Tags: Something's | Wrong | With | This | War

Something's Wrong With This War

Tuesday, 01 January 2002 12:00 AM

At first I thought it was the attitude of the media, acidly bristling with their "quagmires" and "It's-another-Vietnam" and all. The blitz-busting of the Taliban ended all that, but something was still wrong. It was hard to put my finger on it, but when I finally did, it leapt and yelped like we all do when the iced tea hits the exposed nerve in the broken tooth.

Now I think I've got it.

I'm one of the minority of Americans who remembers Pearl Harbor as well as 9/11. The comparison is disturbing.

We took Pearl Harbor personally. The Japanese were considered to have attacked us all personally, by name and address. I don't remember one word for years after that 1941 attack about the rights of Japanese prisoners of war, Japanese diplomats and other Japanese nationals in the United States when war broke out – or, for that matter, even the rights of American citizens of Japanese descent who were hustled off to internment camps. (Please don't call them "concentration camps." In our American camps, the inmates GAINED weight!)

You could say shame on us for NOT caring more about those highly humanistic concerns, but that's outside my target area right now. My point is that none of the above concerns rose to the level of an "issue" with the American public after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

WE were sneak-attacked without warning and with no prior existing state of war. How were WE treating THEM? All we knew was we were treating them one whole hell of a lot better than THEY were treating US. And that sufficed for years.

Today radio and TV talk shows, editorials and op-ed columns across the land are anguishing about military tribunals, who shall be judged where and how, will the accused have lawyers, how about their right to appeal, what distinction shall be made among Taliban prisoners, those of al-Qaeda, those of other nationalities including an American in their midst; you've read it and heard it all.

Count the days, weeks and months since the Sept. 11 attack on America. At that same interval after Pearl Harbor, far from anguishing about how we were treating the enemy in our hands, we were anguishing exclusively about the American dead at Pearl Harbor and the Philippines and the hopeless but heroic American holdouts on the Bataan Peninsula and the island fortress of Corregidor.

We reserved our anguish for the fate of the feel-good Doolittle raiders who bombed Tokyo that first April of the war.

We anguished about the American Marines who began America's comeback by invading Guadalcanal that August. At that point we didn't have many, if any, Japanese prisoners of war. But if we had, I promise you they would have gotten food, shelter, clothing, no beatings, no beheadings and no torture.

They also wouldn't have gotten one mili-squidgen of American public anguish, much less the troy tons of it our attackers and would-be murderers are getting from us today.

Understand, please, this is no hard-hearted appeal to hang 'em all and hang 'em high. I'm glad so many Americans are determined to display humanity to those who would destroy us. I can respect the widow of a 9/11 victim who begged President Bush to "memorialize" her late husband "by NOT retaliating at all."

I simply miss the orderly syncopation of American emotions. I miss the first-things-first flow of our responses.

Suppose a man were told by the cops that his brother had just been murdered in a robbery attempt and they had the gunman in custody.

How would you feel about that man if his first comment were "Did you read the suspect his Miranda rights?" Shouldn't such considerations come somewhat later?

The Niagara of assault and insult upon Attorney General John Ashcroft and President Bush by right-minded and RIGHTS-minded students of law suggests to me that it's as if Pearl Harbor happened to us ALL and 9/11 happened only to the VICTIMS.

Many Christians find the Jewish Passover Seder a long, arcane religious exercise. I understand; but it isn't. The Seder, though ritualized, to be sure, is nothing more or less than a victory banquet celebrating the liberation of the children of Israel from Egypt.

The most important part of that feast to me is when the leader of the Seder emphasizes, "It's not enough to rejoice that your ancestors were delivered by the Almighty from Egypt. You must feel you were PERSONALLY delivered from Egypt."

As a Pearl Harbor, not veteran but rememberer, I say likewise; we all had to feel we were personally attacked by the Japanese or we wouldn't have given it our all. Our men would not have beaten the draft by enlisting in overwhelming numbers before the Draft Board called them. Our old men and women would not have taken jobs in defense plants. Our mothers would not have saved fat from cooked meat (for explosives) and folded bandages for the Red Cross.

We teenagers would not have been assistants to neighborhood air raid wardens, and our younger brothers would not have roamed the woods and fields collecting scrap iron, discarded aluminum pots, and the precious tin in used toothpaste tubes.

Not as many car owners would have asked themselves mantra-fashion, as President Roosevelt suggested, "Is this trip necessary?" before turning the ignition key. Not as many of our parents would have spent literally every disposable dollar on War Bonds.

Not as many of us kids would have spent every dime we had on War Stamps. Our older brothers wouldn't have lied about their age so they could get into uniform even though they were below minimum age.

I live a short subway ride from Ground Zero. Yet I haven't been there. And I have no desire to go. Why?

Because I've heard enough to make up my mind. Yes, some go to mourn. Some go to feel a connection to those lost. Some have souls earnest enough to inhale the hallowed ground below through their shoe leather.

But I feel such people are too pitiful a minority. Too many people have asked me "Have you been to Ground Zero?" in tones reminiscent of "Have you seen 'Les Miserables' or 'The Producers' yet?" Too much enthusiasm. Too many cameras. Too many gawkers. Too many folks planning to shoehorn in a jaunt to Ground Zero between a shopping trip to Macy's and a concert at Lincoln Center.

In my opinion, far too many Americans are headed for Ground Zero for the worst possible reasons. I've got no proof, but I'm the world's foremost authority on my opinion. It's a show for them, a tourist attraction. They're going there to quench their morbid fascination. After all, it's somewhat like beholding the world's bloodiest traffic accident without being disturbed by the sight of blood.

I suspect they're going there to look at an Eiffel Tower that goes down instead of up. I shall not be among them. Osama bin Laden is my Hitler. He's my Tojo. He's sure as hell

Yes, I know that Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, upon seeing the horror of the Dachau concentration camp, ordered the entire nearby German civilian population come and see what their Hitler and their Nazism had wrought. I wasn't there, but I'll wager not a single one of those German witnesses said to himself, "Man, get a load. Ain't this a SIGHT?"

And New York City is now building FOUR SETS OF BLEACHERS for those who want to contemplate Ground Zero. If I felt even a significant minority wanted to view that scene for the right reasons, I'd campaign for FOURTEEN sets of bleachers.

As it is, I'd ban all but a few people I've met since 9/11 from the site. A mass graveyard is not for thrill-seekers.

Ground Zero is a monumental DEFEAT for America. Do Frenchmen want to go to Compiegne to gape upon the railroad car where France surrendered to Nazi Germany in 1940? Or would they rather stroll through the Arc de Triomphe, where the Free French forces marched as they liberated Paris in 1945?

In my fantasy I'm approached by the genie zooming out of the bottle in the early days of World War II when exactly as many days had elapsed after Pearl Harbor as have now elapsed since 9/11.

"It's your lucky day, Barry," says the genie. "Wouldn't you like me to whisk you to Pearl Harbor instantaneously so you can witness the damage the Japanese did to your Pacific fleet on December 7, 1941?"

I'm too young at that time to flick a cigarette ash like Humphrey Bogart, but I answer in that same insouciant tone, "No, thanks, Genie. Come back in September 1945 and take me to the deck of the Battleship Missouri."

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At first I thought it was the attitude of the media, acidly bristling with their quagmires and It's-another-Vietnam and all.The blitz-busting of the Taliban ended all that, but something was still wrong.It was hard to put my finger on it, but when I finally did,...
Tuesday, 01 January 2002 12:00 AM
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