Mourning As A Performing Art
September 9--We're going to do it, I know we are. We're going to celebrate Bin Laden's Victory Day. By all indications, it will be a media circus, like when Princess Di dida grand battle in the ratings wars. We'll wallow in mawkishness, and whimper, and humiliate ourselves. Watch. There will be manufactured solemnity, factitious reverence, sorrow by Disney, and an unremitting ooze of therapy. Heaven help us, we'll probably get in touch with our feelings, and Heal. Maybe booths will sell cotton candy.
I suppose I have a bad attitude about the upcoming festivities. On my office wall is a row of magazine covers I shot for Soldier of Fortune in a previous life as a freelance photojournalist. One of them (November, 1983, written as Rick Venable) shows Marines coming ashore in Beirut, the lead guy carrying an M-203. I spent a week or two with those guys, patrolling downtown and suchlike. Shortly afterward, the truck bomb arrived. Moslem terrorists. Two hundred forty-one dead.
America didn't do anything about those killings, then or later. There was no carnival of mourning on the anniversary. I guess the networks forgot. What do you suppose? As for dead Marines, who cared? After all, they didn't go to Princeton, and you never saw them in pricey booze chutes in Manhattan.
Judging by appearances, the forthcoming coverage will be appalling both in quantity and moral fraudulence. The ad agencies, I have read, are pondering what tone to use on September 11. It is a delicate question. The trick is to gull the rubes without disturbing their sensibilities. (Singing toilet paper may not be just the thing. Unless it sang a dignified dirge maybe. Mining the dead for ad revenue is harder that it might seem.)
The Moslem world is going to love every minute of it. In fact, I see in the Washington Times that they are going to have anti-American rallies in London to celebrate the great day. How convenient, they must think: The Americans are going to crawl for us. I'll give you odds bin Laden is comfortable somewhere, probably in Saudi Arabia, laughing and laughing and laughing. I would be.
Maybe he's not really in Saudi. Maybe he's in Vail, waiting for good powder. But he ain't been caught. I tell you, he's one slick A-rab. I don't like the guy. I'd shoot him if I could, and poke holes in his towel. I have to respect the sucker, though. He changed the United States forever. We're going to be a scared security state for all time, with the cops reading our email. The home of the free, land of the brave.
I assume, subject to correction by events, that we'll have every television truck on earth at Ground Zero, and the rest at the Pentagon. There will be endless tributes to the Hallowed Dead, who will be treated as saints crossed with Joan of Arc. Actually of course they were just people who happened to be at work on the wrong day. Being hit by an airliner is no more heroic or tragic than being run over by a dump truck. This is the age of Oprah Consciousness, though. We'll have contrived tears from televised airheads who didn't know the dead and don't care about them.
People get mad if you say it, but, fact is, we got stomped. One raghead with a few subordinate loons took down the Trade Center, turned us into a docile police state, made us spend billions bombing peasants in Afghanistan without issue, frightened us into letting our airlines go into bankruptcy, and now we have Homeland Security, which makes flying so unpleasant that most of us will take trains. The best we could do now is just to shut up. Naw. We're gonna wave it around on prime time. We'll let everybody watch it again.
Time was, this wouldn't have happened. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, we squashed them. When the Nazis attacked us, we invaded. But that was before Oprah Consciousness. Now the Moslems kill a few thousand people in New York, and the President immediately goes to a mosque. Don't you love it?
After Pearl Harbor, did Roosevelt go to a Shinto temple?
The whole thing is surreal. We can't even admit who did it.
Quiz: What people have been consistently kicking our teeth in for decades? Chippewas? Latvians? Tibetan monks? Or Moslems?
It was the Iroquois who took over our embassy in Tehran and make fools of us for months, until Jimmy Carter sent in that comic-opera rescue team and independently made fools of us. Isn't that what you remember? Iroquois?
The Norwegians blew up the Marine barracks in Beirut, right? Damn those Norwegians. The Cole? The Starke? Presbyterians did it. I'm sure of it.
Is there no limit to our absurdity? (No. The question was rhetorical.) We all know who the terrorists are, but we won't even search Moslems because that would be discrimination. We won't arm pilots because guns are, Squeeeeak! so fwightening. We take away fingernail clippers as deadly weapons. This is the country that stormed Iwo?
It gets sillier. We're going to wage an international crusade against terrorism, yet we throw little boys out of school for drawing pictures of soldiers, and we don't let them play dodgeball because it's so violent. The earth must be laughing.
A pretty good rule of diplomacy might be that you shouldn't huff and puff if you aren't going to back it up. It's undignified. It invites more trouble. The Towers went down, and we huffed. Grrr, woof. Bush said fiercely that we were going to make terrorists everywhere wish they had never been born. For at least two weeks everybody was solidarified and America was on the march and companies sold Instant Patriotism kits, with a little flag for the aerial and a bumper sticker. Bow-wow-wow. Wurf.
And then we fizzled. We bombed Afghanistan some, but I can't see that it did much. We sound as though we may do something unpleasant to Iraq. I guess that'll get rid of terrorism. We'll see. It's hard to know what we're going to do. These days wars are declared by the president, not congress.
I'll root for us, but bet on them. The Moslems have got our number. They have the momentum. They appear to rely on what is becoming an international formula for defeating the United States: Don't give the Yanks a point target, and draw the war out until they get bored. Do you reckon it's working?