In January, 1979, I started as a Freshman at the University of Florida in Gainesville. I’d missed the fall registration, but not the fall football season, having driven the five hours up from my home in Miami on several occasions to watch Gator home games. That had been the last of Doug Dickey’s typical 6-5 or 5-6 years, and a new head coach, Charley Pell, was coming from Clemson to lead us into the Promised Land.
We were due. We were, in fact, long, long overdue. UF is a big school, and the state of Florida a gold mine of high school talent. But in nearly a hundred years, the Gators had never won so much as a conference championship. It was goddam humiliating, is what it was. Anyway, that was about to end with the ’79 season. We had orange and blue bumper stickers shouting GIVE ‘EM HELL, PELL! in anticipation of the Great Man’s arrival. I bought ten of them, and I didn’t even own a car.
Things were going to be different now. Our time had come at last.
I remember following the band into the stadium for the home opener on that cool, crisp, September afternoon. I was grinning like a lark, and why not? I was free, young, and truly independent for the first time in my life, walking a beautiful campus on a perfect fall day, surrounded by the most gorgeous women on planet earth.
Okay, so we lost. That happens. New coach.
Next was a night game against Georgia Tech. A tie. That tie was the high point of the season.
We lost again. And again. And again.
But we kept playing. We lost again. Again. Again.
So there I sat at the end of the season, cold in my orange and blue sweatshirt, looking down at my soon to be 0-10-1 Gators facing the soon to be 12-0 National Championship Alabama Crimson Tide. Down 40-0 in the fourth quarter, we got an interception, then put in a third-string quarterback who made a first down – on his first play!
By God, there was still time to win this thing!
Actually, no. There wasn’t. As we walked out into the parking lot, I looked around at the cars in the parking lot. Lots of folks had taken scissors to their GIVE ‘EM HELL, PELL! bumper stickers. Most of the cars now had HELL, GIVE ‘EM PELL! on the chrome.
I went back to Gainesville to do a sketch comedy show in 1992. This time things really had changed. While I had been in LA, a former Florida QB and Heisman Trophy winner named Steve Spurrier had come home, and, like Captain Kirk in the Genesis Cave, he did not like to lose. And so, they didn’t. He took us from perennial losers, doormats, laughing stocks -- to SEC champs four years in a row.
And then, one January night in 1997, 18 years to the day after I first landed in Gainesville, I was sitting in Ashley’s Pub watching my Florida Gators play our arch-rivals from Florida State for the National Championship. They’d beaten us, by three points, earlier in the year – our only loss. They had beaten us time and time again. I hated them.
It was close at first. But by the end of the third quarter we started to pull away, and when Danny Wuerffel dove into the corner of the end zone in the 4th we knew we had it. I don’t remember much about the rest of the night there, other than hugging everybody in sight and grinning like the Joker.
I drove up to University Avenue and parked the car. Traffic was completely stopped. Everyone in the city was on that street – everyone. People were dancing, hugging, weeping, and beeping their horns continuously.
Not this time, baby! Not this time! Not today!
I can’t describe to you what that felt like that night. You really did have to be there, I guess. Not only did you have to be there, you had to know the history, the frustration, the humiliation and the almost unendurable, relentless disappointment that had been part of being a Gator fan for so many years.
You could have watched it on TV, but you’ll never know what it was like to have that grin branded on your face, to walk up to homeless people and 85 year-old alumni and street thugs and kids and adults and everyone, everyone deliriously happy and dancing and hugging each other and just filled with such joy and elation and community. We had suffered together, lost together, come back year after year after year through endless defeats and dreams snatched away right under our noses, hoping together, and now, finally, this night had come. Next Year was here, at last.
I was honored to have done the video tribute to the team a few weeks later, in a celebration that drew 65,000 to the stadium just to say thank you. And when Steve Spurrier got on stage and said, “This one’s for all those Gator fans up in heaven,” I remember thinking, God, if that is not the corniest thing I’ve ever heard before a giant sob leapt out of me and I looked up at 60,000 people crying like babies.
Just like me.
Now it is worse than folly to compare this to the feeling on the streets of Baghdad on April 9, 2003, when the statue came down and it began to dawn on Iraqis that the son of a bitch was really, truly gone. It is an insipid, indeed, an insulting comparison.
So why did I make it? Well, because it’s all I’ve got. And that, in a strange and wonderful way, is exactly the point I want to make. For we have created a society so long immune to fear and repression, a safe and free and prosperous haven so encompassing that the deepest sense of liberation and victory that this American ever got to experience was when my college team won a stupid football game against the guys up the street.
We have been so safe, and so free, for so long, that it has warped our sense of history and human nature. It is, of course, a trade I am happy to make, but this isolation from the true horror and depravity that are everyday experiences in many parts of the world has embedded in it, like a particularly lethal virus, the seeds of our own destruction. And it is this threat, much more than that from fundamentalist Islam and its organs of terror, that we must look at – closely, and deeply, and often.
I believe that many of those who opposed the war did so because they simply could not -- or in many cases would not – imagine what life under real oppression is like. Remember, these are the people who say, and seem to believe, that we in the US live in a police state, under a murdering dictator, where propaganda is spoon-fed to us like willing idiots and political opposition is crushed mercilessly.
If you say such things long enough, and you spend all your time in the company of similarly tinfoil-hatted comrades, then you actually begin to believe that life in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein wasn’t that much worse than life in Berkeley under the racist, election-stealing, Wellstone-murdering, Earth-destroying Republikkkan administration.
This nation has been for many decades under direct and coordinated attack by fanatics whose failure to gain respect and attention through the force of their arguments have turned their level of rhetoric to such a shrill and hysterical pitch that years of it have seemingly driven some of them quite insane -- insane to the degree that they cannot see that acid baths, state rapists, children’s prisons and daily torture and execution are not mere rhetorical flourishes -- roughly equivalent to hanging chads and bulldozed Dixie Chicks CD’s -- but a desperate and ever-present reality. They did everything in their power to deny this reality, these Champions of Compassion, and Not In Their Name did these daily horrors come to an end. That is what six decades of freedom, security, tolerance and prosperity will do to some people: isolate them from the brutal reality of horror and torture to the degree that “evil” must be accompanied by sneer quotes and the motives of 300 million free and decent people are suspect while those of psychopathic mass murderers are not.
We can all agree that a campaign of unrestricted Islamicist terror poses a serious and immediate threat to this country. The fact is, given the means, these people could hurt us very, very badly, and that threat continues to be addressed.
But I am interested in a much deeper and more dangerous threat. This threat can not only hurt America; this threat can kill America. I don’t say such things lightly. But this threat is so subtle, and so pernicious, that it is going to take us a while just to be able to fully identify it. Once we go to the trouble of doing so, however, I think you’ll agree that much of what we have seen in the months since 9/11 will become much clearer.
We stand in direct opposition to forces who despise America because America offers a completely different theory not only of government, but of people, human beings. They have a theory, widely and loudly promoted, of who we are and what we represent. Many of these people – college professors, politicians, students, actors – are masters of rhetoric. They get paid to talk and lecture. It is a survival skill. It is what they do.
We see America one way; they see it completely differently. These ideas are at war, and the stakes are incalculably high for the future of America and the people of the world. This is the war we need to turn our eyes to.
As long as the true nature of America remained in the rhetorical realm, these people held an enormous advantage in the battle for our country’s soul and its future. However, the crucible of war has put these two deeply conflicting theories of America and her people into a situation where one theory – ours or theirs – would be tested in the real world. It was, in fact, a sort of laboratory experiment on who is right and who is wrong. It transcended rhetoric, because it generated evidence.
Those who hate and oppose America, and what she represents to ourselves and to the world, feared this very, very greatly, and with good reason, as we shall see. They did everything in their combined power to prevent this challenge, this test of our conflicting visions. Everything in their power. Reality intruding into the living rooms of the world on a daily basis is a mortal threat to certain rhetorical positions that are at odds with reality, because a picture really is worth a thousand words, and at 30 frames, 30 pictures a second, live video can write entire encyclopedias in a very short time indeed.
What we have seen in Iraq is a Victory so large and so important that it dwarfs the spectacular military success in the sands of Mesopotamia.
It is nothing less than the remaking of the political, moral and social landscape that will bear dividends for freedom deep into the coming century. It was a test, and a vindication, of a way of looking at this new and shadowy world we face, and perhaps greatest of all, it is a rebirth and restoration of American might on the side of the angels, where it has always belonged and which we have paid a terrible price for forgetting during these dark and desperate decades of twilight struggles around the margins of the world.
I have spent a lot of time thinking about this victory, and the magnitude of it has beaten me down time and again. We can perhaps only begin to get a handle on it when we step back. Way back. Way, waaaaaaaaaay back.
So come, let us reason a little…
If we look at human behavior through the long, sharp and cold lens of science, we have a limited number of data sets from which to choose. It would be nice if we could compare our experiences with those of other species, and perhaps some day we will. But for now, we are limited by our own history, and so there we must go.
We humans have existed in our modern form for roundabout a hundred thousand years or so…a thousand centuries, more or less, or roughly a hundred times the distance from the Norman Invasion of Britain in 1066 to the moon landing, the internet and the cell phone.
Throughout about ninety-three of those one hundred millennia, life was pretty much the same. You know the drill: Hunt. Gather. Repeat.
But about seven thousand years ago, in the fertile land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers – Mesopotamia means “the land between the rivers” —people began to realize that certain grasses and crops could be planted and harvested every year; indeed, enough food was made available by this radical idea that people no longer had to roam from one place to another, hunting and gathering. What’s more, there was now so much food that it no longer took everyone working pretty much full time just to stay fed. That meant free time, and that meant specialization: basket weavers, spear makers, architects, stone masons, artists, etc. And that, taken together, has come under the banner Civilization, and civilization started right there, where on modern maps you can find the word IRAQ.
So, to recap: for ninety-three millennia: nothing much new, although the whole fire thing made quite a splash at the time. After the invention of agriculture, writing, law and the wheel, however – all in Iraq – things began to pick up.
But with civilization came, for the first time, really large numbers of humans living in the same area, and something had to be done to keep order. And so these brilliant and creative Mesopotamians invented yet another of the wonders in the human toolbox: they invented government, and the state. It is to their great credit that these ancient Iraqis, even at the very dawn of civilization, recognized the danger in putting the power of so many harnessed lives into the hands of a chief. King Hammurabi, a just and wise ruler, developed a code of laws and held everyone, nobles and peasants alike, accountable to them, and for this he is revered as Hammurabi the Lawgiver.
And then everything went to hell.
Through division of labor the city-states grew more and more powerful, and when united under a particularly ruthless leader like Ramses or Alexander or Julius Caesar, the cities’ great military and cultural power could be wielded into Empires, where for many periods in our noble and dismal history most of the people on the planet were ruled by a single individual, or dynasty. More of the millennia ticked slowly away, as empires rose and fell, and ages both Golden and Dark rose and set like centuries-long days and nights.
And our numbers grew. And the amount of power to be harnessed grew, too.
Then, after seven millennia of the Agricultural revolution, a new wave of fundamental change occurred, as European engineers – many of them Scotsmen – learned to harness power orders of magnitude more potent than human or animal muscle. And the amount of power the Industrial Revolution made available to heads of state grew exponentially.
Now we need to slow down for a moment, for now things start to get really interesting…
Up until a few centuries ago, humans and human culture had placed ever more power – military, cultural, economic, raw power – in the hands of the state. But then, all of a sudden, just as that power was really beginning to hum with the throb and hiss of heavy industry, a small, radical faction of humanity split off completely from this universal norm. They literally ran human experience right off the rails and into the unknown. It was, and remains, an act so daring, so subversive and so radical that the most frothy-mouthed Berkeley student would drop their fist in wonder at it, had there been a Berkeley at the time.
Inspired largely by a spark, a strobe of similar thinking from a few long-gone city-states on the beautiful Aegean Sea twenty-five centuries before, a small group of these audacious and really mind-bogglingly confident humans decided, against all of human experience and historical precedent, to put a large wrench in the gears of the ever-growing state.
Those people are us.
For the first time in the seven millennia since Hammurabi, since people changed history by planting grass, a small, dedicated and brilliant group of humans decided that power would be taken away from the state, from the elite, from the bureaus and palaces of empire, and transferred to the most unlikely of places: back into the hands of the people planting the grass.
These humans had studied history. And philosophy. They spent all their waking hours, during every year of their lives, discussing the nature of mankind and the best way to govern and nurture this violent, noble, greedy and magnificent species we have become.
Using reason, they were able to define much of human nature, both the good and the bad. Poring endlessly through the alternately golden and bloody pages of our human experience in government, they sought to find a system of laws, a structure, that could harness ambition but limit greed, promote leadership but restrain tyranny, and free a people to make their own decisions and yet build in safeguards against mass hysteria and the dictatorship of the majority.
Their goal was nothing less than the liberation of the human spirit. Their success, though imperfect, was breathtaking.
Now we come forward the last two centuries, to this moment in time, through the Industrial Age and into the dawn of the third great revolution in human culture, the Information Age: which we are both experiencing, together, at this exact instant.
After two and a half centuries, how fare the descendents of this idea of removing power from an ever-growing state, shattering it, and returning it to the people? As an experiment, as a data set among seven thousand years of study, how well has this idea performed?
Reason will not give clear answers on such emotional and idiosyncratic concepts as taste and personal appeal, but some hard facts seem incontrovertible.
This experiment, this liberation of the individual from the state, has some qualities worth noting. This relatively small population has produced what is without question the worlds largest and most robust economy – indeed, on economic grounds alone, the American economic miracle, puzzled out in large part by a Rationalist named Adam Smith has shattered all historical comparisons.
Listen to what this man had to say in the banner year of 1776, for he had found a way – for the first time in human history – to convert what had in other systems been considered a base yet universal impulse into a cultural and social virtue of the highest order:
Man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favor, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer…
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.
Now some committed idealists may find that a little gauche. But it is a sober look at the fundamental truth of who humans are and how we behave, and a system based on this insight… well, by God, it works. The insight, the genius of this system is not that people can make themselves wealthy. It is that in order to make themselves wealthy through economics – through trade – they make their trading partners wealthier too.
The Mesopotamians figured this out seven thousand years ago. If I make a great basket, one that will hold just about anything, and a wobbly, bent spear that won't fly straight worth a damn, and you, on the other hand, make a mean, perfect, deadly javelin but your basket looks like a demented crow’s nest and holds nothing…well then, guess what? If I give you one of my excellent baskets for one of your top-notch spears, when we walk away and go home we are both richer!
It’s a miracle!
Adam Smith is not finished. He says:
It is the great multiplication of the productions of all the different arts, in consequence of the division of labor, which occasions, in a well-governed society, that universal opulence which extends itself to the lowest ranks of the people. [Emphasis mine]
Now Adam Smith could be dead wrong. His theories about human nature could be just as flawed as those of another hominid I wish to discuss in a moment. So what does the historical data say?
It says that a new civilization, using a relatively small percentage of the world’s population, so armed, can create prosperity and wealth of such magnitude as to boggle the mind.
Americans are often criticized – and perhaps with some justification – of wanting to quantify things in terms of money. Okay, fair enough. But it’s tough to deny that in this well-governed society, the universal opulence has done a passably good job of extending itself to the lowest ranks of the people. Even the poorest Americans have electricity and clean, safe running water. That alone puts them in a relatively posh club, compared to the vast numbers who refuse to take up this philosophy. Almost all have telephones, and televisions. The number one health problem among Adam Smith’s poor is that they eat too much.
I am not saying poverty is swell. I am saying that the poorest Americans live better than 80 or 90 percent of the rest of the world. I call that an endorsement of Mr. Smith’s theory. You can call it whatever you want.
Money isn’t everything, obviously. Many people opposed to this experiment in self-rule, faced with its undeniable economic success, would like to believe that it only produces a feral band of ravenous merchants: soulless, dim-witted rug-traders with no cultural achievements to speak of.
But hey, watch out for that -- D’oh! Stupid evidence!
Self-rule, freedom, openness to criticism and dissent, has produced not only an economic miracle but a musical, literary, cinematic, military, scientific and technological explosion the likes of which poor, dim history has never seen. Moonwalks – both Neil’s and Michael’s -- Spider-Man, J-DAMS, Eminem – all from the same human reactor. And we could go on and on and on…
So what the hell does all this have to do with the military victory in Iraq?
This unmatched leap in human productivity – intellectual, economic, artistic – requires a few essential ingredients.
It requires mutual trust. And it requires hard work.
That’s about it. Not such a big deal, really.
Now here is where life goes to hell: there are large numbers of people, really vast oceans of them, who despise, in the core of their being, one or both of these essential ingredients for human success.
Look at the personal make-up of kings and potentates and dictators throughout history, and you will find that widespread trust of the common man and a willingness to work as hard as they do are not high on the list of their qualities. You will often find this among ministers and bureaucrats, and some college professors, too.
And yet these are the people who have benefited from – stolen, actually – the wealth generated by grass-planting and basket-weaving and spear-making people throughout history. The wealth their hard work generated was promptly stolen by the state, and put into golden toilets in extravagant palaces – for the elites. It happened seven thousand years ago and it happened seven weeks ago. It has happened, continuously, through our shared human history. It continues, without any signs of fatigue, in many places to this very day. As Mel Brooks says, It’s good to be the King. Of course, if you happen not to be the king -- not so good.
Now while concentrations of wealth in the hands of kings and dictators has become a little passé these last few decades, the state, and the idea of the state, is and remains very, very powerful. It appeals to all of our most infantile desires: We will take care of you, says the State. We will feed and clothe and house you all. We will take care of your education, and when you are sick, we will provide a doctor.
And all you have to do, is work for the rest of your lives, and give the wealth that hard work generates, to the State.
It follows that if one is willing to depend on the State for the very essence of life -- food, housing, medical care – then the State assumes life and death power over the people that make up that society. Which brings us to another deep-thinking hominid, who wrote that the most perfect human society is one that takes from each according to his ability, and gives to each according to his need. And who collects and disseminates this largesse?
Now, on the face of things, this theory of Karl Marx’s is a damn sight more noble and refined than the you do what’s good for you, I do what’s good for me, and we both are better off pragmatism of Adam Smith. In theory, Communism is a moving and high-minded philosophy that is based on the highest human traits of compassion and sacrifice. This is why so many romantics and idealists are attracted to it. (Pacifism also recruits heavily from this pool, and for the same reason.)
Fortunately for our own personal enlightenment, history has put this idea -- this theory of how people are made -- into play as well. It is, for all intents and purposes, the direct opposite of the anti-state, radical experiment discussed earlier. How has it performed?
Not so well. During its trial in Russia, it managed to run the most resource-rich region of the earth into utter ruin and ecological devastation that will last for many decades, perhaps centuries. The State it produced killed no less than forty million of its own people, and it terrified and stunted, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually, the entire population to which it had attached itself. There is much noble and beautiful in Russian culture. Almost none of it came from this experiment.
Oh, and by the way, since it’s easy to gloss over such things, let’s say it again: Forty Million killed. Minimum.
Reason seems to tell us that if this system was as good as it sounds on paper, then it would be the Soviet economy dominating the world, Soviet movies playing in theatres around the world, Soviet songs on the planet’s airwaves, and Soviet science and invention scattered across the earth like diamonds.
Oh, and uh, of course, there’d still be Soviets. Soviets winning the Cold War. Ronald Reagan dying of pneumonia in a Siberian Gulag rather than Mikhail Gorbachev making a Pizza Hut commercial.
Didn’t pan out that way. That’s evidence.
Okay, one data point doesn’t make a line. Let’s look at China, host to the world’s largest population, one of its oldest cultures, and home to some of the hardest-working people on the planet.
Well, let’s see: looks like at least thirty million killed by the State, the usual repression, torture and humiliation. No discernable cultural impact on the outside world. The number-one musical talent in communist China is…? I don’t know. You probably don’t either. The Chinese are making strides in manufacturing (they are also trying a new rulebook), but earth-shaking, history-altering inventions? Anyone? Bueller?
Russians and Chinese are smart people. Why such failure?
Despite the reams and rolls of evidence, there remains a committed, fanatical cadre of people who find the idea of a Benevolent State so compelling, so seductive, that they refuse to give it up in the face of any mountain of evidence to the contrary. They point to halfway states like Sweden, which, on the face of things, seem halfway awful by many standards. A lower GDP than Alabama or Mississippi – the poorest states in the opposing camp. But this isn’t just about filthy lucre. The culture produces what? Abba, and Volvo. Loved the first, not a fan of the second. There is little invention, almost no outstanding contributions to science, technology, music or the arts -- although Bergman was terrific. It is a safe, decent place where everything is taken care of. It reminds me, in fact, of a very large retirement home.
This is exactly what many people want the world to become: a retirement home. Run by? Guess who! And they are doing everything in their power to see that it happens.
Okay, now to brass tacks. Enough history. Enough perspective. Back to the present. Back to the trenches.
Back, indeed, to the point.
We have just fought and won a great victory against a very great threat to this Nation. I am not referring to our military victory in Iraq.
There are many people, here and abroad, who see the State – Communist, Socialist – as the end result for the world. They hunger and lust for the power that the levers of such a machine provides. They have failed, through laziness or defect of character, to amass any such prestige and influence on their own. They trust no one but their co-conspirators – and they don't trust them much, either. Many of them have not done a hard day's work in their lives.
But the State gives them power. It gives them the power to rule through committee and unseen, faceless bureaucracy. It is they who decide where all the stuff taken from each according to his ability actually goes. The ability to dispense food, jobs, housing and medical care provides genuine power, real power, life and death power. Some of the people that pull these levers are benevolent. Some are not. If you get some that are not, who are seduced by this limitless, godlike power, then you and your society are in very deep yogurt.
The people who promote such a system constantly tinker with ever-changing theories that have in common only the fact that they fly in the face of all human nature and history. They have convinced themselves, in the face of all evidence and experience to the contrary, that they know what is best for “the masses.” They believe that they, without any practical experience in the world, know how to better run a grocery store or a factory than the people that actually run the grocery stores and the factories.
They have Big Plans.
Nothing has stopped these people – nothing – from Hammurabi until today. With a single exception, they have ruled history.
That single exception, of course, is the United States of America.
And here is the fight I want to talk about: here. Because in order for these people to succeed, for the idea of a vast state run by elites to succeed, in order to start down this murderous dead-end road again, the United States as we know it must fail. It must fail, it has to fail, because the example of a free and prosperous United States, its vast power vested in its common citizens, acting as a force for liberation and freedom in the world and possessed of all the manifest rewards and glory its theory of humanity provides is an intolerable threat to those elites who see in the individual another faceless cog in the machinery of power.
America’s unparalleled military might derives from a culture and a people so energetic, so hardworking and so ingenious that we can, frankly, afford to spend more than the rest of the world, combined, on defending that culture and people. We have had our Pearl Harbors and our Normandies. We have seen this experiment threatened by foreign militarism and we have made a collective decision to never put ourselves in that kind of danger again.
Because our theory of people works so much better than those who oppose us, America can afford to be unconquerable by force of arms. With many, many millions of well-armed and deeply patriotic citizens, it is essentially unbeatable even without a Defense Department. America’s strength is broad and it is very, very deep.
You have one chance to defeat America today. You must shut down her reactor. You must kill the confidence, lie about the history, slander the Founders, undermine the morality, question the decency, mock the very ideas of self-sufficiency and self-defense, banish self-determination as a goal for individuals and the nation, destroy the intricate and delicately made checks and balances that inhibit state power, divide the people among racial and economic lines, and under no circumstances allow America to be seen to actually do what it claims to do: be a force for liberation, creativity, prosperity and freedom to all people, everywhere.
America’s strength must be seen as that of a greedy, blinded giant, a drunken bully stealing from the world. It must be endlessly, constantly described as Imperial, consigning it in a single misused word to a long line of repression and historical failure. Forget that we rule no other countries, forget that we pay billions for our presence, rather than stealing billions at the point of a bayonet. Forget that we have paid for every single drop of oil we have ever burned, when we could in fact have easily done what we are accused of: stolen it at gunpoint. We do not, and did not, and will not – and they know it. We are, in fact, the anti-Empire. We have bucked history in every fundamental way. Wherever we sail is uncharted territory. No nation in history has done what we have done, and continue to do.
That is not allowed. People might go for something like that. Imperialists. Bullies. Baby Killers. Infidels. Colonialists.
We have, for the last fifty years, fought a terrible and dirty war against our mirror image. Our victory in the Cold War was so complete that the Soviet Union, the Superstate, was not only defeated and diminished, it just plain disappeared. And that is a terrible, terrible problem for America, because the departure of the Soviets from the collective memory has been so total and so abrupt that we are beginning to forget that they were ever here.
How else can people like Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore tally the sum of people killed in all the conflicts since the end of WWII and lay all of them at the feet of America? Why else could people blandly watch Bowling for Columbine total hundreds and thousands and millions dead, all hung around the neck of America, without so much as a mention, not a hint, not a peep of the words Soviet Union? Oh, and give it an Academy Award, and claim it is “the greatest documentary ever made.”
How, in the name of God, is such a thing possible?
We have done some dirty, dishonorable deeds in the years since the end of World War II. They were done to fight a philosophy that has killed untold millions of people, brutalized and tortured countless more, and intimidated, humiliated and repressed every person that had the misfortune to be the guinea pigs in history’s most horrible experiment in the power of the State.
But we did them. We overthrew popularly elected governments, backed some of the most loathsome and repressive regimes imaginable. In Vietnam we fought a war of attrition that was a decade-long root canal on our national soul. We ran interrogation schools that turned into universities for torture. They are stains on our nation, our history, and our honor, and like slavery, they will not go away, ever.
But let us never forget that they were the actions we took in response to the most pernicious evil the world has ever seen, and we did many evil things ourselves because that was the kind of war the communists chose to fight. It was, I suppose, better than a nuclear confrontation. But every charge of brutality and oppression leveled against this nation -- Allende, Vietnam, Nicaragua – was the direct result of a deadly serious war against a philosophy that has killed no less than one hundred million – a thousand Superbowl stadiums filled with people -- and brought ruin and despair everywhere it has been applied.
But we have just won a great victory, a powerful and deep victory indeed.
The victory was not winning the war in Iraq. The victory was not even how we won. Not the daring, bold, and brilliantly executed strategy, although that will be studied for centuries. Not the technological and tactical virtuosity, which was unparalleled. Not even the destruction of the dangerous and pernicious fantasy that Americans have no stomach for a fight that involves taking casualties, or that American soldiers are a bunch of high-tech sissies who go home after you kill a few dozen. All of these are enormous victories in their own right, and they will expand like shockwaves for many years to come. But they pale in comparison to the one true test we have just come through.
I maintain that the ultimate victory we can claim was the fact that we were willing to fight the war at all.
America willing to stand up and fight for what it believes in is a force to be reckoned with -- militarily, obviously – but spiritually, as well. America, armed with her principles, is a moral and transformational force of awesome proportions.
Our elitist opponents both at home and abroad -- those with the Big Plans -- recognized this very clearly. Because a full-blown shooting war would, in fact, be an experiment, in which their theory of America, their presentation of who and what we are, would be tested against reality.
This, too, could simply not be allowed – but they were done, defeated, whipped, when we committed the most courageous, audacious and confident military maneuver in U.S. history: we had the genius – the only word for it -- to place reporters from several nations, and from every point on the political spectrum – among the troops, to not only see for themselves, but to show the entire planet, in real time, whether or not American servicemen are baby-killing murderers or the most tightly disciplined, courageous, humble, humane and morally magnificent army that has ever gone into battle in the storied history of this human species.
Just step back for a moment, and think about how monumentally confident that action was. Before it even started, without knowing how well or badly it would go, with dire warnings of street-to-street fighting that would echo the horrors of Stalingrad, and predictions from shrill and desperate cynics that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians would die – on camera – we decided that we could trust our eighteen and nineteen year old grunts to do the right thing with bullets flying and the blood of their best friends on their uniforms.
Ah, but these were American kids, well-educated, highly motivated, decent and determined, and the most professional warriors, ambassadors and statesmen that ever walked this earth. Good God I am proud of every single one of them.
They changed military history in the sands of Iraq. That was a victory. They dispelled the terribly dangerous illusion that we would cut and run at the first sign of casualties. Another huge and vital win, one that strengthens our diplomatic hand immeasurably, and palpably raises our level of safety because a weak and impotent America, a hollow paper tiger, was the operating thesis of both Saddam and Bin Laden. Huge victory.
We and our allies, the magnificent British and Australian and even Polish troops we fought alongside of, have made it clear that we can and will fight, that we can and will win, and win big, and win big quickly. That means that we'll be far, far less likely to have to fight in the future. This is a very real victory indeed, and those poor, desolate families that lost loved ones might take some comfort from the certainty that their sacrifices not only won this war, but won many wars that we will not now have to fight, saved hundreds if not thousands of other American families from facing that shock and pain and grief in the future. That is a victory of monumental proportions. It should be celebrated. Those families have paid a very terrible and heavy price for it, in those hundred-odd poor and desolate households that will never be the same again.
All of these are important, but none of them begin to approach the real Victory, which was the American people showing that despite thirty years of the very worst that America-hating celebrities and professors and news anchors and politicians could hurl our way, we still have the ethical and moral integrity, the willingness to sacrifice, and the will – the will – to defend this nation and what she represents, both to ourselves and to suffering and oppressed people everywhere.
We fought despite a shrill and rising whine, like a jet engine about to explode, warning us, begging us, threatening us, mocking us, shaming us not to fight. But we did fight. And that is the Victory I want to celebrate. Not as a swaggering, macho attitude about kicking ass and taking names. But rather the sublime, astonishing and humbling realization that everything the enemies of America could throw at us – failed. We have listened to their lies since Marx took pen to paper, yet the vast, strong, humane and decent center of this Silent America did not buy into the idea that we are a nation of murderers, and simpletons, and ‘sheeple.’
If we could withstand that assault on our integrity, on our values and our beliefs, coming out of the stains of dishonor we assumed to win the many proxy battles of the Cold War, then what will these America-haters be left with? That an action that prevented parents from watching their children being placed into industrial shredders should never have taken place because some clay pots went missing? Who is left to believe these people now, except they themselves?
I never feared those losers, those cynics, those bitter, small, perpetually angry people. I only feared what they could do to the middle, to the center of the line, the people who get up and vote the way we will steer this ship of ours through the reefs and storms we sometimes face. They took their best shot. They took it at a time when their ammunition was piled as high as it will ever be in our lifetimes. They failed. They failed miserably. And in their failure they have shown what they are, and who they are, and what they really want.
International A.N.S.W.E.R, an offshoot of the Workers World Party, recipient of North Korean financial largesse and the driving force behind these rallies, does not care a whit about the Iraqi people. Nor does it want peace. What it and many other sad little groups desperately want is the paralysis and destruction of the one force that stands in the way of their flawed and murderous ideals: The United States of America.
They didn’t get it. Not this time. Not today.
"America bring democracy, whiskey and sexy!" said that unknown Iraqi man. This is not a trivial statement. He is saying that for the first time in thirty years, he will have his own chance for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I thought his English was dead-on.
I hope these people stagger out into the sunlight of real freedom with a willingness to do those two simple things that seem to work so well: work hard, and trust each other. I think they will. They started civilization. They have earned, and well deserve, the chance to enjoy the fruits of it once again.
I hope they will resist the temptation to let oil revenues steer their future. It is not, in fact, a blessing. They are about to start to reap the benefits of the wealth of their nation. I hope they have the wisdom to channel that wealth into their people, into their education, their technical and artistic skill that was once so well represented in the cradle of law and good government. I hope for world-renowned universities in Baghdad and in An-Nasiriyah, producing respected scholars and scientists. I hope for productive farms in the Tigris-Euphrates valley, feeding the millions of the entire region, just as there were thousands of years ago. I hope for high-tech factories in Basra and Tikrit, textile mills in Kirkuk and cell-phone design firms in Mosul. And above all I hope they have the courage to read and study history, and to implement a system that looks something like the ones that allow these daily miracles in the West.
I hope that some day they might be able to forgive us the pain we had to cause them to get rid of that devil, that threat, and his evil toys. Many already do. I hope, and believe, that many more will do so in the years to come. We are still so very, very early in this long and difficult process. But perhaps, some day, they will be able to see that not only Iraqis died for a free Iraq. Americans died. Britons died. Australians and Poles and many others put their lives on the line as well. It would be arrogant and vile to expect gratitude, but I do hope, I deeply hope, that they will be able to understand why we did what we did and how much it cost us, in those poor, shattered homes across America and Great Britain.
And I have one final wish, which I know seems very unlikely, but which I will share anyway.
I fervently hope that someday, perhaps decades from now, Iraq will have a really top-notch soccer team. I hope that one day, they will get to the final round of the World Cup, and when they do, I hope it is Team USA they play for the championship.
I hope that the Americans play a tough, aggressive, masterful game, that they use all of the speed and skill and power at their command. And then I want to sit there watching TV as an old man, and watch the faces on the Iraqi people when the game is over, because I want to see that the most relieved and joyous they can conceive of being, is the day that tiny Iraq got out on that soccer field and kicked our ass.