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Monday, July 12, 2004

The War on Terror and Pop Culture

Since 9/11 there have been three movies that to me seemed to exactly capture the feeling in the country and the themes of the War on Terror. First was The Fellowship of the Ring.

“I wish The Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had ever happened.” “So do all who live to face such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
Next was the Two Towers.
Open war is upon you whether you would risk it or not.
Unfortunately Return of the King (although a great movie) is not the third in this particular series. The third movie is Spider Man 2. As I wrote about in this post about this column of Peggy Noonan's, which has caused a great stir in the blogosphere, America is tired of the war. Like Peter Parker we want to get on with our life, have a chance to kiss the girl and keep a job. The parallels aren’t exact of course. America is so powerful that we have been able to spend plenty of time kissing girls and we are certainly keeping our jobs. Like Peter Parker we are tired of the super hero gig though. I think this exhaustion is of a moral, rather than physical nature. We have great power; no one argues that, and most of us agree that with this power comes a great responsibility. Determining the responsible nature is difficult however. When should we invade another country? How much proof do we need that they are a threat? What does it mean if we are wrong about WMDs? What does Abu Ghraib say about our character as a nation? How much loss of innocent life is justified? What powers should we give law enforcement to deal with this threat? These questions are hard. They have no easy answers and constantly require revisiting. And there will never be complete agreement on any of them. Instapundit has posted an email from Austin Bay in Iraq today. While I agree with everything written there I think he missed the point a little about the source of the weariness with the war. In some ways I think this is easier for a soldier than for a citizen. As citizens we need to collectively set the policies of our nation, chart out the next steps, determine what is moral and what is not. A soldier just needs to act to follow orders; a citizen needs to decide when and how to act, what orders should be given. This is not intended to minimize in any way the sacrifices of those serving in our armed forces. They don’t get to kiss the girl and they don’t get to have regular jobs. And of course our soldiers are citizens as well and share in the responsibility of governing the conduct of our nation. But I think for a soldier there is less time to worry about the moral ramifications of our foreign policy as they deal with the day-to-day issues of fighting bad guys and rebuilding nations. In many ways this exhaustion is a good thing. We are tired because we are doing hard things, making difficult choices. If Americans were blasé about our actions, were unwearied because we were sure we were always right, simply too disinterested to worry about what our government was doing and unconcerned about the lives of those living in distant lands that would be dangerous. Just because we are tired, even if being tired is a good thing, is no reason to quit however. I believe strongly that there are many more difficult decisions that need to be made. Our enemies our still out there and they are unencumbered by moral qualms. Terrorist groups and countries that opposed to American power will continue to work together in the shadows to harm our country, and all who oppose freedom. I believe that now is the time to press forward rather than pause to consolidate our gains. Update: I want to clarify a little what I meant when I said that soldiers just have to act and they have less time to worry about the moral ramifications of our foreign policy. This is an attempt to explain why soldiers, such as Austin Bay, don't seem to be affected by the weariness with events that Peggy Noonan talks about while many of the rest of us, even the supporters of the war are. In no way is this meant to diminish the sacrifice or disparage the professionalism of our soldiers. Our soldiers are doing great work, with huge sacrifices in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places. They are amazing people who are doing great things every day.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree completely. No matter how tired we are now, we'll lose the battle if we stop to rest. It will be interpreted by the whole world as we don't have the stomach for tough tasks. Not only the terrorists but also our friends will decide we can't be counted on to carry through with anything that is difficult or that takes a long time (and they'll be correct), and they'll proceed on their merry ways with no regard to us. There's a danger also with defeating the war on terror president for the education and health care president. It'll be pretty obvious that America doesn't care about anything but domestic matters.

I probably haven't added much to your excellent piece, but thanks for letting me give my two cents worth. I've been worried about this ever since Peggy Noonan wrote it.

7/12/2004 07:53:00 PM  
Blogger SFC Ski said...

Having just returned from Iraq, I can understand the desire for a break, but if I was told tonight to pack for a sudden return there, I would go, albit unhappily.

I might have a slight atitude about the ennui of the American "chattering class" but I have little empathy. Many Americans are so disconnected from this war, except for the news blurbs. The media ofers only negative news, as though absolutely nothing has gone right in Iraq or Afghanistan. That is hardly the case, but unless more Americans are made aware of of the true situation, both good and bad, they will lose heart and lose patience.

Maybe the reason soldiers seem less weary is because we hate to walk away from an unfinished task, and strive to overcome adverse situations. Civilians can say "Hell with it" and walk away, we cannot.

The situation in Iraq is far from perfect, but I would also say it is far from lost.

7/13/2004 06:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

[Anonymous because I don't have time to register w Blogger]

To the soldier, from a citizen: Thank you for your dedication, tenacity and evident professionalism. You do us proud.

Don't have hard evidence for this, but something tells me that the majority of Americans believe that we had our vacation during the 1990s and are now facing the real test of our civilization.

Is this war exhausting, costly and difficult? Of course it is. We talk a good game about how important freedom is. Now is our chance to show the world what we're made of. Tell the jihadists to fuck themselves. This Democrat is voting for Bush.

7/13/2004 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger John said...

It's possible to fully support an aggressive fight against terrorists and their allies without the next step necessarily being another hot war involving military units. Terrorism differs markedly from the clearer threats posed by states. I fail to understand those who disparage a "law enforcement and intelligence" approach to combatting terrorism, as though only military campaigns have any legitimacy or effectiveness. That view does a grave disservice to the covert operatives and police/FBI investigators who are on the front lines in the war we became fully aware of on 9/11. Frankly, the NYPD's stepped-up counterterrorism activities make me feel far safer than does the administration's ill-planned effort in Iraq--and I work across the street from Ground Zero.

7/13/2004 11:19:00 AM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...


I don't think that is is possible to conduct an effective war against terrorist and their allies if the military option is taken off the table.

Every situation and every country will require its own unique solution. But if everyone knows that military action is a possibility it will open up options that would not be availible if it not.

7/13/2004 12:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, theWesson here ...

Seems to me that in the time ahead, the task may be consolidating gains in Afghanistan and Iraq.

If this is a war of ideology, then we need to demonstrate the clear benefits of a secular, liberal, democratic, lawful, free state.

One of the best ways to do this is by showing the benefits of the American/Western way in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As President Bush pointed out during the 2000 campaign, he is not in the least interested in "nation building". So, for that part the job ahead, Kerry is clearly superior.

As for "staying the course" militarily, I have no doubt that Kerry would pursue military options where appropriate. For example, I believe any President, Democratic or Republican, would have done the same thing with Afghanistan post-9/11. Kerry has made it plain that he is not going to abandon Iraq militarily as well - in fact, he hopes to increase our presence there in the short term.

Anyhow, that would be the "time out" - fewer zealous radical plans leaving us overextended, and more consolidation and cooperation and conciliation. No, this does not mean conciliating with Islamists and jihadis - that would be insane. It means trying to make something worthwhile and lasting out of our gains in Iraq and Afghanistan. It means hunting terrorists - in which arena international cooperation is vital. It means persuading France that their best interests lie not with appeasing Islamists but in standing with the Western world. And so on.

the wesson

7/13/2004 03:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a Active Duty Navy Man who spends more time in the air over Iraq and Afghanistan then at home with my family their is no break and the threats however remote they appear to the general public are real. Tom Clancy said it best in a book titled "Clear and Present Danger".

As an active duty person and someone that has a clue and get's to see what the American Public will probably never see, I cringe to even consider how bad it would be if John Kerry is elected. I cannot even ponder such thoughts without invoking nightmares. It is the worst possible outcome.

President Bush has the spine to do what other coward leaders in the world cannot do. The fight has to be taken to the enemy so that the populace of the United States can continue to sleep well at night. Do we need another 9-11 or worse for the populace of this country to wake up.

God forbid someone detonating a nuclear or biological weapon with the 50 United States but how many of you think that talk is just rhetoric and scare tactics. I personally think it's not a matter of where but when.

Liberals in recent history Carter, Clinton have had no backbone when it comes to defending this country, can we afford in the long run to have a Liberal in office during this modern challenge. Personally I think not I may be wrong but you know who I will be voting for and I can bet a large majority of the rest of my fellow military members will vote the same.

Meanwhile I will be standing the watch and killing the real bad guys that are a clear and present danger and you can be assured that when I press the pickle button it is done with conviction and the knowledge that the target that I am dropping on is truly a bad guy. I sleep well at night and will support this country with my life need it be. So that those of you that hate the current president can continue to enjoy the freedoms of speech and the other great freedoms this country offers that thousands of my fellow military members defend so that you can sleep peacefully at night.

We continue to stand the watch.

God and I do mean this God Bless America

7/13/2004 03:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In response to John,

I think the reason there has been disparagement of the "law enforcement" aspect of counter-terrorism is two-fold. First, law enforcement is required to be reactive only. Except in certain cases, we cannot arrest someone before they actually commit a crime. Law enforcement usually must wait for the crime to occur. Further, in those instances where law enforcement can be pre-emptive, not reactive, because of the myriad restraints on the enforcer of the law (in the form of Constitutional and evidentiary protections), often preemption of the act means that the actor is let loose.

The military aspect of counter-terrorism, however, needs not wait for proof beyond a reasonable doubt. It need not worry about whether getting the information needed will harm the case against the accused. And it need not wait for the slow wheels of the justice system to turn. This admittedly has its down sides, as we are learning with the problems in Iraq. But these are trade-offs, trade-offs that many feel, given the inherent risks in waiting for proof beyond a reasonable doubt, are worth the risks.

Second, during the previous administration, which focused more on the law enforcement aspect over the military aspect, the focus was such that it excluded the military option except in very limited cases (which all too often smacked of political posturing rather than actual military expediency). Focusing on the military aspect does not necessarily rule out also using the law enforcement aspect, but focusing on the law enforcement aspect usually bars the use of the military.

7/13/2004 04:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To all the brave soldiers, thank you. There are still many Americans who believe in what you are doing. The media and the polls do not reflect the true support that you, the military, and President Bush have in this endeavor. The agenda of the left would distort the truth, but truth will prevail, and we will not tire or fail to pray for your safety.

7/18/2004 08:29:00 PM  

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