A FEW years back in London, I caught a delightfully bad lounge act who, in contrast with the overwrought tremulous chanteuses one finds in the Oak Room and such these days, specialized in a blithely bouncy cheerfulness when it came to even the most lugubrious lyric. He sang the theme from M*A*S*H--you remember, the TV show about the Korean War that was really about the Vietnam War and ran longer than the Hundred Years War. Johnny Mandel's theme music was wistful and ambiguous on the sitcom, and accompanied by landing choppers. But in that little boite in Knightsbridge, our singer was entirely unperturbed by the dark lessons of war. He shrugged off Mike Altman's lyric with a careless finger-snappy breeziness:
Since 9/11, confronted by the smug indestructible conventional wisdom of the multiculti counter-tribalists in America and Europe, I've often found that loopily swingin' "Suicide is painless" swimming up from the recesses of my memory. "Civilizations die from suicide, not murder," wrote Arnold Toynbee in his now mostly forgotten work on the subject. But surely it's never been embraced quite so insouciantly as by our present-day elites. Guantanamo is denounced around the world as the gulag to end all gulags because of shocking torture revelations such as this:
"A female interrogator took an unusual approach to wear down a detainee, reading a Harry Potter book aloud for hours. He turned his back and put his hands over his ears."
Good grief, what next? Will they force detainees to sit through PBS pledge-drive weeks, watching the same Peter, Paul & Mary reunion specials over and over, punctuated only by local announcers touting the complimentary Bill Moyers mug you receive for a $200 "level of membership"?
If J. K. Rowling is the Torquemada de nos jours, nothing should surprise us. Nonetheless, even in my jaded state, I was taken aback by the remarks of Andrew Jaspan, editor of the Melbourne Age, one of Australia's biggest newspapers. You'll recall that Douglas Wood, an Aussie taken hostage in Iraq, was recently rescued, and immediately apologized to John Howard and President Bush for a video statement he'd made during his capture calling for the withdrawal of coalition forces. No apology necessary: Obviously such demands are made under duress, and it's only the media's insistence on treating them as a serious contribution to foreign-policy analysis that gives them any currency whatsoever. He then went on to describe his captors as "a**holes," or, if you prefer, "assh***s."
The Age's editor didn't care for this brusque mean-spirited judgmentalism. As Mr. Jaspan told Australia's ABC network, "I was, I have to say, shocked by Douglas Wood's use of the a**hole word, if I can put it like that, which I just thought was coarse and very ill-thought-through and I think demeans the man and is one of the reasons why people are slightly skeptical of his motives and everything else. The issue really is largely, speaking as I understand it, he was treated well there. He says he was fed every day, and as such to turn around and use that kind of language I think is just insensitive."
And heaven forbid we're insensitive about "insurgents." True, a blindfolded Mr. Wood had to listen to his captors murder two of his colleagues a few inches away, but how crude and boorish would one have to be to hold that against one's hosts? The liberation of Douglas Wood is surely a first: He didn't get Stockholm Syndrome, but everyone back home did. What's with this guy, anyway? They fed him every day and if they'd ever got around to sawing his head off they'd have got out the nice sharp scimitar, not the old rusty thing they used for Nick Berg. Like, why's he so totally insensitive? Is he a Bush supporter or something?
The other fellow in this story who hasn't got Stockholm Syndrome is, in fact, from Stockholm. Mr. Wood's fellow hostage, Ulf Hjertstrom, has decided to operate on that even more "insensitive" and "coarse" principle--don't get mad, get even. "I have now put some people to work to find these bastards," he told Australian TV. "I invested about $50,000 so far, and we will get them one by one."
"The sooner the better," agreed Wood.
"These scum should be put out of business," added Mr. Hjertstrom, evidently some Sylvester Stockholm-type Nordic Rambo insufficiently grateful for his couple of months on the Halal diet.
I'd be happy to chip in to his get-the-bastards fund. It'll do more good than most tsunami donations. The head-hackers have murdered dopey peaceniks and female aid workers and, of course, hundreds of Iraqi Muslims--and Ted Kennedy says, "Our military and the insurgents are fighting for the same thing: the hearts and minds of the people." Detonating the hearts, minds, and organs over a shopping market seems an odd way of doing it.
Karl Rove is right and the point is unarguable: Those whom we erroneously call "liberal" have no stomach for the defense of liberalism--not if it involves reading Harry Potter to terrorists or calling them "a**holes," a term properly reserved for disparaging Bush and Cheney, but only if the guys before you did all the best Hitler cracks first. The Islamists can't win, but we can certainly lose--all by ourselves, and, as the Europeans are discovering in this first stage of their demographic death-spiral, civilizational suicide is never painless.
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