WASHINGTON -- So what happened to the word "quagmire"? I do not hear much about it from the talking heads or the armchair generalissimos in the press, as the Taliban scurry and the Afghans shave their beards or engage in such lewd practices as kite flying. As with the Gulf War so with the Afghan War -- Modern Times prevailed over Ancient Times in a matter of weeks.
Now Modern Times must exterminate the remaining terrorists. Their barbaric mode of warfare must be punished. It is their tactic to make unarmed citizens the preferred target over enemy soldiers, and so our military has to step in. Probably the next place to step is Iraq.
Yet before the war against terrorism enters its second phase, allow me to unveil an idea that has been gestating within my mind for perhaps a decade. Only now in the glow of victory over the Taliban dare I present it to readers for your comment. The idea is this: In the brutal business of suppressing mankind, rightist brutes are always more likely than leftists brutes to do something clownish. I cannot explain this difference, but it is clearly observable. The Taliban and their colleague the Rev. Osama bin Laden are in terms of cruelty the equal of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge. Yet now we can laugh about the Taliban. They have been brutal and murderous, but they had their clownish side. We still cannot laugh about Pol Pot. There was nothing clownish about him and his communist zealots.
His ideological fevers were quite as white hot
and as mad as are the Taliban's. Still, in all Pol Pot's desiderata he never demanded anything that was (SET ITAL) au fond (END ITAL) silly, such as the Taliban's ban on kite flying. The Taliban's fat holy men banned kite flying, transistor radios, pulchritude in public and clean-shaven men. There were always theological controversies raised by international soccer matches being played in Taliban territory, though it must be the rare Islamic soccer player who would play with shaved legs -- panty hose, perhaps, but never shaved legs. Had the Taliban remained in power, I would not have been surprised to hear of a jihad being declared against the Gillette Corp., whose founder -- an American, naturally -- encouraged the West's shocking facial depilating by inventing the safety razor.
No sooner had Sheik Omar's smelly bullies retreated into the hills than some very amusing stories began appearing in the newspapers. "In this town just taken from the Taliban by Northern Alliance troops, the busiest spot was Amon's Barbershop," reads a front-page story in the steadfastly dour New York Times. Now (SET ITAL) that (END ITAL) is amusing. And the reporter goes on to chronicle still more risible scenes as the Taliban retreat. Amon, standing "in a pile of beard cuttings," laments that he was so busy shaving his recently liberated clients that he forgot to shave himself. "Tomorrow, I'm going to shave off my own beard," he vows. And Muhammad Humayun, a pharmacist now free to prescribe everything from aspirin to Viagra, exults, "The first thing I did was take my turban off and throw it away." No such scenes followed the liberation of Phnom Penh, and no such scene will follow the liberation of Havana or Hanoi.
In offering my thesis that, despite their cruelty, brutes from the right can be funny, but brutes from the left rarely are, I make no moral or even intellectual point. Both sides are equally contemptible and deserving of the lockup. But facts are facts. Even during World War II, dramatists noticed an absurd side of the Nazis that made them laugh, and many of the dramatists were Jewish. Mel Brooks has been making us laugh for years over the Nazis' clownish side. Why is there never a clownish side to the communists or to the fanatics from the French Revolution? Can anyone offer an explanation?
I can think of one left-wing tyrant who betrayed moments of buffoonery, Mao Tse-tung -- or Chairman Mao, as we called that little butterball of a despot. The claims he made for himself were delightfully absurd. Remember when he claimed to swim the Yangtze River at a speed that no Olympian could match and at a distance that was preposterous? Remember the idiotic terms he used? I never have been able to figure out what a "capitalist roader" might be or why it was undesirable to be one.
Undesirable it was. During Mao's "Cultural Revolution" millions died, many of them "capitalist roaders." As killers go, Mao was one of the world's most bloodthirsty.
Yet to return to my point. Why is it that among the despotic only the despots on the right have a clownish side? The leftist despots are equally brutal, but with the exception of Chairman Mao they almost never do or say anything silly. The explanation is not to be found in their morality or their intellects. It has to be something else. Do you have any suggestions?