by Bruce S. Thornton
Remember Benghazi? When al-Qaeda affiliated jihadists murdered a U.S. ambassador on the anniversary of the al-Qaeda jihadist murder of 3000 Americans? When the jihadists killed two ex-Navy Seals, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, when like the Spartans at Thermopylae they valiantly fought against an attack on the CIA annex? Remember how the Obama administration serially lied about the perpetrators of the attack, blaming it on an obscure Internet video, in order to save the president’s triumphalist foreign policy campaign-narrative that al Qaeda had been “rocked back on its heels”?
Apparently many Americans have forgotten, or simply don’t care. A recent poll showed only 24% think that Benghazi is the most important controversy afflicting the Obama administration, while 45% pick the IRS scandal, a particularly egregious example of bad behavior, to be sure, but one common ever since the IRS was created. Perhaps that 45% is concerned on principle over the attempt to use government to limit political expression, but even still, it’s troubling that a political offense is considered more important than the administration’s getting our fellow Americans murdered and then lying in order to cover it up.
Something has happened to this country when we are indifferent to the deaths of brave Americans who have been murdered by our sworn enemies, and blasé about our president and his flunkeys’ lying about that tragedy for political gain. Something is off when we leave unchallenged the lame excuse that the most powerful military in the history of the world armed with the most advanced weapons could not help their comrades because it was decided that a relief force couldn’t “get there in time,” even though no one knew how much time those soldiers had, which in the event was several hours. And we have suffered a colossal failure of patriotic nerve when we are not enraged that whether there was time or not, out forces weren’t ordered to descend on those fanatics and exact a fearsome price in blood for killing Americans. Bill Clinton ran away from Mogadishu in 1993, but at least our soldiers before they left made the enemy pay about 2000 dead for killing 18 Americans.
But we have long gotten used to seeing our enemies kill Americans without cost. Iran and its jihadist proxies like Hezbollah have been killing Americans for 30 years, including 241 in the 1983 Marine barracks attack in Beirut. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iranians have continued to kill Americans and have provided armor-penetrating explosives to the jihadist insurgents. But Iran has faced no punishment other than diplomatic bluster and ineffective sanctions. We need to learn the wisdom of the old Arab saying that cats act like lions when lions act like cats.
Yes, after 9/11 there appeared to be a return of righteous wrath over the murder of our fellow citizens. That momentum was enough to rout the Taliban from Afghanistan and dismantle the psychopathic regime of Saddam Hussein. But in less than a year the flags were gone and the impatience with the normal mistakes, unforeseen consequences, and brutal costs of war had sapped that outrage from a critical mass of Americans. The anti-war Democrats gained traction, and George Bush barely was reelected, mostly because John Kerry was a long-time political hack utterly lacking in personality and brains. But in 2006 Democrats took over Congress, and in 2008 a political tyro running on an anti-war platform captured the presidency. By then 9/11 was ancient history, even though the same enemy was continuing to kill Americans.
Worse yet, that same president has squandered the deaths of our soldiers fighting in Iraq by pulling out our troops despite the ongoing threat of sectarian violence that everyday pushes Iraq closer to Iran and gives a new generation of jihadists valuable battle-field training. He is on track to make the same mistake in Afghanistan in 2014, again wasting over a decades’ worth of American blood and creating the opportunity for a Taliban resurgence. Meanwhile his foreign policy of Islamophilic appeasement and wishful thinking have lead to America’s retreat from the region, with the promise of even more dead Americans as al-Qaeda and its affiliates metastasize in North Africa and the Middle East. Yet despite this geopolitical malfeasance that has lead to the deaths of Americans and that will lead to even more dead in the future, the president gets a pass from amnesiac voters.
Just compare our current patriotic malaise to the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese made a preemptive attack on a military target against another nation it considered a threat to its interests––nothing so exceptional in world history. Yet the outrage among Americans was intense enough to send hundreds of thousands to recruiting stations in order to avenge the deaths of our people, and to carry them through 4 years of brutal, vicious combat. In 1941 and early 1942, even the leftwing The Nation magazine sounded like fire-eating hawks. Jonathan Daniels, a novelist and editor who in the Forties wrote a weekly column for The Nation, thundered, “When could there be a better time to be an American than in an hour when an American has the privilege to stand up to the full meaning of that word?” No doubt in Daniels’s mind about what an American is. In tones that today’s The Nation would condemn not just as reactionary but as hurtful and sexist to boot, Daniels went on, “It is an hour for elation. Here is the time when a man can be what an American means, can fight for what America has always meant––an audacious, adventurous society for a decent earth.” Daniels concluded, “We are alive––rudely awakened. That is not basis for fear but sign that our destiny survives. We are men again in America.”
Yes, the left wanted America in the war because Hitler had attacked their communist patron the Soviet Union. But even if writers like Daniels had darker motives, the fact that they felt compelled to be aggressively patriotic in public speaks much about the America of 1941. Consider the contrast with The Nation writer Jonathan Schell after 9/11. According to Schell, we must understand “the sources of the hatred that the United States has incurred in a decade of neglect and, worse, neglect of international affairs,” as well as “the failure of our own leadership and the role our government has chosen to play in the world.” He also worried about “an enraged blind superpower” and what it might do in response, adding that “it will take months to know what happened, far longer to feel so much grief, longer still to understand its meaning.” Later he frets over the “grief-stricken, nervous, uncertain interval” between the attacks and the U.S. response, and notes a “profound, unmistakable unease” in the land. In short, a stew of therapeutic banalities and cringing self-hatred, without any notion of patriotic solidarity with fellow Americans unjustly murdered, and any particle of righteous anger to punish those who commit such acts.
The indifference to the Benghazi attacks reflects the erosion of patriotic fellow feeling over the last several decades, and of the conviction that our country embodies virtues, ideals, and beliefs that are good and just and better than the alternatives. These ideals, moreover, bind us one to the other, so that an attack on any one of us is an attack on all, for we share an identity based on those ideals. We have lost the sense that we are a national family, one created not by blood but by those goods like freedom, equality, and individual rights.
Instead, a corrosive mélange of “vague internationalism, a squalid materialism, and the promise of impossible Utopias,” as Churchill put it in 1933, the idea that patriotism and nationalism are evils to be exorcised in order to achieve the progressive utopia, have spread beyond the elite of intellectuals into the larger culture, including the curriculum of the schools. Now many of us no longer know what it means to be an American, which is the foundation for that love of country––which includes necessarily our affection for and loyalty to our fellow citizens––without which no country, but especially a great power, can long survive. Instead of believing we are American lions, we now are content to be internationalist cats.