Wednesday, September 08, 2004

America at War - Down the Rabbit-Hole

In his commentary at Real Clear Politics, Mort Kondracke comments on President Bush's acceptance speech (more on this below) and Senator Kerry's midnight response. He also hilights the key issue of the election:
Is this a wartime election in which America's whole future hangs in the balance, or an ordinary contest over taxes, jobs and health insurance? President Bush probably wins the first. Democrat John Kerry wants the second.

Bush and other key speakers at the Republican convention last week cast the election in historic, even epic, terms. Kerry's first response was about domestic policy and personal pique.

The outcome of the election depends, at least partly, on whether a majority of voters think the whole world changed on Sept. 11, 2001, or whether life and politics can go on more or less as usual.
Did the world change on September 11th? Running out of the WTC that morning, I didn't know what was going on. I only knew that the police officer in the concourse had screamed at the crowd of us riding up the long escalators from the PATH station to get out of the building. I only knew that the air was filled with an acrid stench that I thought came from a track fire.

When I got outside, I saw the crowd across the street staring up, transfixed. I saw flames and smoke billowing from the North Tower. I saw the bits of scorched paper floating down and heard glass and heavier items hitting the ground. At that moment, I thought a fire had broken out and thought what a tragedy this could be for those trapped above the flames. As I walked away, trying to make my way through the crowds, the South Tower exploded. I didn't know it was a plane, but I did know that it wasn't an accident. All I could think of besides the tens of thousands I thought would perish was "everything's f***ed, everything".

What was "everything"? Everything was the entire comfortable world I had been living in; the comfortable world in which you could confidently vote for Clinton because Reagan had won the Cold War and Bush I had won the Gulf War; the comfortable world at the end of history; the comfortable world of the "New World Order"; the comfortable world of internet riches; the comfortable world of looking forward to the "Tastings" column in the Weekend section of each Friday's Wall Street Journal and the latest twist on the vast government conspiracy at the heart of the X-Files. The comfortable world I expected to raise my daughter in.

All of that disappeared for me when the South Tower exploded that bright Fall day.

As much as I want it back, as much as I wish that September 11th never happened, as much as I might try to convince myself that the attack that morning was a one shot deal and that Islamic terrorism doesn't pose an ongoing threat, as much as I try to tell myself that its no different from Palestinian terrorism, or IRA terrorism or any of the sepratist terrorisms that Europe has dealt with for years, as much as I assure myself that we've done enough in Afghanistan and Iraq and that we can get back to normal, as much as I want all of this, I know its not true.

The world did change that day, that morning.

I'm not alone in thinking this. In the opening paragraph of Power, Terror, Peace and War, Walter Russell Mead writes:
Late in the Summer of 2001, I saw the movie Pearl Harbor. Odd duck that I am, it was neither the forgettable love story nor the spectacular special effects that made the deepest impression on me. Rather, I thought about how hideous it must have felt to watch the Pandora's Box of war open and know that the future had suddenly taken a terrible turn.
In the Weekly Standard, William Kristol wrote about The 9/10 Democrats:
Last Thursday, CNN's Larry King asked John Kerry whether he would want former President Bill Clinton to campaign on his behalf. Kerry said yes. "What American would not trade the economy we had in the 1990s, the fact that we were not at war and young Americans were not deployed?"

Kerry's answer is revealing. We were, in fact, at war. The Clinton administration, with the exception of a few cruise missiles, had simply chosen not to fight back.
Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell had asked "Are we Truly at War?" and answered:
I believe there are two very distinct groups of Americans now: the Sept. 10 Americans, who are in denial, and the Sept. 11 Americans....I am a Sept. 11 American. I know the world has changed and that Americans must defend America. Everything else we do, everything else we believe, pales in comparison to that duty.
Does everyone believe this? No, in fact, fewer do so now than in the weeks and months following that fateful day. In July, Charles Krauthammer lamented that some were losing the sense of September 11th being a turning point:
We have come a long way in three years. The idea that Sept. 11 was a historic turning point, a wake-up call to a war declared by our enemies but ignored by us, has begun to fade.

In The Matrix, Joe Pantoliano's character, Cypher, betrays his comrades in order to be plugged back into the fantasy world the machines have created:
You know, I know this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize?
[Takes a bite of steak]
Ignorance is bliss.
Why does he do this?
I'm tired, Trinity. Tired of this war, tired of fighting... I'm tired of the ship, being cold, eating the same goddamn goop everyday...
A lot of us are tired, a lot of us wish we had a Morpheus to offer us the blue pill:
You take the blue pill - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.
John Kerry is offering voters the hope of a blue pill. Vote for him, elect him and you'll be back in the good old Clinton days; everything will be back to normal. But saying we're not at war, saying everything is back to normal doesn't make it so.

Everything changed on September 11th and there's no going back. I'm voting for Bush. I'm taking the red pill. I want to see this rabbit-hole to the end.