America 2001: Putting the '70s behind us

Posted: Sep 18, 2001 12:00 AM
The "moral equivalency" crowd is in full cry, just as you'd expect. Crying the louder, maybe, given the unwelcome noise they can't drown out -- that public clamor for retaliation against the perpetrators of Sept. 11. The moral equivalency crowd has been instructing us for more than 30 years that we're no better ourselves than terrorists and Third World Communists and the like. It gets about that explicit. For instance, a University of Texas journalism professor, Robert Jensen, in the Houston Chronicle, suggests that Sept. 11 "was no more despicable than the massive acts of terrorism -- the deliberate killings of civilians for political purposes -- that the U.S. government has committed during my lifetime." The Institute for Public Accuracy offers to put me in touch with Kevin Gray, "activist" and contributing editor to Black News in Columbia, S.C., who would like to communicate that "People who feel hopeless fly into buildings. And now we're going to get mad and kill them." Even a former presidential candidate (the Libertarian Party's Harry Browne) asks solemnly when we'll figure out "that we can't allow our politicians to bully the world without someone bullying back eventually." It's all our fault. If only we'd listened to the Chicago Seven and the Weathermen and those other noble foreign policy analysts who described our evil ways! "When will they ev-er LEARN? When will they EVVVV-er learn?" Good question, Mr. Dylan, sir. We did in those bygone days swallow our lessons like good little boys and girls. Oh, less well-chewed and digested than our professors would have preferred. We didn't manage, post-Vietnam, to stamp out patriotism or withdraw from the fight against communism. Two things we did walk away with: 1) The ability to think the worst of American methods and motives in foreign policy; such an ability as bears fruit in the inanities of Prof. Robert Jensen. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, in the '80s, knew whereof she spoke when she castigated the homegrown experts who "always blame America first." 2) A massive case of the shakes and fidgets when it comes to action. If too much power had got us over our heads in Vietnam, why, clearly we had to move the opposite direction -- toward dramatic restraint in the use of power. Thus, an old coot in Teheran kidnapped our embassy staff, and the best we as a people could do was tie a yellow ribbon 'round the old oak tree. Congress and the media took the intelligence community to the cleaners. A spy for the United States, as journalists and various politicians saw it, was a baser type than a male chauvinist. Matters improved markedly during the Reagan years: We bombed Libya, occupied Grenada, and funded the Nicaraguan contras, so as to protect American lives and foreign policy interests. The Gulf War looked good until the first George Bush backed away at the moment of victory: further evidence of our reluctance to embrace power. Bombing-by-cruise-missile, at a suitably safe distance, became our preferred method of combating terrorism. Today, in our present red-white-and-blue mood, a new intuition takes shape. It is that military power has legitimate uses; that the dominant duty of a nation is the protection of its own people. A government reluctant to look to that duty, wouldn't you think, is no government at all, just a network of bureaucrats and Jacks in office. Things have gone so far that Americans permit their president to say things like: "When I take action, I'm not going to fire a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the butt. It's going to be decisive." Well. Insensitive in the extreme. And don't you love it?