Mon – January 3, 2005
Well, we’re back from our trip east – five days in Virginia celebrating the holiday, then down to West Palm Beach for a few days about New Year’s. Now home, at that most melancholy time of the year – I think people tend to feel a bit hung-over right now. I know I do: The holidays are over, and the work has not yet begun.
I imagine that somewhere in some alternate reality plane, the MasterCard elves have taken the baton over from Santa’s crewe, and are totting up the season’s excesses with grim satisfaction. Soon their ledgers will be complete, and the nasty-gram will be winging its way to our mailbox. We’ll work ’til April to pay taxes, and then after that we can work to pay for Christmas.
And it’s raining in San Diego.
Which it shouldn’t, of course, because we’re paying for perfect weather over here. To match our perfect lives. And who do you blame when the weather doesn’t meet your expectations? Who can you sue?
This wasn’t a holiday season like any I’ve ever experienced. Personally I’m at something of a cross-roads, about which I may or may not later post further. Nationally we had already grimly set our faces and steeled ourselves to the task ahead in Iraq. The approaching elections will create, for the first time ever in that most ancient of lands, a legitimate, democratic government. And that is something that our adversaries cannot allow to happen.
There are two pressures being applied to the history vector in Iraq. From our vantage point we cannot truly see exactly how it’s all going to turn out, come 30 January. And so we cannot know how it will all point back to this moment 10 or 20 years hence. The anti-coalition forces (ACF), a noxious brew of former regime cut-throats and Salafist jihadis, having despaired for the moment of inflicting sufficient pain on the multinational forces (MNF) to cause them to leave, have turned their attention to the local populace. They have been trying through their intimidation campaign to replicate a shadow version of Saddam’s reign of statist terror intermixed with the Taliban’s theo-political absolutism to force upon the still-shocked masses a sheep-like passivity. It is a forced marriage, a marriage of necessity, rather than convenience – an unholy union that would not last a moment beyond their initial, tactical victory against the MNF.
We on the other hand, have been doing our best to kill the bad guys where we find them, playing whack-a-mole as they raise their heads above their parapets and trying to roll-up the terror cells preemptively. All this in order to make elections possible. So that eventually we can go home. Because we know that until we can install a legitimate government, selected by the people themselves, we will always have difficulty nationalizing the issue of Iraqi freedom, turning it back over to the Iraqi people themselves. And until the Iraqi people themselves are as intently invested in their own future as we are, we will never be able to leave that place, and bring our soldiers home.
So this is essentially must-win territory for both the ACF and the MNF, which for me anyway, cast rather a pall across the holiday celebrations. We looked past the holiday season cringing a bit, waiting for the next blow. Because we knew it will get worse before it gets better.
And that was all before Aceh.
Before we all learned what the word “tsunami” meant. Before we greeted each passing day’s headlines with ever-increasing horror, the front pages screaming out yet another incomprehensible multiple of lives lost, lives shattered. And for a moment or two, the consequences of our merely human disputations paled in comparison – the mere brawling of willful children in the playground against the appalling devastation our island home can inflict in a instant of insensate muscle stretching.
Nature coughed, and 140,000 of our fellow travelers were snatched away. All of this intruded upon our perfect lives, and of course, there was no one to sue, no one to blame – for most of us, anyway. A hundred years ago, this might have happened and we would have been only dimly aware. But we are all neighbors now, time and technology have cramped the vast earth into one city block. These are people just around the corner that we haven’t met.
Some of the more perpetually aggrieved and poisoned grotesqueries in the chattering classes, still in denial perhaps from their own catastrophe, found it somehow appropriate to lay the blame at the President’s feet. Oh, maybe not for the earthquake itself, but for all that followed after. Because it became absolutely clear that the Administration didn’t have a plan for a 9.0 earthquake in the Andaman Sea, and all other sequelae which attach thereto. And for my own part, I’m left to wonder at the wiring of folks who can face this sort of horror on the world stage and immediately fashion it to a weapon with which to lash out at their domestic political enemies. Can there be anything more contemptible?
David Brooks had a column up on New Year’s Day, entitled “A Time to Mourn.” Within were some truly thought provoking excerpts:
Most cultures have deep at their core a flood myth in which the great bulk of humanity is destroyed and a few are left to repopulate and repurify the human race. In most of these stories, God is meting out retribution, punishing those who have strayed from his path. The flood starts a new history, which will be on a higher plane than the old.
Nowadays we find these kinds of explanations repugnant. It is repugnant to imply that the people who suffer from natural disasters somehow deserve their fate. And yet for all the callousness of those tales, they did at least put human beings at the center of history.
In those old flood myths, things happened because human beings behaved in certain ways; their morality was tied to their destiny. Stories of a wrathful God implied that at least there was an active God, who had some plan for the human race. At the end of the tribulations there would be salvation.
But we in the West no longer truly believe in an active God, or if we do, we tend not to believe in Him as willing or capable of wreaking carnage on such a… a biblical scale. Our preachers do not, as some others do, call for God to shake the ground beneath the unbeliever’s feet. But this is not a time for irony, as Brooks points out – it is a time to mourn.
And to act.
And we have been acting. Despite accusation of “stinginess *” from all the usual quarters, $350 million in government aid, as well as a tremendous outpouring of private donations * are en route. (By the way, in that [mercifully registration-free] LA Times link are a number of ways that you can add your voice to the chorus of assistance.) And more than $12 million have been donated through Amazon.com * at this posting.
And of course the Navy is on scene, in the form of the Abraham Lincoln Strike Group. A carrier strike group is not a particularly apt tool in this sort of campaign, but her helicopters have managed to get aid to otherwise impassable areas. Soon to arrive is the Bonne Homme Richard Strike Group, an expeditionary group with a great deal more capability in heavy lift, not to mention heavy manpower, as well as the capability to operate ashore in austere environments for extended periods.
Her Marines had been intended to join the fight in Iraq – to help establish security in the run-up to elections. Which presents a rather interesting conundrum.
Aceh, where the waters wreaked their worst destruction, was home to the Free Aceh Movement, a militantly fundamentalist Islamic rebellion in the much more moderately Islamic archipelagic country. What if those Marines, rather than authoring destruction on ACF in Iraq, instead brought kindness, life and mercy to Indonesia?
It is an essential element of human nature to seek out a way to turn misfortune into opportunity – perhaps it was a twist on this characteristic which animated the contemptible set among the political class to take a field trip in the bile vomitarium during the immediate aftermath of the disaster.
If God still acted in the world the way we thought Him to act in Old Testament times, could He have possibly offered us a greater opportunity to reach out to our fellow human beings, in the spirit of love for our neighbors? And even believing that this is no work of God’s, but rather the brutish results of a shudder from uncaring Nature, would we not be better served so as to act as if we had been given this opportunity by divine providence? As though this was a test a stern but loving God had imposed upon his willful children? Is it so contemptible on the world stage to seek a way to show that the War on Terror is not a war against Islam? To win hearts and minds, if possible? To do the right thing, and also hope to profit from it?
Especially if that profit is tendered in the currency of peace and goodwill to all mankind. Especially if the weapon so fashioned was wielded to stop the killing.
One could hope. One could pray.
* 07-04-18 Links gone; no replacement could be found – Ed.