July 10, 2005

thin ties with piano keys


I've been wondering lately about the permanence of American moods; i.e., how long are we going to suffer through this redneck fight-or-flight America-first conservative hoo-hah before the great unwashed masses get sick of it and move on to something else? The current pace of fear-mongering in this country is exhausting, and if history teaches us any lesson, it's that a hard fad's gotta die.

We were talking about America's moods on an email list the other day, and here's a few I came up with:

Americans' interest in WWII: 1941-45 (4 years)
Cold war nuclear holocaust fears, Part I: 1955-1963 (8 years)
Hippie movement: 1965-1970 (5 years)
Disco: 1975-1980 (5 years)
Cold war nuclear holocaust fears, Part II: 1981-1986 (5 years)
Internet boom: 1996-2001 (5 years)
Jingoistic terror-obsessed conservatism: 2001-?

Given the attention span of Americans en masse, it seems like we can only stomach a "movement" for around 5-6 years before we move onto something else. Of course, in the middle of such a movement, you can't ever imagine it ending (like Rubik's Cubes in 1981) and even now we can't see our way through the fog of Bush's "War on Terror."

But these things must end. There will come a day, even after more spectacular suicide attacks like 9/11 and the London bombings, when most ordinary Americans will realize that while Death will kindly stop for them (apologies to E. Dickinson), they probably won't die today, or even tomorrow.

The duct tape will grow moldy in the basement, and even the exhortations of our crazy President can't work them back into a lather. Keeping up a good "bunker mentality" takes a shitload of work. Perhaps there will come a day when the chickenhawks, the anchors on cable news stations and AM Radio pundits will have masturbated us one time too many, leaving us raw, chafed and unable to perform the way they like.

The fact is this: humans adapt. Terror attacks will eventually lose the edge they once had. It's already happening in social microcosms like the stock market; after an initial drop due to the London bombings, the Dow actually closed higher by the end of the day.

There's a couple of caveats here, of course - if we're attacked by a biological agent or atomic weapons that kill hundreds of thousands, then we're in a whole new ballgame. Also, if we manage to elect a President as chuckleheaded and swooningly reckless as Bush again, we could be looking at decades of this shit.

But if all goes as planned, mark your calendars for 2007, when the tectonic plates of this country's mood swing away from the current mouth-frothing terror-mongering, and onto something else. I'm not saying it won't be something else equally as stupid, but it will something new, another pair of pants for this country to try on. Let's hope it's better than the Rubik's Snake.

Posted by Ian Williams at July 10, 2005 11:37 PM
Posted by: Mom at July 10, 2005 11:58 PM

Ian, if you recall, I've given you the "pendulum swings" speech many times, so maybe it finally made an impression. But it does seem as if the current nonsense is lasting longer and is a whole lot more dangerous than the Rubik's cube.

But I'm still hanging on for 2007, and hoping for a return to sanity. Hell, if it means getting rid of Bush and his posse, I'll even welcome the rebirth of disco. .

Posted by: cm at July 11, 2005 5:23 AM

Point taken, but at least with WWII, I don't think the comparison works. That wasn't a phase Americans went thru that just sort of waned after four years; it ended because Germany and then Japan surrendered. And even then, the US stuck around in those countries (and others) long enough to help build a foundation for long-term economic recovery.

Come to think of it, there were actual events which helped bring about the end of nuclear fears I (resolution of the CMC), nuclear fears II (coming of glastnost), and the internet boom (demonstrated incapacity of many dot-coms to turn a profit). So at least with the political/economical trends you're talking about, something has to happen to help trigger a decline in interest.

With the War on Terror, I think think you're right--regular folks are getting a little tired of it. I also think a signal victory (say, the capture or death of Osama) is needed before public support for the effort really declines in a significant way.

Posted by: lee at July 11, 2005 5:44 AM

I think you're right, but really, I think we're not even close to swinging the other way. With the republicans becoming more and more owners of all media- including national public radio- it's going to be extremely difficult for people to tell what's mainstream and what's Fox propoganda any more. I think there's a majority of people in this country who watch and read mainstream media who have become brainwashed by these folks and don't even know it. How would they?? And how do you reach them without sounding like there's some crazy conspiracy? I think only when we figure that out, will we ever shift away from this insanity.
And unfortunately, I think Bush is just the beginning. How would Hillary ever defeat Jeb when his people control all the media? Who has that much money?

Posted by: lee at July 11, 2005 5:53 AM

And I know I probably sound like an alarmist, but when I was reading last week about the conservative Christian college, Liberty, in the New Yorker where they are training these kids who've mainly been homeschooled for a future in Congress, I realized really how deep this goes and how long it's been in the planning. To me, that makes the next election seem somewhat insignificant because it feels more like another Crusades to me.

Posted by: Piglet at July 11, 2005 6:57 AM

Years from now, our military veterans will look back on the Iraq war, and wonder why they're still there.

Posted by: scruggs at July 11, 2005 7:05 AM

Lee, I'd love to read that article if you have a link for it. I did read a similar article, also recently in the New Yorker, about Patrick Henry College in VA. They have a "pipeline" leading to Washington where many of their students grab coveted intern spots in the White House and Congress. I'm not anti-homeschooling if one is truly educating his/her kid, but the point of education in general is to create informed, free thinkers not to indoctrinate little robots.

Posted by: kevin at July 11, 2005 7:05 AM

IIRC, Republicans ruled the electorate until a small crisis called the great depression wiped them from power. Our history is Republican and i think we have returned to our roots. I think 9/11 firmly entrenched the Republicans for some time. Lee's comments about media ownership should not be discounted.
I think we will be the opposition for many years. I wonder what the next great crisis will be to swing the electorate back?

Posted by: Salem at July 11, 2005 7:26 AM

I have never been accused of being cynical or even realistic for that matter, but contrary to the eighties or even ninties, all the great forces of the world seemed to be poised to fall in more tragic directions. In the eighties I perceived everything to be teetering on the verge of collapsing into something BETTER. The fall of communism, an emerging global economy, techno alchemy creating new wealth worldwide. Troubles in China, Iran, and the Soviet Union all seemed to indicate POSITIVE change for the world. Now we find ourselves unable to compete in the global economy, and if the Chinese or the Saudi's fall it will create a disaster not a rebirth of freedom. In the past our country and the rest of the world was better off when the "bad guys" failed. I'm having a hard time coming up with any positive case scenarios.

Posted by: Claudia at July 11, 2005 7:31 AM

Just out of curiosity, how do contemporary Democrats like yourselves view World War II?

Posted by: Lee at July 11, 2005 9:26 AM

Scruggs, I meant Patrick Henry. I was thinking Liberty b/c it's another conservative Christian college that an old family friend will be attending in the fall. That's clearly weighing heavily on my mind since I used to change his diapers and know that now he'd probably like to erase my existence as a gay american.

Posted by: kevin at July 11, 2005 9:34 AM

Claudia.. in what regard?

Posted by: Just Andrew at July 11, 2005 9:41 AM

Given that the current administration has pretty seriously botched the whole war on terror, I'm still of the mind that we need to continue to be the agressor.

What I'm wondering from today's post:
Are you suggesting that we should just accept that we'll continue to have attacks and have that become part of our lives? Do you advocate doing anything to stop them?

I guess when I think about things that go on for a period of time at intermittent intervals, I don't feel them lessening in intesity. Sexual predators are a good example - I haven't heard of a single case in the last 15 years where I've felt like this is just something we need to accept as part of life. The opposite in fact - every time it happens again, I become more upset that more isn't done to stop it from happening again.

Posted by: Piglet at July 11, 2005 9:58 AM

Claudia, the big difference between contemporary Democrats and those of the recent past is that we have to go by report instead of actual memory, since we didn't live it. Therefore, it's somewhat more of a story and less history to us, and comparable to, say, Star Wars. Most of what I "know" about it I got from Studs Terkel's collection of individual accounts of liing through "The Great War".

But to me, at least, it's still one of the big sources of pride in my country's history, right up there with the American Revolution and the civil rights movement. It is not often that we see a major conflict with undisputed good guys and bad guys, with us saving the day.

Posted by: Claudia at July 11, 2005 9:59 AM

Kevin...I'm curious whether contemporary Democrats view World War II as a "good" war (i.e., fought well and/or fought for the right reasons) or a "bad" war (i.e., unnecessary and bloody). I assume that a subset of contemporary Democrats are pacifists who are opposed to war under almost any circumstances, and that another subset of contemporary Democrats have issues with the war in Iraq but do not have issues with World War II, and specifically with American involvement in World War II. I wonder if my assumptions are correct and, if so, the reasons why such contemporary Democrats feel the way they do. For example, does Vietnam play a role?

Posted by: Piglet at July 11, 2005 11:13 AM

Claudia, I have yet to meet an American Democrat who does not see WWII as a good war. I have, however, met plenty of American Republicans who are either so dishonest or so stupid that they bring up opposition to Bush's Iraq mess as alleged evidence that Democrats must have loved Saddam, and would have favored appeasing Hitler.

In fact, most of the appeasers at the time were conservatives. Most of those who opposed American "intervention" during WWII were conservative Republicans, although some few Republicans joined Charles Lindbergh in his belief that we should have fought on the side of the Axis (see 1940 Gallup Poll on the question, should America get involved in the war?). Neville Chamberlain was leader of Britain's Conservative Party.

Posted by: kevin at July 11, 2005 11:36 AM

Claudia.. thanks for the clarification.
On WWII (the big one), I had no issues with this war. I think it was just and for good reasons. The sovereignty of many allies and nations was at imminent stake. On Vietnam, i think we learned there that sometimes a 'conventional war' does not work especially when fighting an unconventional enemy.
On Afghanistan, i have no issues with what we are doing there and have done. i think there is more to do and it is important to 'stabilize' the government there before pulling out. I have found few democrats that fall in your first subset of democrats (pacifist.. a small subset.)The vast majority of Democrates think what we are doing in Afghanistan is good. that are opposed to what we are doing there. Not to stir the pot, but I know had Gore won the election, that we would be in Afghanistan and we would have had similar results there. Many people think Democrats did not want to retaliate for 9/11... nothing could be further from the truth.

On to Iraq.. I do have issues with this war.
1) I think we rushed to war. Are we safer now b/c of the war? In the short run, i think not as we have many inspired terrorists that wish to do us harm. In the long term..maybe. A stable iraq will be good for the region in the long term. Of course, Iraq was stable before we invaded. We just didn't like them very much. Did i like Sadaam? NO!!! But while he was in power, we didn't have the terrorist activities in Iraq like we do now. Maybe we could have come up with another way to deal with Sadaam that would have taken more time, but could have been equally effective?
2) the reasons enumerated by our leaders for going to war were trumped up and pushed forward using known faulty intellegence. We essentially went to war on a sovereign nation b/c we didn't like them.
3) While we have a coalition for the war in Iraq, we must admit we did not have broad based support for the offensive.
4) We had no plan in place to deal with the situation we have found ourselves in since the president declared victory. This is what we learned in Vietnam but failed to put in place in Iraq. Could we have better planned for these contingencies? Could we have waited a little longer? Was the US or any of our allies in imminent danger if we delayed invading Iraq?
5) We have lost many many soldiers to death or severe injury and i am not sure what we have gained. Is Iraq a better place today from our perspective? I am not sure if it is or not.
6) I think we have lost a lot of political good will so that we could go to iraq and tilt at windmills. I wish we could have saved that goodwill for something else.
7) Over $300 billion spent in Iraq. Could that $300 billion be spent here and made us safer here? I think so. I think $300B spent there is now gone and are we safer here for it? You have to answer that.
8) Just b/c we are powerful enought to beat up someone is it just to do so without trying other options?
So.. as a democrat, i have no problem with war or having a strong military. I do have a problem with using that military for war when we are not sure what we are getting. If we don't know what we are going to get, then why do it? Do you think Iraq today looks like you thought it might before the invasion?
I support our military. But just because I think we should be doing this whole Iraq thing in a different way does not make me un-american. PEACE

Posted by: cm at July 11, 2005 11:58 AM

When someone asks what Dems think of WWII--as if there's some large group of them who think it was a bad war--it gets my back up. So it does also when someone draws a moral equivalency between opposing Iraq and appeasing Hitler. It seems to me that a largish subset of the American right cherishes an idea of themselves as latter-day Churchills b/c they were willing to commit lives and resources to overturning a tinpot (secular) dictatorship. But, hey, maybe they have a point. Churchill defiantly remained in London in 1940 when enemy aircraft darkened the skies over that city, ocassionally taking in the scene from the top of 10 Downing. Flash-forward to Washington in 2001. Bush flew directly back to DC to show he wasn't cowed, right? And if that stirring rendition of "God Bless America" by Congress after the threat had passed wasn't Churchillian, I don't know what would be.

Posted by: Lee at July 11, 2005 12:03 PM

The fact that anyone would even question what Dems think of WWII is testament to the %^&*$ right wing main stream media.

It makes us so busy defending ourselves that we can't get it together to go on the offensive. That seems to me to be their plan- keep em busy defending themselves so that we can go about our business and discredit them in the meantime with lies. It's two birds with one big stone. Grrrr...

Posted by: Chris M at July 11, 2005 1:50 PM


Perhpas you have been brain-washed by too many E channel biographies and Lifetime movies. At least you still have the key they gave you at that school up in Poughkeepsie.

Posted by: Claudia at July 11, 2005 1:59 PM

I am surprised and disappointed that anyone would perceive my calm and simple question as hostile. I have no ulterior motive and have no thought of likening opposition to the war in Iraq to appeasing Hitler. I am offended at the implication. I simply haven't discussed World War II with any significant number of contemporary Democrats, and frankly have not read a great deal of discourse regarding World War II in general. I am curious about what in particular drives anti-war sentiment in any given war from any given individual (motives for war? strategy concerns? pacifism? timing?). I think that anyone familiar with my previous posts would know that I am not one to be cavalier with the insults. Similarly, I don't assume that one who self-identifies as a member of a given group necessarily subscribes to the prevailing views of the group on any given issue. Are we really so divided, politically, that we must assume a question from someone in the Other Group is in furtherance of grinding an axe?

Posted by: Claudia at July 11, 2005 2:05 PM

Chris M,

Hopefully they won't rescind it based on my political views!

Pasta amatriciana for dinner? Maybe we can eat it while watching _Murder in the Hamptons_ on Lifetime?

Posted by: Claudia at July 11, 2005 2:30 PM

Kevin...Thanks for your reply.

Posted by: kevin at July 11, 2005 2:49 PM

no worries Claudia.
I wonder about the WWII thing. i was reading another board today and the WWII thing came up there as well. Was there a published piece regarding this that is driving this topic?

Posted by: cm at July 11, 2005 3:00 PM

Claudia: Sorry to offend if I did. In my defense, I would offer some context. It's no secret that some conservatives invoked the Munich Accord, implicitly and explicitly, as a way of painting the Iraq War's opponents as witless dupes. Some people like me, therefore, are a little sensitive when things seem to be going in that direction.

Posted by: Claudia at July 11, 2005 3:20 PM

Thanks for your replies, Kevin and CM.

Kevin...I am not aware of any recently-published piece regarding WWII that might be driving this topic. Ian's post regarding America's moods, with WWII as the launching point, was what got me thinking about perception of that War.

CM...I apologize, as well, if I unwittingly tapped into your and others' sensitivities. I have no knowledge of the invocation of the Munich Accord in the context in which you describe. Frankly, I feel that my knowledge of WWII in general is inadequate given its historical significance, and saw this as an opportunity for discourse.

Posted by: Just Andrew at July 11, 2005 5:48 PM

Claudia, et al,

My grandfather has always been a democrat and a pacifist. He enlisted in WWII before the draft because he felt it was the right thing to do and despite his pacifist ways, he felt he owed his service to his family, friends and country.

Our generation is different - very few of us grew up with any real sense of patriotism or duty to our country.

So I think you do raise a very fair question and I'd take it a step further: what kind of conflict would it take for any of you to feel compelled to join the military and fight for our country? Or urge your kids to do so?

I think if anyone answers that no conflict would compell them, then they owe the rest of the country a good explanation for why not.

Posted by: KTS at July 11, 2005 6:22 PM

Things will change, hopefully for the better. Yet there are complications.

One problem is the consolidation of power that the neocon "conservatives" (actually extremely radical activists, bent on overthrowing tradition and established institutions) have managed and will continue to manage by appointments to the judiciary, backed by a Congress bent on creating a deluge of fascist laws. When the pendulum does swing back, we're still going to be living with all those wonderful judges, and those pristine laws aren’t going to be so easy to get off the books.

Then there’s the economy. Bush has really screwed things up this time. He’s creating such a massive national debt that in a few years we’ll all be trying to speak Mandarin Chinese, as the Chinese cash in their chips.

Bush has never run a business, as he likes to describe the United States government, that hasn’t failed. And in this case, he’s so unbalanced so many balance sheets, that we’ll be living with his rotten financial legacy for a long time, even under the best scenario.

Though no reason to give up hope, mate. That slithery bastard Karl Rove’s lies and deceptions over the Plame affair are being displayed on my television at this very moment! Watching Scott McClellan squirm during a very heavy press conference is truly nice: So what you previously said was “inoperative?” Have you consulted a “personal attorney?” Very Nixonian.

And now a sudden rainstorm! Flashback to taking a hit of so-called mescaline in the summer after graduating from high school, turning on the TV, and for the first time watching the Watergate Hearings. That was fun, and weird.

So have a rum! “Eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man,” and all that rot. Happy Bastille Day! What?

Posted by: kent at July 11, 2005 10:56 PM

Claudia, as one of the only card carrying pacifist reading Ian's blog, I'll give you my capsule view of WWII.

First off, pacifists were never fans of Nazi Germany or Fascist Japan, any more than people who oppose the Iraq war love Saddam. Not implying you said that, but thought it needed saying in this context.

I know some people who were WW II Conscientious Objectors pretty well. They're Quakers, and they all did alternative service. At the time, I think it was framed as a matter of personal conscience -- while they were bound personally by principle and religious belief to not take part as soldiers in the war, their beliefs about that particular war were probably all over the map -- I've never really asked them about it.

Quakers did a lot during World War II to try and minimize suffering. Hard as it is to believe, Quakers remained in Germany throughout the war and helped Jews to avoid the camps. They did this openly, and yet managed by their Quakerly mojo to avoid arrest and imprisonment. Strange but true.

Quakers were also involved in helping jews to get out of Germany, while the US government were refusing visas to most German and Austrian jews. Not many people want to talk about this, but the FDR could have saved the lives of thousands of European Jews with the stroke of a pen, and yet he did not.

Here in Iowa, the Scattergood Friends School, which had been closed during the depression, was renovated by volunteers with money from the Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends, and served as a refugee hostel for European Refugees. One of the members of my meeting was instrumental in that effort; he died about a year ago, and is sorely missed.

As a pacifist I know that I oppose war in general, and would not serve in the armed forces, and neither will my children. As for the Hitlers and Saddams of the world, there's no easy pacifist answer there. Things might have been radically different if the US and other free countries had taken moral stands on the things happening in Germany and Japan early on, and used diplomatic pressure to try and change behavior. That didn't happen; there were many missed opportunities to keep the war from becoming a global conflagration.

That may be seen as naive, but if you look at the real history of pacifism, pacifists have done much to prevent violence, and worked tirelessly to help those who suffer as a result of war. I believe that it's not fair to criticize pacifism for not being practical; it has never really been tried as a sustained policy of nations.

The founder of the Society of Friends was George Fox, who personally converted William Penn (of Pennsylvania fame) to Quakerism. William Penn was a nobleman in England, and as such, was required by his status to wear a sword. At that time "nobleman" was synonymous with "guy with sword." All wore them, even if they never used them, in anger or self defence.

Penn asked Fox about the sword, and Fox's answer was "Wear it as long as ye can bear it." Which is to say, you'll put it down when you come fully into your commitment as a Friend. I think nations are the same; in the current world, to be a country is to be armed, but to be truly a country committed to peace, it must eventually put away armed aggression as a tool of policy.

Unless things truly go to hell, there are a tiny number of nations the US will ever need to defend itself against. The size of our military in relation to the real threats it can effectively address is obscene. The fact that the US exports more arms to other countries than the rest of the world combined means we're throwing gasoline on the fire. Sure, military might prevents other countries from attacking us, but a stabler and more permanent deterrent is trade and open-handed friendship.

There will always be a need for countries to maintain the integrity of their borders, but the time for war in the world may finally be passing. We can only hope.

Posted by: kent at July 11, 2005 11:01 PM

And before anyone says GYODB (get yer own damn blog) I do have one: http://chaircrusher.livejournal.com/

But it doesn't seem to engender the same discourse as Ian's.

Posted by: KTS at July 12, 2005 12:27 AM

Kent, I respect your pacifism. Gandhi accomplished great things. Though I’m a socialist liberal, I’m not a pacifist, but so it goes.

I wanted to qualify that because I don’t want to seem snide, but this is too funny not to mention, considering my previous references to Nixon, a failed Quaker who’s mother shed tears when he went to war in WWII:

“One interesting footnote about Nixon's Naval career is that he learned to play poker (another taboo under Quakerism) and quickly became known as the best poker player in the Navy, having apparently won almost $10,000 by war's end.”

Hunter Thompson wrote that he’d never buy a used car from Richard Nixon unless Nixon was drunk. Also, that Nixon was a born pawnbroker.

Yet compared to the Bush junta, Nixon’s regime was small-time punk.

Posted by: chip at July 13, 2005 6:02 AM

We have a President who is a stranger to truth and reality, and no one that is willing to introduce him. That's not to excuse the barbaric and illegal acts of a death cult Islamic offshoot, or to say we don't need to respond forcefully.

I heart quakers. My wife is a pacifist, and I'm coming around to her way of thinking.

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