Modern opinions aside, Americans are not easily provoked into war. We are not as hawkish a nation as some would claim. True, our history is replete with warriors like General George Patton who boldly declared, “Once we are in a war, we must win!” or General Tecumseh Sherman who once proclaimed, “War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen, and I say let us give them all they want.” Yet in the wake of conflicts such as Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, our nation’s once youthful sentiment for patriotism and its robust passion for freedom seem sadly fading. Are we coming of age or simply growing weary? Or perhaps complacent?
At only 200+ years we should not be weary, but for the constant nagging of anti-American rhetoric that has forced us to recline on the comfortable sofa of U.S. politics. Nor should we be complacent, even as we are relegated to viewing war on television, and cheering quietly from the sidelines, clicking from channel to channel and falling into a hypnotic, sleep-like trance.
Enter a group like Al-Qaeda or ISIS, or for that matter Nazis or communists. These savages are counting on American weariness and complacency. They are counting on our reticence to engage. But in the shadow of 9/11, which has come to symbolize American resolve, here is my warning to these fanatics prone to suicide and mass murder: Make as much noise as you want, but do not, and I repeat do not block the TV. This would get our attention. Do not make us uncomfortable or fearful or, God forbid, give us a reason to unite as a people. It’s true that we may be guilty of a certain kind of laziness, but we also are packing some serious heat! We do not want to get between you and your Allah, but by golly, take away our ability to live in safety and we will become Allah’s private contractor.
Part of the problem with misguided zealots is they wrongly calculate American caution or restraint to be thinly veiled fear. (Unfortunately, the current administration is doing precious little to dull that perception.) But even an anti-war president like Barack Obama, prone to appeasement and sporting a lackluster foreign policy, will lead from behind . . . or with his behind . . . or on his behind, whatever it takes, when faced with an imminent and existential threat. The lesson learned over and over by America’s enemies—from 1776 to Pearl Harbor to 9/11—push us too far and we will strike.
America may appear to be a sleeping giant, but it is one giant best left undisturbed. Provoke us and the shock waves that awaken our survival instinct will explode the Washington gridlock and mute the cacophony of voices selling endless adolescence or the reliving of the ‘60s in perpetuity. If, instead of wisely leaving us where you found us—that reluctant, lazy hulk snuggled beneath a blanket of 21st century comfort and self-absorption—you will awaken us from our slumber, and instinctively we will seek a quick and decisive end to your intrusion (which will probably mean finding an army of young soldiers jacked up on ADD meds and X-Box).
To the barbaric ISIS jihadists running amok across Syria and Iraq, I ask you this, Do you really want to contend with a pissed off old man, in debt, with billions of borrowed dollars, capable of amassing the largest drone army the world has ever seen? Do you really want to do battle with a generation of video game addicts equipped with cutting edge screens and quick-fire controllers roaming a desert landscape for anti-aircraft units or ground-to-air missiles. You talk about a Holy War; you will find yourselves in a Holy Shit War! The day a seven year old can sit on a couch and find an ISIS opponent on a hillside, with some antiquated automatic weapon, damn. Advice: step away from the desert, return home, and start serving a more loving and peaceful God.
So, as we reflect on yet another anniversary of that 21st century awakening in NYC, when we lived in the bubble caused by the inevitability of success from iPhones and second homes, I caution ISIS and any other radicalized ideologues hell bent on Western destruction: Remember we sleep now yes, but with bad memories and with one eye open. True, you caught us off guard on that clear September morning. But you left us with memories of suicide missions and airplanes and smoke, of missing persons photos from home printers flapping in candlelit parks that once were overrun with hippies, vagrants, and street festivals. Yes, we know we have problems. But those are our problems. You know, family problems.
You see, whether you realize it or not, you took away our innocence. We post-baby boomers heard of Vietnam. We saw the body bags on TV every night. But we didn’t smell them. Well, your current stench pisses us off. You threaten to mess with our American way of life. You distort our best hopes and turn our children into soldiers.
Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, and you will be no more.