War is meant to clarify and simplify. Right and wrong, good and evil stand out in stark contrast. But war also forces reappraisal of automatic assumptions. As in one of those paperweight globes of bucolic scenes and faux snow, conventional perceptions are furiously shaken by war.
Liberals who once characterized George W. Bush as a hopeless dim bulb now praise him as a bold commander in chief. Conservatives who reckoned moral decay was the defining characteristic of America at the beginning of the new millennium are awed by the outpouring of patriotism and appreciation of family values, and the heroism of the common man and woman as demonstrated in the streets of New York and Washington.
Ideology still shapes personal and political points of view, but circumstances change. It's no longer chic to hate America. The professors of political correctness sometimes speak loud, but the sticks they carry are puny indeed. Jane Fonda became a campus heroine when she went to North Vietnam to bash the country that made her rich and a star, but there are no student marches in behalf of John Walker Lindh, the Taliban fighter from multicultural Marin County, Calif. The hero for America, circa 2001, is Johnny Spann, the CIA agent slain interrogating Taliban prisoners.
Back in the bad old days the cops were pigs, but Rudolph Giuliani, the top cop on the block, is out there with New York's finest and bravest to the cheers of everyone. When John Sweeney tried to rally his troops at the AFL-CIO convention with a cry that George W. Bush was "waging a vicious war on working families," his use of war as metaphor came off as ill-timed and tacky, or worse, particularly with the 40 percent of union
members who had voted Republican.
Pat Robertson quit the Christian Coalition to neither cheers nor jeers, since no one seemed to care one way or the other, but the man himself could see that his medium was no longer much of a message. The Rev. Jerry Falwell, who had called the suicide bombers instruments of retribution for America's sins, simply apologized and discreetly disappeared for a while.
Welfare reformers who once tilted in praise of single parenthood now seek to encourage marriage, to protect the two-parent family. More than 50 state leaders wrote Congress last week to build on reform by earmarking 10 percent of welfare funds to strengthen families.
The admiration for the men and women of World War II as "the greatest generation" is giving way to the hope that there's a new generation of young adults to follow in their footsteps of courage and selfless sacrifice. As family and country are threatened by envious and vicious outsiders, fortunate and appreciative insiders are learning to fight back.
The New York Times, harking to the example of an earlier time, has resurrected the glowing obituary with short but inspiring stories of the men and women who died in the World Trade Center disaster. With brief anecdotes and short quotations, their parents and friends, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives encapsulate the threads of memory, the woof of energy and the warp of character that made up the ordinary lives of extraordinary men and women -- religious and irreverent, passionate and disciplined, ambitious and audacious, quiet and determined, dreamers and doers all. While the Taliban forbade music, dance and play, these Americans relished them all and died as heroes and heroines.
National mythologies are never created overnight, but historians looking back will find dominant themes. The men and women who lived through the dark ages did not, after all, wake up every morning to complain about how awful it was to live in darkness. It was, in fact, during these "dark ages" that the classics were preserved to inspire the flowering of the Renaissance that followed.
Conservatives who railed against the immoralizing of America identified what was wrong in the country, but now they can take time, if they will, to appreciate what's right, rising before their eyes from beneath the surface of public consciousness. Their themes should radiate with hope for the next great generation as America renews its common values in behalf of common purpose, with echoes from World War II: duty, honor, country, with courage, charity, service, education, love of family and love of God.
Revenge and rescue are not always partners, but it was wonderfully American that packages of food fell for the good guys along with the bombs on the bad guys in Afghanistan. The combination united the country behind the president. This was a war of daisy cutters, smart bombs and above all decisive determination and true grit. Ideology need not apply.