I just watched the PBS special "Six Days in June
" about the Six Day War in 1967. It was pretty riveting, as measured by the few times I flicked over to the ball game, not wanting to miss a word. The film notes how the war changed Israel from a mostly secular nation into the more religiously zealous state it is today. Jerusalem, for example, wasn't much of a concern to the average Israeli then, but the act of taking back the city elevated it to such a prize that overnight it became the most precious jewel in Israel's crown.
Over the weekend, I watched a documentary on Turner Classic Movies from the late 40's about the "Friendship Train
," a nationwide charity drive spearheaded by Drew Pearson
, which gathered donations of grain and canned milk to feed the hungry in France and Italy. The narrator went on and on about "freedom" and how France and Italy were now free and this food would help friends in freedom. But France and Italy were anything but free in 1940-41 when Americans had absolutely no interest in joining the conflict. We entered the war because Japan attacked us and Germany declared war against us, not to make France and Italy "free." But to keep the war spirit going, the war fever quickly took on a more messianic tone.
Even the cold war required a dedicated public to stay engaged with a pretty scary enemy who could obliterate our cities. And so our relative prosperity to the Soviet Union - which was due to a combination of ours being the only surviving intact modern economy of the post-war period, a wealth of natural resources, and an efficient free-market economy (as opposed to the hopelessly inefficient, centrally-planned Soviet behemoth) - was elevated to a tenet of religion faith. All those people throughout the world wanting to emigrate here weren't just eager to grab a piece of the pie - they were sign of just how wonderful we are, and don't we want them all to come here and share in the fruits of freedom. And if a free market is so wonderful for us, why then global free trade will be even more wonderful. And those 700+ billion trade deficits - again, just shows how desperate the rest of the world is to loan us money.
Then we had Bosnia and Kosovo - which for some reason we had to get involved in. The Serbs were just about the baddest guys around for a few years there - an entire people, apparently, evil to the man. And then there's Saddam, the ultimate bad guy, whose regime tortured children in front of their parents, Olympic athletes
, and who gassed his own people
(though of course to Saddam the Kurds were anything but "his own people"). In addition to the expected WMD and his previous invasion of Kuwait, the Iraq attack could now take on a more messianic mission - Operation Iraqi Freedom.
And you'd have thought that the 9/11 attack itself would be enough to justify attacking the country that sponsored and protected the bastards who murdered 3,000 of our countrymen and destroyed parts of our greatest city. But in the weeks leading up to the Afghan invasion, we were treated to undercover documentary films about the suppressive Taliban rule, public executions of adulteresses in football stadiums and the plight of women under sharia. What did any of that have to do with 9/11 - why did we need to get all worked up over the medieval nature of the Taliban before agreeing to take revenge? Why was our action code-named Operation Enduring Freedom? Why did Paul McCartney write a song about "Freedom" and how nobody can take it because it's my right - what did any of that have to do with the fact that we were attacked and were not going to let the attackers get away with it? Did people really think the Taliban were going to conquer America and force Elizabeth Hasselbeck
to wear a burka
The answer is yes, people do think that this is about our freedom and the war on terror is necessary to defend our freedom. But of course the War on Terror is about not letting terrorists harm us and damage our property. The terrorists don't want to take away our freedom - they want to hurt us. The only way we can lose our freedoms to fanatical Muslims is by allowing them to immigrate here and push us around (which they're already starting to do
). The other way we can lose our freedoms of course is by giving excessive power to our government - whether it's to fight terror, drugs, porn, hate, inequality - whatever the evil-du-jour may be. Treating terrorism as a threat to our lives and property is much simpler and probably more effective than fighting it as an existential threat to our way of life.