September 1, 2004
by Claudia Rosett
Time for a deep breath. We've hit that late-summer stretch when everyone is waiting for autumn, and the news seems stuck in endless replay. Seven years ago, we were about to hit round-the-clock eulogies to Princess Di. Three years ago, it was Gary Condit, 24/7 (the former congressman, since cleared of suspicion in the death of his young lover, in case anyone has trouble remembering what topped the U.S. talk shows in the weeks just before September 11).
This year, we have John Kerry's Vietnam record. It matters more than Gary or Di, but how long do we have to keep fighting the last war? Having listened earlier this month to breaking news on where Mr. Kerry did or didn't spend Christmas 1968, I escaped last week to a conference in Utah, including a most otherworldly stroll in the Wasatch Mountains--and, upon returning, tuned back in to find the country, or at least its most vocal inhabitants, still arguing over Mr. Kerry's Vietnam record.
This can't last. Even beyond the presidential election, this autumn is freighted with more than the usual portents. Soon, for better or worse, events will again compel us forward into the war of today, tomorrow, and years to come. Somewhere--remember Madrid--the next attack is quite likely in the making. Between such matters as Iran's nuclear-bomb-and-terror program, North Korea's nuclear blackmail, and the leads packed into such material as the 9/11 reports--including the recent 152-page monograph on global terrorist funding--it must surely be clear by now that we face not simply Osama bin Laden, or Al Qaeda, but a fascist movement that finds in murder an intoxicating power over the rest of mankind, and in modern technology a terrible arsenal.
Though the form, anchored in Islamofascism, may be specific to our age, the animating spirit runs deep enough for Joseph Conrad in his 1907 novel, The Secret Agent, to have captured it perfectly in one of his characters, the bomb-making Professor: "He was a force. His thoughts caressed the images of ruin and destruction. He walked frail, insignificant, shabby, miserable--and terrible in the simplicity of his idea calling madness and despair to the regeneration of the world."
Not that the Professor alone can cause much ruin, but when a state-sponsored secret agent hooks up with him, a bomb goes off. An innocent dies. This ghastly offshoot of human nature, hitched in one way or another to assorted despots, is what now threatens our civilization. This war will require even more resolve than we have found so far, and it will not be won by seeking the approval of the tyrant-larded United Nations. It will be won by killing the Professor and laying down the law for his pals--and that can only be done by keeping faith with who we are. And while our arguments of the day certainly matter, some deeply, I am not sure that the spiritual strength for the coming season should be drawn chiefly from the froth of most nightly news.
So, as we approach September 11, 2004, marking the start of year four of World War IV, here are some alternatives to watching the next talk show:
Pick up one of those classics on the best within us, and never mind if it's not set in color and segmented into 30-second sound bites. Rent "Inherit the Wind," in which Spencer Tracy defends the right of a man to think for himself. Sit back with a copy of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, in which small-town southern lawyer Atticus Finch faces down the mob to do what he knows is right.
And, if you have, as recommended at the top of this column, begun by taking a deep breath--exhale. When you get back to the TV news, and tune in for the fall season, it's going to feel just a bit more manageable.
This article appeared in the August 25, 2004, Wall Street Journal Europe.
Claudia Rosett was formerly an adjunct fellow with the Hudson Institute.
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