Notes on a time of crisis

Friday, September 21, 2001

* * *
About a month ago, I went up to Prospect Park on a humid weekend
afternoon to watch a re-enactment of the Battle of Brooklyn, in which
Revolutionary forces were routed by the British. The long meadow of the
park (which we in Brooklyn call, appropriately enough, the Long Meadow)
was cordoned off with plastic mesh fencing, seperating the neighborhood
crowds of picnickers and sunbathers and onlookers from the reenactors,
who marched across the meadow and fired blank cartridges at each other.
Occasionally a cannon would boom, and the voice of an enthusiastic
announcer would come over the PA, as if we were at some sort of sporting

Little did any of us know that a real war was just around the corner.
Little did I know I would hear its opening salvo, without recognizing it
as such, from the green expanse of that same park.

* * *

You may cringe at the word "war," but like it or not, that's clearly
what we're in for. A "new kind" of war, they tell us, a war that may
last five or ten years.

CBS News' Pentagon correspondent opines that the model here isn't
theGulf War, it is the war on drugs. And gosh, we all know how well
that one's worked out.

* * *

It's time to stand united behind the president. If, in the face of an
enemy armed with box cutters and fanatacism, he pushes ahead with
missile defense, well, who are we to question him? If he says that a
capital gains tax cut for the wealthy is the best way to kick off a new
era of shared national sacrifice, then by god, that's what we're going
to do.

Because the last thing we want to do at a time like this is let our
enemies observe a functioning democracy. All that partisanship, all
that disagreement -- we don't have time for any of that now.

Where do we go to sign our loyalty oaths?

* * *

In response to my earlier postings about the responses I've been
getting, I have been innundated with a flood of embarrasingly
supportive email. To all who have written, my sincere and heartfelt
thanks. Your words have meant a great deal to me.

* * *

Congress is now reviving a proposal killed last year by Senator Phil
Gramm, the Texas Republican who was then chairman of the Senate Banking
Committee. The bill, introduced by the Clinton administration, would
give the Treasury secretary broad power to bar foreign countries and
banks from access to the American financial market unless they
cooperated with money-laundering investigations. It was strongly opposed
by the banking
industry and Mr. Gramm.

"I was right then and I am right now" in opposing the bill, Mr. Gramm
saidyesterday. He called the bill "totalitarian" and added, "The way to
deal with terrorists is to hunt them down and kill them."

* * *

I don't know enough about this to comment on it--the bill may well be a
bad idea--but something smells funny here. Is it possible, at a time
when we've all got to stand together, etc., etc., that Senator Gramm is
putting the interests of his corporate contributors ahead of the
national good?

Just asking.

* * *


We have previously suggested reviving the draft, but only for members of
the Washington media, so they would not thereafter speak so reverentially of
the military brass and their misguided policies for our nation. Given
current circumstances, however, we now feel the draft should be extended to all
senior fellows of Washington think tanks as well as to the entire
membership of the Council on Foreign Relations, regardless of age.

* * *

(The following excerpts are also courtesy of my indefatiguable friend
Sam's vital daily email update, Undernews).


Some American politicians now
argue that criminal justice is inadequate because the events of
September 11 were an act of war. But according to international law, we
must know what State committed it. A group of individuals, even
numbering in the hundreds, cannot commit an act of war. Perhaps those
who harbor terrorists may themselves be accomplices in an act of war.
But let us remember the last time this bold claim was made, in 1914,
when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia because a Serb nationalist
had assassinated its archduke. It unleashed a cascade of belligerent
declarations justified by an earlier equivalent of article 5 of the NATO
treaty. We now look back in horror and bewilderment at how an
overreaction to terrorism, in the name of punishment and retribution,
provoked a chain of events that ultimately slaughtered an entire
generation of European youth.


Over the airplane's public-address
system came a most incredible announcement from the captain of United
Flight 564 as it was about to pull out of the gate at Denver
International Airport last Saturday, writes Peter Hannaford, a
public-affairs consultant in Washington and former adviser to President
Reagan. "I want to thank you brave folks for coming out today," the
pilot began. "We don't have any new instructions from the federal
government, so from now on, we're on our own." The passengers listened
in total silence. "Sometimes a potential hijacker will announce that he
has a bomb. There are no bombs on this aircraft and if someone were to
get up and make that claim, don't believe him. If someone were to stand
up, brandish something such as a plastic knife and say, 'This is a
hijacking' or words to that effect, here is what you should do: "Every
one of you should stand up and immediately throw things at that person -
pillows, books, magazines, eyeglasses, shoes - anything that will throw
him off balance and distract his attention. If he has a confederate or
two, do the same with them. Most important: get a blanket over him,
then wrestle him to the floor and keep him there. We'll land the plane
at the nearest airport and the authorities will take it from there.
"Remember, there will be one of him and maybe a few confederates, but
there are 200 of you. Now, since we're a family for the next few hours,
I'll ask you to turn to the person next to you, introduce yourself, tell
them a little about yourself and ask them to do the same." The end of
this remarkable speech, Mr. Hannaford says, brought sustained clapping
from the passengers.


Soviet forces occupied Afghanistan in 1979
to prop up a shaky Communist regime. They spent 10 years trying to wipe
out U.S.-financed moujahedeen, or holy warriors, one of whom was a young
Saudi named Osama bin Laden. The Soviet Union lost 15,000 soldiers in
the process and withdrew in disgrace. The Soviets weren't the first
defeated by Afghanistan's determined fighters and mountainous terrain.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the British fought three wars and
suffered heavy casualties trying to control the land and its people. In
1842, about 4,500 British and Indian troops and thousands of their
dependents were killed during a retreat
from Kabul. Only one survivor reached India. Veterans from the former
Soviet Union say that what would await U.S. troops sent into
Afghanistan's mountains would be unlike anything American forces have
encountered, whether in the fields of Europe in World War II, in the
jungles of Southeast Asia or the deserts of the Persian Gulf region.


The terrorists who planned and executed the September 11
attack on America may have registered as many as 20 Internet domain
names, or web addresses, that experts believe should have warned
authorities of a possible assault on the World Trade Center in New York
City. Internet domain names like '' and
'' were registered more than a year ago. It's
not known at this time who registered the suspicious names or what their
purpose was.

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