- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 7, 2003

Here’s a news item from the too-lame-to-be-true category. But it is. It seems Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev have collaborated on a retelling of Sergei Prokofiev’s beloved children’s classic, “Peter and the Wolf.”

In the original, you’ll recall, Peter and his friend the duck are out frolicking in the meadow when the slavering wolf shows up and embarks on his reign of terror. He gulps down the duck as his hors d’oeuvre, and has the cat lined up to follow. But fortunately, Peter gets hold of a rope and uses it as a noose with which to muzzle the wolf and take him into captivity.

In the Clinton version, you won’t be surprised to hear, Peter realizes the error of his lupophobia and releases the wolf back into the wild. The wolf howls a friendly goodbye. Which is jolly sporting of him when you consider that it’s all our fault in the first place. “Forgetting his triumph, Peter thought instead of fallen trees, parched meadows, choked streams, and of each and every wolf struggling for survival,” narrates our Bill, addressing the root causes and feeling the wolf’s pain. “The time has come to leave wolves in peace.”

No word on the fate of the duck. Is she left in peace? Or in pieces?

And so the 42nd president brings us full circle, back to where we came in, two years ago. On the Eastern Seaboard, the weeks leading up to September 11, 2001, were the summer of shark attacks. Jessie Arbogast, an 8-year-old lad from Pensacola, Fla., had his arm ripped off, but his quick-witted uncle wrestled the predator back to shore, killed him, and retrieved the chewed-up limb from his jaws.

In a thoughtful editorial, the New York Times came down on the side of the shark: “Many people now understand that an incident like the Arbogast attack is not the result of malevolence or a taste for human blood on the shark’s part,” explained the Times. “What it should really do is remind us yet again how much we have to learn about them and their waters.”

In other words, we need to work harder to understand “why they hate us.” Just blundering into their waters in ever more culturally insensitive bathing suits will only provoke the vast majority of nonviolent members of the shark community to hate us even more.

Two years after “the day America changed forever,” the culture is enthralled to the same dopey self-delusion it held on Sept. 10, 2001: There are no enemies, just friends we haven’t yet apologized to. The terrorist won’t be a problem if, like young Jessie with the shark, we just give him a helping hand. Or, as the novelist Alice Walker proposed for Osama bin Laden, “I firmly believe the only punishment that works is love.”

That’s why America’s TV networks have decided to sit out this week’s anniversary. On the day itself, it was all too chaotic and unprecedented for the news guys to impose any one of their limited range of templates. For the first anniversary, they were back on top of things and opted to Princess Dianafy the occasion, to make it a day of ersatz grief-mongering, with plenty of tinkly piano on the soundtrack and soft-focus features about “healing circles.”

That didn’t go down too well, so this year they have figured it is easiest just to ignore it. The alternative would be to treat September 11 as what it was — an act of war — and they don’t have the stomach for that. War presupposes enemies, and enemies means people you have to kill, or at least stop, or at the very least be ever so teensy-weensily judgmental about. And, in an age when presidents rewrite “Peter and the Wolf” to end with Peter apologizing to the wolf, why should the network sob-sisters be any tougher?

Back in the ‘90s. Bill Clinton didn’t exactly apologize to the wolf, but he turned a blind eye as the poor misunderstood fellow pounced on more and more denizens of the barnyard, whether at American quarters in Saudi Arabia, or American Embassies in Africa, or even American buildings in Manhattan, when the World Trade Center was hit first time round.

In Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” the children learn to identify each musical instrument as a different animal. But no matter how loud Osama bin Laden blew his horn he couldn’t get the administration’s attention. According to Richard Miniter’s new book, after 17 sailors were killed on the USS Cole, Defense Secretary Bill Cohen said the attack “was not sufficiently provocative” to warrant a response. You will have to do better than that, Osama.

So he did.

You can object that America’s enemies in this war are not animals, though the suicide bomber seems to me not fully human, either. But nor are wild animals merely the creatures of their appetites. They’re also astute calculators of risk.

Aside from the boom in Islamic terrorism, the 1990s also was the worst decade ever for shark, bear, alligator and cougar attacks in North America. One can note there are more of these creatures than ever before — the bear and cougar populations have exploded across the continent.

But there is also the possibility these animals have not just multiplied but evolved: they’ve lost their fear of man. Not so long ago, your average bear knew that if he happened upon a two-legged type, the chap would pull a rifle on him and he would spend eternity as a fireside rug. But these days, it is just as likely that any human being he comes across is some pantywaist Bambi Boomer enviro-sentimentalist trying to get in touch with his inner self. And, if the guy wants to get in touch with his inner self so badly, why not just rip it out of his chest for him?

North American wildlife seems to have figured that out. Why be surprised that the wilder life in the toxic Saudi-funded madrassahs did as well? Each provocation, “insufficient” to rouse Bill Cohen, confirmed Osama’s conviction that America was too soft and decadent for the fight. Two years on, the defeatist elites of our culture are still desperate to prove him right.

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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