The path to self-defeat

Posted: Apr 22, 2006 12:05 AM
Sometimes you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

The United States is at war, a global struggle against Islamic extremists who aim to destroy the Western infidels and form an international caliphate governed by Islamic sharia law. They triggered a war with the 9/11 attacks, carried out in typically cowardly fashion by suicide bombers who targeted civilians.

But faced with such dire threats, some still insist on seeing us as the problem. Look no further than the April 17 edition of the online magazine Salon, where Nina Burleigh describes her foray into a Red America town in upstate New York.

“Eighty of Narrowsburg’s 319 adults are military veterans and at least 10 recent school graduates are serving in Iraq or on other bases overseas right now,” Burleigh writes. And, horror of horrors, “The school’s defining philosophy was traditional and conservative, starting with a sit-down-in-your-seat brand of discipline, leavened with a rafter-shaking reverence for country and flag.”

That became a problem when her son started kindergarten and learned to love his country, forcing Burleigh to have a big talk with the little guy. “I told my son that our president had started a war with a country called Iraq. I said that we were bombing cities and destroying buildings. And I explained that families just like ours now had no money or food because their parents didn’t have offices to go to anymore or bosses to pay them,” she writes.

Hopefully, even her five-year-old was able to see through Burleigh’s childish untruths.

As she should know, destroying buildings isn’t the American way of war in the 21st century.

It wasn’t long ago that insurgents were shooting at American forces from mosques in Iraq. But our troops didn’t respond by blowing up those houses of worship; quite the opposite. The American military today often suffers casualties because it declines to use its overwhelming force, choosing instead to use the absolute minimum force needed to do the job. Our restraint, and our willingness to risk American lives, is unique in the annals of war.

As far as food goes, it was Saddam Hussein and the corrupt United Nations oil-for-food program that starved millions of Iraqis. The U.S. invasion toppled a vile dictator who’d used hunger as a weapon against his own people and gave them their first chance at freedom and self-governance. The U.S. isn’t perfect, but our mission in Iraq has done much more good than harm.

Burleigh is a beneficiary of American military might, but she doesn’t seem to realize it. She writes, “I wanted [my son] to understand how privileged he was to live in a place where bombs weren’t raining from the sky.” Well, her son is privileged, but not in the way she means.

He’s privileged, as all Americans are, because he was lucky enough to be born in freedom in the United States rather than in bondage in a dictatorial country such as Iran. But the fact that bombs aren’t falling from the sky isn’t a matter of privilege or luck: It’s by design.

That’s what those dozens of military veterans in Narrowsburg -- and millions more across the country -- fought for. We defeated our enemies, including the Nazis in World War II and the evil Soviet empire in the Cold War so her son could live in peace.

But the war goes on against Islamic insurgents.

In his book “While Europe Slept” American expatriate Bruce Bawer writes that he and his homosexual partner fled to the continent in the late 1990s, hoping to escape the evangelism that was making them so uncomfortable in the United States. Instead, they found that liberal Europe was being overwhelmed by conservative Muslim immigrants. Bawer wonders if Western values will survive there.

“It’s as if Europe, after all the horrors it inflicted on itself in the 20th century in the name of God and country and Volk were determined to yank up its roots, pull down the flags and base its sense of identity on safely superficial things,” he writes. But, “a civilization with so prosaic a self-understanding is a house of cards, easily toppled by a foreign people possessed of a fierce, all-subsuming sense of who they are and what they believe.”

For now, Burleigh has “rescued” her child. “Our son is enrolled in a well-rated K-5 public school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side,” she writes. “Not surprisingly, the Pledge of Allegiance is no longer part of his morning routine. Come to think of it, and I could be wrong, I’ve never seen a flag on the premises.”

Too bad she doesn’t know, as Europeans are learning, that self-defeat begins with self-loathing. It’s easy to say “The United States is too strong; what’s happening in Europe couldn’t happen here.” But to make sure it doesn’t, we’ll need to have pride in our country and be willing to fight for it.

Even after her diatribe (but before he returned to Manhattan) Burleigh’s son told her, “But Mommy, I love America! I want to hug America!” Hopefully, someday the mother will be as wise as her kindergartner was.