Americans are suckers for empty gestures. Our doltish leadership is helpless to stop terrorism and the country is facing economic ruin from the corporate banditry of our neo-Robber Barons, so it’s time to distract us with one of those all-absorbing hokey crusades that we do so well. It won’t be long now before oil tankers start exploding, banks start failing, goldbugs start fleeing, and computer hackers figure out how to open the floodgates of Hoover Dam, but, as our grandstanding leaders well know, we will be too busy shouting “under God!” to notice.
In Qutb’s passionate analysis, there was little difference between the communist and capitalist systems; both, he believed, attended only to the material needs ot humanity, leaving the spirit unsatisfied. He predicted that once the average worker lost his dreamy expectations of becoming rich, America would inevitably turn toward communism. Christianity would be powerless to block this trend because it exists only in the realm of the spirit – “like a vision in a pure ideal world.” Islam, on the other hand, is “a complete system” with laws, social codes, economic rules, and its own method of government. Only Islam offered a formula for creating a just and godly society. Thus the real struggle would eventually show itself: It was not a battle between capitalism and communism; it was between Islam and materialism. And inevitably, Islam would prevail.
No doubt this clash between Islam and the West was remote in the minds of most New Yorkers during the holiday season of 1948. But, despite the new wealth that was flooding into the city, and the self-confidence that victory naturally brought, there was a generalized sense of anxiety about the future. “The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible,” the essayist E. B. White had observed that summer. “A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions.” White was writing about the dawn of the nuclear age, and the feeling of vulnerability was quite new. “In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightning,” he observed, “New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm.”
There is a final and essential battle to win in order to restore the power of American power: It is to defang those liberals and conservatives who repeatedly corner our leaders into making commitments they cannot fulfill. America has endured more than half a century’s worth of these unattainable goals. We live with them now: nation-building in places such as Afghanistan, where there is no coherent nation and certainly no outsider could do this for them anyway; spreading democracy to countries such as Iraq with no tradition of, or foundations for, democracy; and insisting on bringing such places as George or Ukraine under NATO’s wing with neither the intent nor the capability of actually sending troops to defend them. False promises and failures are the surest way to kill power.
If a mandarinate ruled America, the recruiting committee on September 11 would have had to find someone like Cheney. “I don’t want to get too poetic about this, but it’s almost as if his whole life had been a preparation for this moment in history,” said Jack Kemp, who used to be a future vice president himself. Scooter Libby quoted that line, too, giving credit to Winston Churchill. Cheney professed no knowledge of fate. He had some acquaintance, though, with force and counterforce. Al Qaeda having struck on his watch, Cheney made clear by word and deed that he would take a leading role in the nation’s reply. So, too, did Libby and Addington. The three of them simply knew what had to be done, a considerable advantage in the debate that would soon follow.
The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something. The millions who are in want will not stand idly by silently forever while the things to satisfy their needs are within easy reach.
Love? said the Commander.
That’s better. That’s something I know about. We can talk about that.
Falling in love, I said. Falling into it, we all did then, one way or another. How could he have made such light of it? Sneered even. As if it was trivial for us, a frill, a whim. It was, on the contrary, heavy going. It was the central thing; it was the way you understood yourself; if it never happened to you, not ever, you would be like a mutant, a creature from outer space. Everyone knew that.
Falling in love, we said; I fell for him. We were falling women. We believed in it, this downward motion: so lovely, like flying, and yet at the same time so dire, so extreme, so unlikely. God is love, they once said, but we reversed that, and love, like heaven, was always just around the corner. The more difficult it was to love the particular man beside us, the more we believed in Love, abstract and total. We were waiting, always, for the incarnation. That word, made flesh.
And sometimes it happened, for a time. That kind of love comes and goes and is hard to remember afterwards, like pain. You would look at the man one day and you would think, I loved you, and the tense would be past, and you would be filled with a sense of wonder, because it was such an amazing and precarious and dumb thing to have done; and you would know too why your friends had been evasive about it, at the time.
There is a good deal of comfort, now, in remembering this.
Or sometimes, even when you were still loving, still falling, you’d wake up in the middle of the night, when the moonlight was coming through the window onto his sleeping face, making the shadows in the sockets of his eyes darker and more cavernous than in daytime and you’d think, Who knows what they do, on their own or with other men? Who knows what they do, on their own or with other men? Who knows what they say or where they are likely to go? Who can tell what they really are? Under their daily-ness.
Likely you would think at those times: What if he doesn’t love me?
Or you’d remember stories you’d read, in the newspapers, about women who had been found–often women but sometimes they would be men, or children, that was the worst–in ditches or forests or refrigerators in abandoned rented rooms, with their clothes on or off, sexually abused or not; at any rate killed. There were places you didn’t want to walk, precautions you took that had to do with locks on windows and doors, drawing the curtain, leaving on lights. These things you did were like prayers; you did them and you hoped they would save you. And for the most part they did. Or something did; you could tell by the fact that you were still alive.
But all of that was pertinent only in the night, and had nothing to do with the man you loved, at least in daylight. With that man you wanted it to work, to work out. Working out was also something you did to keep your body in shape, for the man. If you worked out enough, maybe the man would too. Maybe you would be able to work it out together, as if the two of you were a puzzle that could be solved; otherwise, one of you, most likely the man, would go wandering off on a trajectory of his own, taking his addictive body with him and leaving you with a bad withdrawal, which you could counteract by exercise. If you didn’t work it out it was because one of you had the wrong attitude. Everything that went on in your life was thought to be due to some positive or negative power emanating from inside your head.
If you don’t like it, change it, we said, to each other and to ourselves. And so we would change the man, for another one. Change, we were sure, was for the better always. We were revisionists; what we revised was ourselves.
It’s strange to remember how we used to think, as if everything were available to us, as if there were no contingencies, no boundaries; as if we were free to shape and reshape forever the ever-expanding perimeters of our lives. I was like that too, I did that too. Like was not the first man for me, and he might not have been the last. If he hadn’t been frozen in that way. Stopped dead in time, in midair, among the trees back there, in the act of falling.
In former times they would send you a little package, of belongings: what he had with him when he died. That’s what they would do, in wartime, my mother said. How long were you supposed to mourn, and what did they say? Make your life a tribute to the loved one. And he was, the loved. One.
Is, I say. Is, is, only two letters, you stupid shit, can’t you manage to remember it, even a short word like that?
“I’m not an American. I’m a citizen of the Confederate States of America, which has been under military occupation for the past hundred thirty years.”
There will never be anything more interesting in America than that Civil War never.
“Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert?”
Meeting resistance from Wheeler’s cavalry at some rain-swollen streams and rivers, the blue coats sent out flanking columns that waded through water up to their armpits, brushing aside alligators and snakes, and drove the rebels away…The Yankees built miles of bridges and crossed it. “I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it,” commented Hardee. Northward lapped the blue wave at a rate of nearly ten miles a day for forty-five days including skirmishing and fighting. Rain fell twenty-eight of these days, but this served to benefit South Carolina only slightly damping the style of Sherman’s arsonists. “When I learned that Sherman’s army was marching through the back swamps, making its own corduroy roads at the rate of a dozen miles a day,” said Joseph Johnston, “I made up my mind that there had been no such army in existence since the days of Julius Caesar.”
But Republicans everywhere endorsed the principle of Morton’s action: the Constitution must be stretched in order to save constitutional government from destruction by rebellion.
We are hesitant to impose upon ourselves a common moral code because we want our own exemptions. This modern allergy to judgments and standards, of which attitudes toward the Clinton scandals are but a manifestation, is deeply problematic, for a defining mark of a good republic is precisely the willingness to make judgments about things that matter.
In America, we do not defer to kings, cardinals, or aristocrats; we rely instead on the people’s capacity to make reasonable judgments based on moral principles.
[In a later iteration, Bennett concluded the thought with this sentence.] Our form of government requires of us not moral perfection but modest virtues and adherence to some standards.
The fact that compared to the inhabitants of Africa and Russia, we still live well cannot ease the pain of feeling we no longer live nobly
As it happens, despite what much of the public might think, they all don’t do it. Most presidents do not commit illegal acts, or lie under oath, or thimb our noses at the law. Most presidents do not chronically decieve, delay, obfuscate, and stonewall federal investigators. This does not mean they are perfect or near perfect; it means merely that most live up to their oath to execute faithfully the laws of the land, and behave in at least a reasonably responsible way. The same is true of most figures in the nation’s capital. Washington, D.C., is not, in fact, a den of thieves, or a house of knaves…
…when we found out President Nixon’s part in an illegal cover-up, we (the courts, Congress, the media, and the public) acted in the national interest – and so, in the end, did he by resigning…In a self-governing and law-abiding nation, we must never allow ourselves to be lulled into passive disgust or indifference, the civic equivalent of a shrug of the shoulders. We must never lose our sense, when appropriate, of outrage.
That’s one of my Goddam precious American rights, not to think about politics.
The spaced dance of the men in white fails to enchant, the code beneath the staccato spurts of distant motion refuses to yield it’s meaning. Though basketball was his sport, Rabbit remembers the grandeur of all that grass, the excited perilous feeling when a high fly was hoisted your way, the honing-in on the expanding dot, the leathery smack of the catch, the formalized non-chalance of the heads-down trot in toward the bench, the ritual flips and shrugs and the nervous courtesies of the batter’s box. There was a beauty here bigger than the hurtling beauty of basketball, a beauty refined from country pastures, a game of solitariness, of waiting, waiting for the pitcher to complete his gaze toward first base and throw his lightning, a game whose every taste, of spit and dust and grass and sweat and leather and sun, was America.
Words were weapons, for him, even though he meant them to be weapons of peace in the midst of war.
This was the perfect medium for changing the way most Americans thought about the nation’s founding acts. Lincoln does not argue law or history, as Daniel Webster did. He makes history. He does not come to present a theory, but to impose a symbol, one tested in experience and appealing to national values, with an emotional urgency entirely expressed in calm abstractions (fire in ice). He came to change the world, to effect an intellectual revolution. No other words could have done it. The miracle is that these words did. In his brief time before the crowd at Gettysburg he wove a spell that has not, yet, been broken – he called up a new nation out of the blood and trauma.
Once the human tragedy has been completed, it gets turned over to the journalists to banalize into entertainment. Perhaps it’s because the whole irrational frenzy burst right through our door and no newspaper’s half-baked insinuating detail passed me by that I think of the McCarthy era as inagurating the postwar triumph of gossip as the unifying credo of the world’s oldest democratic republic. In Gossip We Trust. Gossip as gospel, the national faith. McCarthyism as the beginning not just of serious politics but of serious everthing as entertainment to amuse the mass audience. McCarthyism as the first postwar flowering of the American unthinking that is now everywhere.
The kind of utter darkness that falls on a prairie like that is inconcievable to an Easterner.
“…losing everything overnight would not seem so strange to me. Y’understand? Y’understand me? I can go back to the Midwest. I can work in the mills. And if I have to, I will. Anything but to become a rabbit like this guy. That’s what you are not politically,” he said, looking at last at Goldstine – “not a man, a rabbit, a rabbit of no consequence.”
Perhaps it is fate that today is the Fourth of July. And you will once again be fighting for our freedom. Not from tyranny, oppression or persecution, but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live, to exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day when the world declared in one voice: We will not go quietly into the night; we will not vanish without a fight. We’re going to live on. We’re going to survive. Today we celebrate our Independence Day!
When I write, I aim in my mind not toward New York but toward a vague spot a little to the east of Kansas. I think of the books on library shelves, without their jackets, years old, and a countryish teenaged boy finding them, and having them speak to him.
I wanted to go and get Rita again and tell her a lot more things, and really make love to her this time, and calm her fears about men. Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together; sophistication demands that they submit to sex immediately without proper preliminary talk. Not courting talk – real straight talk about soul, for life is holy and every moment is precious.
So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkness all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.
In sharp contrast with others, we are ready to take risks and to calculate the risk. Others are brave in the dark; thinking would just slow them down. But the truly brave are those who face danger undeterred by full recognition of life’s terrors and it’s delights.
Doors kept opening around the crooked porch and members of our sad drama in the American night kept popping out to find where everybody was. Finally, I took a walk alone to the levee. I wanted to sit on the muddy bank and dig the Mississippi River; instead of that I had to look at it with my nose against a wire fence.
The usual object of terror is to draw one’s opponent into repressive blunders, and bin Laden caught America at a vulnerable and unfortunate moment in its history.
Yet Bin Laden and his Arab Afghans believed that, in Afghanistan, they had turned the tide and that Islam was again on the march.
Now they face the greatest military, material, and cultural power any civilization had ever produced. “Jihad against America?” some of the al-Qaeda members asked in dismay. “America knows everything about us. It knows even the label of our underwear.” They saw how weak and splintered their own governments were – empowered only by the force of America’s need to maintain the status quo. The oceans, the skies, even the heavens were patrolled by the Americans. America was not distant, it was everywhere.