive-to-sensitive-sensibilities McDonaldization of society, has never tried to – and especially not repeatedly as is the case of Germany and France – military overrun these nations for territorial gains; rather instead America financially and military defended them against the real and present danger that was 20th Century Communism. My great-great-grandfather left Alsace-Lorraine for the United States because he couldn’t believe that France and Germany could ever get along for very long. He was a wise man, and he knew what wise men still know today.

Anyway, I’m getting off subject, and there are people in the computer lab distracting me. So I’ll bring the themes out more quickly. This is what I see as the big changes that have occurred since Clinton left office. We elected a man who, like his father, thankfully does not believe in appeasement. Because of the shock of September 11th, many Americans were awoken to the existence of a volatile world beyond their borders, and were mobilized into caring enough to do something about it other than just throwing money at it. September 11th also forced Americans to confront the encroachment of radical Islam, which has been growing cancerously since the late 19th century. Americans were introduced to virulent anti-Americanism in countries, which they thought, at least from the bills they’d racked up financially propping up those nations, were their close allies. The true political aims of France and Germany in the EU have been revealed, and each individual nation has decided their alignment on the issue. We now know just how thin the ice that the anti-Americans stand on really is. And finally, we’ve seen that America is an exceedingly tolerant superpower, despite constant insults which suggest the contrary. And we’re about to see, I think, that though America is exceedingly tolerant toward organizations like the UN and the EU, it also isn’t about to be bullied and it now refuses to be shamed into submission. Sometimes I think America’s a bit like this giant backwoods, grinning hillbilly that’s afraid to tell the more “cultured” folks around them that, to entirely mix metaphors, the Emperor ain’t wearin’ no clothes. Perhaps that’s changing; for better or worse.

There’s a tremendous amount of churning in the world today. And it’ll be something to see how all of this turns out. For someone who grew up largely even after that Evil Empire was brought down, seeing issues like Just War theory, isolationism, pan-Nationalism and more discussed in the news is amazing and exciting. It’s a joy to be excited about what’s happening in the world today, even if it’s only in that nervous sort of way that it manifests in uncertain times. That is to say, I don’t share the Utopian belief of my parent’s generation, that the Times Are A’Changing, I’m enthralled by getting to see them stay the same. War isn’t new, and neither is international backstabbing. But it’s still something to see when it comes about.