The Flatlined Giant

“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
— Japanese Adm. Yamamoto, after the Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor attack on the U.S.

I swore there wouldn’t be a third installment to my Iraq Around the Clock essay series.

I had my two theories to lay out about possible motives for the invasion of Iraq that we weren’t hearing about from the administration or the media — and so I did, and that was that.

Of course, I knew that I’d get tons of feedback about it from all points on the spectrum, and though I read and pondered every one of these dispatches, I resolved not to devote another essay to answering any of them in print — no matter how harsh, vitriolic, or even well reasoned. The debate about Iraq is proving to be endless, and a columnist could easily milk the dialogue for several years’ worth of copy. That’s just not my style.

Not that I didn’t ache to give both barrels back to those who called me “misguided,” a “numbskull,” or just plain “dumb” — not to mention those who suggested that I’d been “living in a cave,” have become the victim of “mind-altering sunshine,” or am in need of brain surgery. My personal favorites, however, were the fellows who suggested that my essays weren’t even worthy for use as toilet tissue (a compliment in my eyes, judging by his utter lack of apparent reason) and that I was exhibiting “breath-taking ignorance.”

But again, I wasn’t going to address these — nor any of the stacks of positive feedback I received — in a “Letters to the Editor” type of final chapter to the series. That is, until I started reading more and more letters that accused me of the terrible offense of being America-centric. To these folks, I say contritely…

Damn right.

State of Shock

Of course, I was braced for a flood of all types of responses from readers about Iraq Around the Clock — and you didn’t disappoint. That’s why I haven’t published anything in Whiskey & Gunpowder for almost a month. I’ve been busy reading and pondering this sea of feedback…

And the nature of a surprising (to me, anyway) percentage of the feedback from both parts of Iraq Around the Clock hammered home in a very jarring sense a few realities about the America we now live in, and it’s these I wish to talk about a bit today. So in essence, this isn’t a third part of the series on hidden reasons for war, but a separate essay on the changing sensibilities of the nation we call home.

At the end of all this reading and analysis, I’ve concluded this simple truth:

We’re turning into a nonnation of equivocating, prideless, heads-in-the-sand pansies.

One thing that outraged — OUTRAGED — me about some of the comments I got in response to my two-part series was the staunch refusal of a stunning number of readers to make any kind of distinction between American lives and the lives of fanatics, citizens, or soldiers of the nations (or terrorist factions) that hate us.    

Now, I know it assuages the capitalist guilt of a lot of American pseudointellectuals as they’re swirling pinot noir at poetry readings to view all human lives (except those in vitro, of course) as similarly valuable. I also know that empathizing with the suffering we inflict on our enemies makes a lot of well-to-do folks feel less crappy about tooling down the boulevard in their oil-sucking Escalades…

But to equate, as so many seem to, those lives lost in a sudden, vicious, and unprovoked attack on American soil (I’m talking about Sept. 11, for those who seem to have forgotten about it) with the lives of militant fanatical Islamists bent on our destruction — or even the innocent civilians these killers fight amongst and use as human shields — borders on the treasonous, in my view.

Why is it all of a sudden so verboten to say or think that the lives of our countrymen should be worth more to us than the lives of our enemies — or even, as heartless as it sounds, those of innocent non-Americans? Do you think anyone in the U.S. felt this way after Dec. 7, 1941, when the bombs rained down on Pearl Harbor?    

Seriously, by this manner of thinking — the notion that all lives should be worth the same to the U.S. no matter what flag they live under or what fanatic they follow — a more appropriate response to Sept. 11 should have been to kill 2,973 Saudi Arabian citizens (since 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, not to mention bin Laden himself) rather than engage al-Qaida militarily in Afghanistan, and ultimately, Iraq…

Zooming out a bit, do these people think that the appropriate response to the Pearl Harbor attacks should have been a careful, surgical retaliation against 2,335 Japanese soldiers and 68 civilians in the Empire of the Rising Sun — the precise number of Americans who died in that action?

What a different country we live in today than the one we lived in at the atomic final act of the allies’ struggle against Japan in World War II, when the lives of several hundred thousand Japanese civilians were deemed less valuable by our leaders and our citizenry than the 25,000 or more American Marines it likely would have taken to clean up the Japanese islands and lay siege to the mainland. 

To me, this tit-for-tat kind of thinking is the apex of ignorance, not the antidote to it.

It’s like putting down your shotgun when a thief invades your home because he’s armed with only a knife…

State of Decay

Think about this for a minute, to What makes a nation? I mean, when you strip away and boil down everything from a country — its customs, its rulers, its languages, its products, and even its symbols — what is it, in its most basic essence? Only two things: definable borders and citizens who pledge their allegiance to that nation above others. These are really the only things that no country can exist without.

And in the U.S. today, we increasingly have neither of these.

Whether the literati like it or not, this “allegiance” that forms one of these two fundamental pillars of a country is a kind of nationalism. There’s no other way to define it. You can call it civic pride, you can call it patriotism, you can even label it chauvinism — but these are all stripes of different widths on the same zebra. It is literally the DUTY of a nation’s citizens to hold their countrymen’s lives dearer than all others.

Here’s the bottom line: Without some degree of nationalism imbuing America’s citizens, leaders, and even (especially) our dissenters, we’re literally not a country…       

That’s basically what I’m lamenting — the decay of America’s nationhood.

The prevailing mainstream commentary on Iraq is simply a reflection of this condition, just like the continued permeability of our nation’s borders, the dilution of our common language, and the blurring of the lines of citizenship that allow increasing accessibility of public benefits to non-Americans.

It’s all part of the same systemic malaise — one that’s eroding our national identity to the point where, if we’re not careful with how we handle the Iraq debacle, no one, nowhere on Earth will fear our “sleeping giant” anymore.

And as happy as this would make the dovish appeasers in charge of most mainstream media outlets (and likely soon, the whole U.S. government), the consequences of such a global perception of America would be disastrous…

State of Denial

As I wrote in both installments of the series, I intended Iraq Around the Clock to be neither a condemnation nor an endorsement of the Iraq war — only an exploration of possible motives behind the action…

And I was proud of the fact that many wrote in to castigate me for not taking a stance on the Iraq war, or declaring much in the way of my personal opinions on the matter.

To be clearer about it now, I’m still not sure exactly how I feel about whether the invasion of Iraq was a good plan or not. Like everyone else except maybe the joint chiefs (and that includes the media), I don’t have enough “un-spun” data or facts to come to any firm conclusion about it — other than that we can’t really turn back now without catastrophic damage on multiple levels…

However, what I won’t do is jump to any conclusion about the war without thinking about it independently of what we’re being spoon-fed by the administration — or force-fed by the media. Hence my airing of the “Prison Yard” and “Wasps in the Toolshed” scenarios in Iraq Around the Clock.

In other words, I refuse to discount possible upsides or justifications to the Iraq action simply because our nation’s military has sustained some casualties or because a bunch of talking heads on TV are talking it down. Conversely, I refuse to overlook the potential downsides simply because those casualties have been relatively few compared with our enemies’ — or when compared with the number of American citizens we lost on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

But I digress. Today’s essay isn’t about where we are in Iraq, it’s about where we are in America. To me, this is of far greater worry than any military quagmire in which we may be embroiled in the Middle East…   

One of the things that worries me the most about our national condition is this: It seems that few of us truly realize that we are engaged in a HOLY WAR. We have been identified as infidels and targeted for extermination by militant Islamists (Osama bin Laden being only one of them) who have issued a fatwa — a sacred edict — against us for our support of Israel.

Now, one doesn’t have to be on the Joint Chiefs of Staff to realize the ramifications of this decree — one that isn’t likely to be disregarded anytime soon by the militant Muslim faithful. After all, they’ve been able to keep their hatred of all things Jewish alive for 1,300 years or more. So I ask you: What are our options?

We can:

  1. Offer up Israel like a sacrificial lamb (not that it couldn’t kick ass on the whole of the Islamic world if it wanted to), stabbing a cherished ally in the back and showing the world once and for all that we’ve become a nation of spineless, genteel idealists.
  2. Live in constant dread as we wait to be attacked again and again for the next 1,300 years or so, responding militarily only against terrorists we’re absolutely sure were the same ones who orchestrated the latest attacks — and then only in comparable scope, so as not to endanger any precious civilians.
  3. Invade key sectors of the Middle East with overwhelming force, giving all suicide-minded terrorists in the Islamic world the easiest and fastest possible access — via high-velocity American lead — to the 72 virgins and martyr’s glory they believe await them. 

Now I ask you this: Which of these options seems the best, both in terms of preserving what’s left of America’s decaying reputation as a “sleeping giant” force to be reckoned with and in terms of rightful pursuit and retaliation against those who are guiltiest?

To me, this is a no-brainer.

So why isn’t it to the media — and to a huge number of Americans, judging by the tenor of many of their responses to Iraq Around the Clock? 

State of Greed

Another fairly beefy vein running through a substantial amount of the feedback I received from Whiskey readers focused on the costs of the Iraq War — the actual dollars and cents we’re spending to prosecute the campaign. Apparently, a lot of people think this is a poor use of money…

To these, I say this: If dollars and cents are all that matter in this equation (I personally am uncomfortable putting a price tag on American lives), we have to consider how much the U.S. economy would suffer as a result of a Sept. 11-type attack, say, every other year. What if one of those attacks hit Wall Street?

What if one of those attacks were nuclear or biological at some point in the future?

I’ll bet that, on balance, the cost of acting decisively now — and even for the next decade or more — would end up being a net savings when compared with the ongoing costs of a terrorist holy war against us.  

And even if it weren’t, I say this is still money well spent — IF we follow through on our stated intention to democratize Iraq. After all, a stable, democratic Iraq offers the U.S. (and the world) rich opportunities for commerce, and an important source of oil quite possibly independent of OPEC.

State of Dread

As much as it may make people happy to believe that modern technology and an increasingly globalized economy might change the way nations (I’m counting powerful political entities like terrorist groups as “nations”) interrelate, I’ve seen no evidence to suggest that the fundamental dynamics of international relations Machiavelli catalogued in the early 1500s has been rendered obsolete. And among these, appeasement is the kiss of death.

It’s like feeding your neighbors to a marauding lion in hopes that he’ll eat you last.

In my opinion — now that I’m finally offering it — there is no appropriate course of action in Iraq other than aggressively forward toward democracy and stability, no matter what the cost in dollars or lives.

Clearly, this means a massive revision of tactics and philosophy, but it cannot mean retreat. To pull out, to scale back, or even to admit that the invasion was a mistake (even though it may well have been one) would show the world — which is still ruled underneath all its conventions and civilities by the immutable amoral laws of force and self-interest — that America no longer has the stomach for warfare…

It’ll also galvanized the “terrible resolve” of militant Islamists once we show them that America’s sleeping giant can be bullied into submission simply by the killing of a few thousand of our soldiers and the expenditure of a few hundred billion of our precious dollars.

Think that might spur a terrorist attack or two?

Or do you think it would all of a sudden cause al-Qaida’s suicidal, homicidal maniacs to start playing nice? Does it make sense to think that giving them marginally fewer reasons or opportunities to kill us will make them stop killing us altogether? Then how else will they get to the virgins?

I, for one, don’t want to live the rest of my life waiting for the day when I get gassed, gunned down, run down, blown up, burned up, or hacked up in my own country by foreign fanatics who hate me for no good reason. God knows I’m taking enough of a risk even by writing these essays…

Do YOU want to live like that?

Risking it all to help make terrorism fall,

Jim Amrhein
Contributing editor, Whiskey & Gunpowder
December 15, 2006