Washington -- Since the Korean War in the early 1950s, limited American military engagements, such as the one we are now in, usually follow the same course. First, there is the patriotic effulgence. Then the star spangled national facade suffers fissures, usually created by the extreme left, later widened by the pained scrupling of (SET ITAL) bien-pensant (END ITAL) liberals. The process could take place even in this conflict where we are facing not such a plausible foe as the avuncular Ho Chi Minh or good old Mao Tse-tung, but a villainous crank who would send sneaks into civilian airplanes to commandeer them from the defenseless and slam them into buildings that, for all he knew, contained many of his co-religionists.
Actually the process is already beginning. Know-it-alls such as Susan Sontag, the literary egotist, and Professor Noam Chomsky, a linguist, have explained that the atrocities in New York and Washington are perfectly understandable given America's controversial history. (All this could have been avoided had Henry Wallace won the Democratic presidential nomination back in 1948!) Then, New York Times columnists Bill Keller and Frank Rich came forward to depict any criticism of the likes of Sonatag-Chomsky as alarming signs of America's totalitarian impulse. These columnists are particularly troubled by the fact that the comic Bill Maher was under fire for snide remarks he made on his gelastic and misnamed television show "Politically Incorrect." Keller expressed fears that this incipient war's critics will be forced to drink Socrates' hemlock by the fierce editorial page writers at the Wall Street Journal, all of whom are doubtless agents of the American Legion.
Finally, there now comes the growing controversy within the media over the government's efforts to persuade the TV networks not to broadcast the Rev. Osama bin Laden's dirges from the rock pile he calls home or the cave or the ant castle -- I have had a difficult time discerning precisely from where his filmed sermons originated, and I had the advantage of watching the footage in the company of a respected archeologist, a neighbor who is a psychiatrist and student of abnormal child psychology. The Rev's stage set was right out of National Geographic. All that was missing were the flies landing on his nose.
Yet, now we have this controversy over whether the networks should air these naturalistic burlesques. Both President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair are supposedly importuning on their respective networks to keep the clever terrorists' performances from unsuspecting viewers. The press is beginning to perceive government "censorship."
In time, goaded by the First Amendment rigorists who were so strangely quiet when the Clinton administration was harassing the press, the networks will be duly airing the Rev. bin Laden. Here I would counsel the networks to employ the utmost circumspection. My guess is that giving airtime to the alleged bin Laden is precisely what the White House and 10 Downing Street want. There are leaders whose presence inspired their followers to great feats. Supposedly Napoleon's presence on a battlefield was worth tens of thousands of seasoned troops; certainly Roosevelt's reassuring presence in the White House inspired the nation. On the other hand, there are leaders who inspire revulsion or derision.
Have you noticed the peculiarly blank look in the eyes of this fellow whom our leaders insist is the fire-breathing terrorist, Osama bin Laden? Have you noticed that he is wearing a Timex Ironman Triathlon wrist watch and camouflage clothes that are either Army surplus or right out of the National Rifle Association catalogue? And does anyone doubt that the beard is a fake? It looks like horsehair to me. I have no doubt that he is a CIA plant, dreamed up to induce snickers throughout Islam and embarrassment among the angry galoots who have been trained to bomb Westerners' skyscrapers, old peoples' homes, and perhaps put anthrax on the seats of merry-go-rounds.
Some of us have actually studied the great military feats of the Islamic world. We remember Saladin who swept up from Egypt and captured Jerusalem in the Twelfth Century, the Turk forces of yore, and more recently T. E. Lawrence's colleagues in the Desert Wars. This pathetic man filmed in his dressing gown is no Saladin. It is obvious propaganda from Western intelligence. Once Western audiences get hooked on him, he will be feeding the world misinformation and shaming terrorists everywhere.