It is December 11, my birthday, which I share with Senator John Kerry. Happy birthday, Senator.
Pearl Harbor day today. (Note: this was begun on December 7).
I was born in 1955, when the memory of “where were you when you heard about Pearl Harbor?” was common currency to all adults. For my generation, it was “where were you when you heard Kennedy had been shot?” as a future generation would remember “where were you when they landed on the moon?”, or “where were you when the Challenger exploded?” to our current “where were you when the planes hit the Trade Center towers?”*
[* Hardly anybody remembers the Pentagon, since it didn’t happen in New York City, and, thus, was trumped by local media.]
And, as historians tend to do — because I guess they’re fundamentally dull people with intense passive-aggressive stores of energy for these things — there is a controversy about it:
By SAM ROBERTS
Published: December 6, 2008
It has remained one of World War II’s most enduring mysteries, one that resonated decades later after Sept. 11: Who in Washington knew what and when before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941?
Specifically, who heard or saw a transcript of a Tokyo shortwave radio news broadcast that was interrupted by a prearranged coded weather report? The weather bulletin signaled Japanese diplomats around the world to destroy confidential documents and codes because war with the United States, the Soviet Union or Britain was beginning.
In testimony for government inquiries, witnesses said that the “winds execute” message was intercepted as early as Dec. 4, three days before the attack.
But after analyzing American and foreign intelligence sources and decrypted cables, historians for the National Security Agency concluded …
OK. You mean the same National Security Agency that’s been listening to our phone calls? Gotcha.
Now, that does NOT, prima fascie, constitute any refutation of the NSA’s historians. I’m sure they’re all crack ninja historians with Dick Tracy watches and drive tricked-out Astin Martins (or, these days, Hummers).
But it’s a sad commentary that the mere mention of their employer AUTOMATICALLY calls out the salt trucks, and makes the critical reader suspicious.
This is interesting, of course, because Sam Roberts was given the assignment to write the obligatory “Pearl Harbor Story” whose fundamental assignment dialogue is heard throughout the ever-shrinking community of newspapers all across the Land, each year:
“OK, we need to do a Pearl Harbor story, or else we’ll get letters. Who’s free to take it?”
In the case of the New York Times, the answer was “Sam Roberts.”
It’s an interesting story because Sam Roberts is paid to make it interesting, and if he couldn’t make stories interesting, he wouldn’t be writing for the New York Times.
And there are two leitmotifs here: One, that editorial decisions drive news coverage (“We need a Pearl Harbor day story”) and that the resonances of history are more than mere poetic metaphor: they’re actual resonances.
With the exception of the moon landing story, which had a drama that transcended mere event, the common thread is that the great events that shape human history are shocks that imprint themselves into a generation’s collective memory so powerfully that the anniversary of Pearl Harbor day (a day unknown in Japan, while they remember Hiroshima day in a way that WE fundamentally ignore) prompts news editors to assign a story in advance, so that “we don’t get letters from irate readers/viewers.”
Strange the whole dance between news and history.
There was a marvelous symposium on Lincoln on CSPAN last night* (*Sunday), wherein a number scholars told their stories about Lincoln, and added their insights, one of which is crucial to us here
Lincoln understood, one historian said, that the Civil War was not about holding cities and territory. (Let me add what he didn’t: that the war was not a chess board, and holding “squares” was meaningless). He cited General Meade’s response to Gettysburg after Lee’s withdrawal.
Heavy rains had swollen the Potomac, trapping Lee in Northern Territory. Lincoln urged Meade to go after Lee and finish the job and end the war.
Meade issued a congratulatory press release that the Invader had been repulsed from our soil.
“Lincoln understood that it was ALL our soil,” the historian concluded.
Later, Grant, Sherman and Thomas would understood that you had to engage the enemy directly, and not worry about “holding territory” or cities. And they destroyed the armies before them.
I could not help but see the parallel. And the deep lesson: your assumptions create your responses. Bad assumptions create bad responses.
And I could not help but think of how George W. Bush’s assumptions had created the disastrous responses to September 11 that have made so much of the last eight years a rolling train wreck. (And, I say “eight” because the thinking was in place long before the 2000 election).
And I could not help but think that it was those assumptions that had fulfilled Osama bin Laden’s wishes, far beyond his wildest dreams. For, had George W. Bush been working FOR Al Qaeda, he could not have been more effective.
Bin Laden wanted two things: first, no U.S. troops on the “sacred soil” of Saudi Arabia. Secondly, he wanted to wreck the U.S. by ruining us financially.
Well, the troops are gone, and we’re wrecked financially. But, moreover, we’re (or, rather, we WERE, until recently) a source of the moral disgust throughout the world, among persons of ALL political and idological stripes.
Bush aimed at “al Qaeda” and managed to hit the billion souls who believe in Islam, instead. He aimed at Saddam Hussein for “WMDs” and for “SeptemburLebbin” (as Bush ceaselessly repeated the mantrum). He turned FDR’s “the only thing we have to fear itself” into “fear everything,” and, “buy duct tape.”
And instead mired us in a bloody occupation that’s lasted longer than the Revolutionary War, and as long as World Wars I and II combined
HOW could he have done better by Al Qaeda?
But we were talking about assumptions.
The first and worst assumption was that Al Qaeda was a huge and overwhelming threat, rather than a loose affiliation of a lot of “terrorist” groups with differing ideologies and aims.
And then there was an assumption that the tragedy of 9-11 (and it was profoundly a tragedy) was exclusive to the USA, or was any sort of overwhelming shock.
In retrospect, 9-11 hysteria was a feeding frenzy of New York’s media, pointing the camera lens back at themselves. It was so overarching, in fact, that the Pentagon attack virtually vanished within 48 hours. Or less.
Certainly, the Pentagon bombing has been a sort of forced news story ever since. We CONSCIOUSLY remember the Pentagon attack, but the Twin Towers spontaneously resurface in the collective memory over and over.
And that’s an Achilles heel that both spurred and ultimately destroyed the Bushies. But there is no schadenfreude in it, because, as is said, a successful presidency is a success for all — and the converse holds as well, which is the age that we live in.
If the attack had been on Boston, or San Francisco, there is little doubt that it would have dominated front page coverage for a time, but, like Oklahoma City it would have been just a tragedy.
It would not have been the mesmerizing spell to grant a very ignorant (in the essential sense of never having been outside of the USA in his lifetime and having no clue that Iraq was composed of Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, who are NOT the same) and a very ANGRY administration carte blanche to use the largest military in the world to invade, occupy, conduct stealth operations, spy, wiretap, secretly search, imprison, torture and, undoubtedly, assassinate perceived enemies.
The fundamental assumption, never questioned, was Bush’s statement that the president’s job NUMBER ONE is to keep Americans safe.
No: the president’s job is to uphold the Constitution — it’s right there in the Oath of Office — from whence our strength as a nation derives. He famously claimed that “they hate us for our freedom” while doing everything in his power to remove that freedom from us.
Alas, they still hate us. (Albeit probably NOT for our “freedom.”)
All the while “spreading” that freedom abroad. It’s right there in his Second Inaugural Address. (All the while, squelching any Second Inaugural REdress, and grievances that the Constitution then had, in abundance).
It becomes clear that what Bush’s assumptions about what “freedom” and “democracy” are is at nearly complete variance with our commonly accepted assumptions about Freedom and Democracy.
Bush’s legacy is more or less the same as that of the apocryphal fellow in the joke who set his pubic hair on fire to rid himself of crab lice — and don’t ever doubt that someone, somewhere was so gawdawful stooopid that he actually DID that.
These are guys who are living in CAVES. Destroying the U.S. economy, military, reputation and social fabric was never justifiable by ANYTHING that they did.
And not possible by anything that they might have been able to DO.
No: they needed George W. Bush to accomplish that.
Like Bush, we lucked out: the original target of at least one plane was the Indian Head nuclear plant up the Hudson from New York City. And, had they waited half an hour, nearly 100,000 people might have been in the Twin Towers. And they misjudged their suicide run into the Pentagon.
Bush was able to use September 11, but the results fulfilled his enemy’s grandest hopes and wishes. What kind of legacy is that?
He ends up like MacBeth, trapped in his own lies and prophecies. There is far too much to go into here. Indignity has been heaped upon abuse, all served with a glacé of lies and slick evasions.
The presumption was that we were fighting “Al Qaeda” in Iraq, and some TeeVee soldier schmuck wiped an autographed (sacred relic in the secular sense) flag from “Ground Zero” on the face of the Saddam Hussein Statue in that staged-for-TV spectacle of (the hired extras playing) the “people” of Iraq pulling down the Baghdad statue.
The Bushies understood that TeeVee created Reality, and created fake TV, and, thus, phony reality beginning with the Bush Campaign of 2000.
It continues at this exit date, as interviews and memos fly willy-nilly to gussy up and frill Bush’s “Legacy.”
Aren’t the abandoned factories and the gravestones with the Pentagon PR taglined “OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM” and “OPERATION JUST CAUSE” emblazoned on our “honored” dead for all time to come — ‘This Casket Brought to You by these Fine Sponsors’ — aren’t THOSE sufficient reminders of the Bushian legacy?
Living monuments to His Reign on Terror?
Or “Reign OF” — since the motive force, the sustenance of Bushian policy has always been terror? Terror of gays? Terror of Muslims? Terror of foreigners? Terror of terrorists?
The fundamental presumption has been that you BEST fight terrorism by being afraid.
In the reports, because of the fundamental assumption that we were fighting “AL QAEDA” then, whoever we killed in Iraq WERE Al Qaeda — and, hey, that’s too long to type out every time, so let’s just call them AQI, for “Al Qaeda in Iraq” — which pays off by the constant references to AQI in Pentagon testimony on Capitol Hill, and, therefore, in newspapers and on cable news and network news, and, therefore it MUST exist, because we refer to it so much.
But I firmly believe that the vast majority of all Al Qaeda in the world exist solely in our own national mythology.
We made “Communism” the national byword for fear and paranoia, and, while the threat of nuclear war was and remains very real, the actual Soviet Bear we were frightened to sleep with every night when I was a child turned out to be more like a gerbil with dulled fangs.
And, that’s another assumption that has screwed us: the idea that “belief” is more important than “facts.”
Belief “proved” that there were WMD’s in Iraq, and, as the man said, they were trying to fix the facts to fit.” (Downing Street memo.)
And the worst assumption of all: that “terror” was an enemy that you could fight on a chess board. We took squares. We moved our heavy pieces into position. And now some squeal about “losing” the “war.”
A war based on false premises is lost before it’s even begun. History will understand that, even if it’s too embarrassing to the national ego to admit it now.
The assumption was that business didn’t need no regulatin’ — beginning with the Enron Meltdown, seen as an aberration that happened to Bush’s personal friend Ken Lay (whose mysterious death timing still seems too good to be true) — and in their haste to get the economy back on track after the 9-11 / dot com recession, deregulating allowed the creating of huge amounts of non-existent money fueling an economy that produced less and less REAL anything.
But they believed in that “money” (money created on “paper” that wasn’t worth the paper it was dot-matrix printed on) and when it “vanished” banks collapsed, and the entire international financial system teeters on the edge of collapse.
Well, a lot of bad news is being swept under the table, and held for release until after Christmas. A couple years ago, Woolworths announced their demise AFTER Christmas. And a couple years earlier, so, too, did Montgomery Wards.
But the point is, Osama bin Laden WANTED this to happen, and openly stated that going after the economy was his intent.
I seriously doubt that he is responsible. But his trusty George W. Bush, Agent of Al Qaeda bears responsibility for BOTH 9-11 and its aftermath.
You see, if Osama bin Laden gets what he wanted, irrespective of whether he had any actual hand in getting it, the agency that GETS him what he wants would be, in the technical linguistic sense of the term, his agent.
And, I put it to you, the description “George W. Bush, Agent of Al Qaeda” is precisely, semantically correct. More Maxwell Smart than Nick Fury, perhaps, but an agent, nonetheless (based on the Punning Property of the English language — I can’t vouch for any other tongues).
And, still, the last and worst assumption holds sway: that the Bushies can CREATE reality by getting it in the newspapers. That was the one that didn’t allow them to self-correct after going into the wrong war with the wrong assumptions, for the wrong reasons after the wrong people and conducted in the wrong way, especially AFTER the “shock and awe” phase of flight-suited codpiece dancing on the decks of aircraft carriers. They believe their own PR, even though they kind of realize that they themselves PLANTED it.
Administration officials get a memo from the White House suggesting what to say about the last eight years: President Bush upheld ‘the honor and the dignity of his office,’ for one.
By Peter Nicholas
The Los Angeles Times
December 9, 2008
Reporting from Washington — In case any Bush administration officials have trouble summing up the boss’ record, the White House is providing a few helpful suggestions.
A two-page memo that has been sent to Cabinet members and other high-ranking officials offers a guide for discussing Bush’s eight-year tenure during their public speeches.
Titled “Speech Topper on the Bush Record,” the talking points state that Bush “kept the American people safe” after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, lifted the economy after 2001 through tax cuts, curbed AIDS in Africa and maintained “the honor and the dignity of his office.”
The document presents the Bush record as an unalloyed success….
And today, on NPR, Condoleeeeeeeeeza Rice, “above the fray” Secretary of State reaffirmed the Administration’s stance on Objective Reality: they are opposed to it.
… Rice also defended her role in the war on terrorism and the decision of the Bush administration to allow interrogators to use simulated drownings, known as waterboarding.
“I absolutely believed and was told that we were doing so under our treaty obligations and under domestic laws,” she said.
Oh, and this:
Read The Transcript
What she feistily ACTUALLY said was this:
[Keleman] And Guantanamo wasn’t sort of the only issue that tarnished the U.S. image. There is also the treatment of terror suspects, waterboarding, other methods of torture …
[Rice] Well, you know that I’m going to have to object, because the United States has always kept to its international obligations, which include international obligations on the convention on torture. The United States, the president, was determined after Sept. 11 to do everything that was legal and within those obligations, international and domestic laws, to make sure that we prevented a follow-on attack. And information to prevent an attack is the long pole in the tent when you’re dealing with terrorism. You can’t wait until somebody’s committed a crime and then go and punish them.
What? Seriously? Doesn’t that kind of contradict 2,500 years of Western legal history?
Bushies uber alles, in this case, “alles” being “reality.”
But NPR HAS to play it very carefully, of course. Because, on the front page, we have this:
NPR announces a 7 percent reduction in its work force and cancellation of 2 shows …
And, if you can’t figure out WHY, read this:
Paul Farhi / Washington Post:Hit by Recession, NPR to Lay Off Seven Percent of Staff — Faced with a sharp decline in revenue, National Public Radio said today it will pare back its once-flourishing operations, and institute its first organization-wide layoffs in 25 years. — Washington-based NPR said it would lay off …
I guess the economy is looking up? When National Public Radio (which is, frankly, run on a shoestring to being with) is laying off employees,you know that it’s “trickling down” to all segments of the economy. I don’t need to belabor how bad it is, but it’s what bin Laden wanted, and what Bush, by actions and INactions delivered to him.
(We will only begin to understand the enormity of Bush’s mismanagement after months and years of clearing away the metaphorical rubble, sad to say.)
News reports now indicate that Bush will be moving to Dallas, Texas after leaving office.
I don’t know about you, but if I had any significant real estate investments in Dallas, Texas, given the track of George W. Bush, Agent of Al Qaeda, I’d seriously consider dumping them now, even given the downturn in the real estate market.
You’ve been warned.