Perhaps the most dubious cliche in American history is the one intoned over and again after terrorists killed 3,000 people on American soil on September 11, 2001. That cliche claimed “America has changed forever.”
Well, forever lasted about two years, maybe three. Then American solidarity in the war against terror began to fissure, and, by the way, the president’s favorable ratings began sinking.
Now in the press the war effort is assuming the vague dimensions of monstrosities of yesteryear: Watergate, Iran-Contra, both cautionary tales from which liberals hope Americans will learn to be better people. The time has come, they tell us, to hand this war over to the experts, for instance, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who might have become president last time around if not for a treacherous cabal of Vietnam veterans who, the senator believes, lied about his heroic service.
If Mr. Kerry is not to your liking, there is also New York’s Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose service during the Vietnam War was very much like Mr. Kerry’s once he returned from Vietnam. No, America has not changed forever. Certainly American liberals have not changed.
Read the liberal press. Increasingly it reads like the press of what during the Cold War was called a “nonaligned nation.” Increasingly it appears the American press “is not taking sides” in this war, this Republican war.
Over the weekend it was reported the Bush administration has been laying plans to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. On Monday, the Washington Post reported, “The U.S. military is conducting a propaganda campaign to magnify the role of the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.” The Post knows this because its reporters laid hands on “internal military documents.” So now those documents and the controversy within the military surrounding them are known to the public, the world public. Both news stories are out there for our enemies to use.
I read the second story en route to a place called Blackwater, USA. It is a facility in North Carolina where a private company trains security personnel for the world we were all made aware of on September 11. Frankly I did not find it a happy visit.
There is not much romance in this war on terror. For a few hours, I watched special ops troops and police train in firearms, close-quarters battle, tactical driving, and other dangerous operations. There were mockups for training for urban warfare and for recapturing pirated ships and hijacked airplanes. I saw heavily armed men train to protect dignitaries from being ambushed.
The place abounded with grim soldiers and retired soldiers training for dangerous missions against gruesome foes. Blackwater is a vast, impressive privately facility profitable only because there are hundreds of thousands of brutes around the globe who want to kill civilized people. The world has changed forever even if the American press has not.
In 1942, when all Americans recognized we were at war, the press was more disciplined. Of course, President Roosevelt encouraged this discipline with such instruments as the Office of Censorship authorized under the War Powers Act. Codes of reportage were established, and news organizations submitted thousands of stories to the censors.
Some of the self-censorship appears preposterous today. On Palm Sunday of 1942, a blizzard dumped more than 2 feet of snow on the East Coast. Neither the New York Times nor any of the Washington newspapers reported the mess that blanketed their cities. You would not want the Nazis to know.
Yet now our enemies know about our propaganda in Iraq and plans for bombing Iran. During World War II, the Times science writer, William Laurence, got word of our progress on developing an atomic bomb. He was warned by the Manhattan Project’s Gen. Leslie Groves not to publish his knowledge. Legend has it Groves told Laurence he knew too much already and “I shall have to hire you or kill you.”
With the agreement of Times editors, Laurence disappeared into the Manhattan Project, reappearing on the bomber that leveled Nagasaki. Afterward he wrote a series of articles on the bomb’s development for his newspaper and won the 1946 Pulitzer Prize.
America is at war, and it is not just the Republicans’ war.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of the American Spectator, a contributing editor to the New York Sun, and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. His latest book is “Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House.”