Politics & Policy

“God Excuse Us, Every One.”

A Christmas story.

Once upon a time, I shared a huge place above the old Blue Mill Tavern on Commerce Street in Manhattan–this was back in the day when the original Blue Mill was still serving meatloaf for a few bucks (as opposed to the recently reopened Blue Mill, where, as the New York Times food critic sagely noted, “The roasted beets with goat cheese were precisely that.”). The fact that the apartment, which occupied the entire second floor, was routinely vandalized by the bachelors who lived there did nothing to diminish its value as a place that a real-estate agent would have described as “excellent for entertaining.”

And that’s exactly what we were doing one night before Christmas long, long ago. I’m trying to remember the details, kids. It seems a rich dinner had given way to the kind of schism that usually takes place at events like this. One faction–intense, adult, well-dressed–occupied the living room, where, led by the elegant and disapproving wife of a reprobate humorist, they discussed Vietnam, McGovern, and Broadway and sipped some sticky-green French drink.

The other faction set up camp in the kitchen, where the beer lived. This was a more casual crowd, psychically and tonally–a bunch of writers and ad guys and a couple of single women, including a really tough chick from Brooklyn who reached for a box of cookies with yellow smile faces on them. We played cookie puppets with them for a while until she grabbed the box and started tossing them at the rest of us. “They make me angry,” she explained. So somebody tossed a tangerine back at her. She ducked, it hit the wall, and another came sailing. The woman from Brooklyn and the guy with the snooty wife, along with a few others, quickly took up a position flanking the sink.

Almost instantly, the thing escalated to wet paper towels and napkins. The long kitchen table–the thing had to be 15 feet–was put on its side as we returned fire. This warfare continued for maybe a half hour–until the haughty wife appeared in the kitchen doorway. Her husband froze mid-delivery, squeezing the towel as water ran down his sleeve. His wife simply spoke his name–which I won’t repeat here–and he crumbled. As she turned and left, he stammered, “I…I’m sorry.” At which point he was covered with debris from across the room, as well as from those on his own side. We watched him retreat down the hall, soaking wet. He put on his overcoat and raced to join his wife for midnight carols at some local Episcopalian dive. It was, we all agreed, the most shameful display in our collective memory, and we all had more than a passing personal acquaintance with shame. Within a year, the humorist had lost his job, his wife, and his sense of humor.

The take-away is that there are two ways to understand war once you’re in it. You either fight it unapologetically or you apologize for it and get killed. I don’t mean to belittle the attack in Iraq this week with my own story of petty yuletide violence, but when the enemy takes out 22 people–including 19 Americans–during a lunch hour in Mosul, one of the last things anyone should lose sleep over are the anxieties of the ACLU, as reported energetically in the Guardian:

FBI agents repeatedly complained about the torture of detainees at Guantánamo Bay and Iraq and believed their eyewitness accounts of beatings, strangulation and other abuse were subject to a cover-up, official memos show.

Even after heavy censorship, the memos, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union, contain graphic details of abuse in which military and government interrogators put lit cigarettes in detainees’ ears, spat on them, knocked them unconscious, or resorted to deliberate humiliation.

In an email dated July 30, one FBI official writes: “I saw a detainee sitting on the floor of the interview room with an Israeli flag draped around him, loud music being played and a strobe light flashing.”

According to La Libre, the attack in Mosul was conducted by Ansar al-Sunna, a terror group the paper identifies as an al Qaeda affiliate. If any of the al Qaeda affiliates being held in Cuba know anything that will prevent other terrorists from blowing up our guys, there’s nothing that says that in order to get the information from them we have to treat them the way the FBI treats guys who write bad checks. According to the International Herald Tribune’s in-house excitable boy, William Pfaff, the problem is Bush himself. “A historian in the future, or a moralist, is likely to deem the Bush administration’s enthusiasm for torture the most striking aspect of its war against terrorism.” Enthusiasm for torture? Make it a moralist, Pfaff, because it won’t be an historian. Bill Pfaff, your future is today.

Of course, Pfaff is wrong. Spitting on anyone is not to be encouraged, but it is not torture. Because of the constant hysteria of the press in Iraq (and in Paris, where the IHT is published), the most striking aspect of the war against terrorism is likely to be the increasing caution used in waging–and losing–it. In terms of death and destruction, the Iraqi conflict is a very modest one compared to most wars fought at most times by most armies, yet its outcome is even more critical to the safety of the nation than World War II. According to the BBC, Britain’s Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Michael Walker has “blamed media coverage on the Black Watch redeployment for attacks which claimed several soldiers’ lives.” The murderous role of the media is even more true for American GIs. Yet it’s all based on a modern conceit that journalists do a better job now than before–something most polls show the public disputes. Most of us realize that if the press covered the conflict in Iraq with the same care and circumspection used a half-century ago in the European and Pacific theatres, the egos of some journos might come home wounded, but a lot of American lives would be saved and the conflict would be shortened.

Instead, the press stands in the doorway telling Donald Rumsfeld to apologize. The contextualization by the media of Iraq as a kind of Vietnam with dunes has finally resulted in the popularization of defeat: Reports the Daily Telegraph, a Washington Post/ABC poll shows “a clear majority of Americans believe the war in Iraq is a mistake.” We’re becoming French.

That’s the kind of lunchtime reading that can kill a guy’s morale in Mosul. As we politely say, “We’re sorry” to the ACLU, the Guardian, the U.N., and the rest of the world for Gitmo, the Ansar al-Sunna will lob another bomb or two at the mess tent, making Iraq safe for their future–and a growing cancer on ours.

ITEMS

Liberation Day in Paris. It took the terrorists in Iraq four months to realize that taking two French journalists as hostages wouldn’t put headscarves on the noggins of French schoolgirls. The pair were released on short notice this week after their captors said that they had “received proof that they were not spying for the American forces.” Presumably, a French passport wasn’t proof enough. As Le Monde reports, their welcome home will be a major celebration. The French government was supposedly caught off guard by the release…

Starting early. John Vinocur, writing in the International Herald Tribune, observes that Germany is picking and choosing the demands it will make on the U.S. when George W. Bush makes what will almost certainly be a foolhardy pilgrimage to Europe in February. “As consensus views go,” Vinocur says, “there is a fairly wide one in Europe that a ‘non-U.S.A.’ identity for Europe is firm if deniable French policy. This notion casts French and German resistance to the Iraq war as the basis of a genesis legend for a future Europe’s arm’s-length relationship with the United States.”

Where’s Oliver Stone? Rwanda, once the scene of a genocide, is now the location for a movie about a genocide, reports the IHT. The film is Hotel Rwanda, a Nick Nolte vehicle from MGM-UA. This is Hollywood, so the villain in the piece is the U.S., with a little supporting nefariousness from Belgium. The dark side of this terrible story, of course, likely will not be told, since it involves the French, who trained and armed the killers, supported them during the bloodbath, and covered up for them afterward.

To everything, churn, churn, churn. In the tiny world of French newspapers, Edouard de Rothschild, of the famous banking family, is buying a huge chunk of the left-wing daily Libération, the paper reports. The IHT reports that at Le Monde, Edwy Plenel, whose management style made Howell Raines look like Mr. Rogers, has abruptly resigned to take up a completely new line of work, something he called “the simple joys of journalism and writing.”

Best EuroBlogs 2004. Journalism in PJs is a global phenomenon. This is fortunate for those who wish to know what’s really going on in Europe, where the press ranges from French to non-French and is pretty bad in between. Consequently, the blogs in Europe and the U.K. play an even more important role in providing balance to the media than they do here. I didn’t take a poll or anything, but here’s a list (in no particular order) of the five European blogs I enjoy most often:

Eursoc: Last year when I conducted this little survey, Eursoc.com was a promising site. Now, with added content and good media coverage, it’s an essential site with a smart take on the EU, especially: “France is the only nation in the EU which insists on warning Turkey that its accession will be a gift from its people–and one which may not be delivered at that….”

Talking Hoarsely: Blogger Ed Thomas not only surveys other blogs, thus making my life easier, he also bashes the repugnant BBC, thus making my life happier. In his free time, he dispenses refreshing clarity on things like the wacky world of Donald Rumsfeld: “It’s emotionalised tripe really, about whether condolences were personally signed or not….” Emotionalised tripe! Yum.

Davids Medienkritik: Like Eusoc, this blog–largely the work of “David and Ray” (what is it about blogs that inspires anonymity?)–has grown substantially over the past year. I used to enjoy it for its quirkiness. Now it’s both quirky and authoritative. That’s progress.

Fainting in Coyles routinely comes up with odd documents, clever excerpts, and insightful links. On offer at the moment: An analysis of something called “The European External Action Service…Eurospeak for the European foreign and security institution in creation.”

Melanie Phillips’s Diary is crankier-than-thou and always happy to be outraged enough to make me feel chirpy. Current example: “The Rape of British Values”–a take on “the proposed law against incitement to religious hatred”–concludes with this bracing graph: “This is decadence–a culture dying on its knees before the spectres of violence and intimidation, in a vain attempt to appease the forces that now threaten to destroy it.”

Barcepundit is the work of the pseudonymous “Franco Aléman” who covers Spanish (and European) politics with insight and good humor. His reporting–in English, no less–on the testimony before Spain’s March 11 commission was invaluable.

Okay, that’s six. I couldn’t decide, even though some of these were on my list last year, I think. So six is the new five or something. It could have been the new 20, since from the incredibly cheerful (and extremely Italian) I Love America to the thoughtful and comprehensive Belmont Club to all those angry, cockamamie left-wing loons at ak13, this has been a terrific year for Euroblogs. It’s a holiday and there’s nothing all that great on TV, so grab a mouse and click. They’re all worth a regular stop-by.

Saving on postage: Finally, allow me to wish all of you who celebrate the Nativity on that new-fangled Gregorian calendar a peaceful and merry Christmas. (For those of us who are Orthodox and on the Julian calendar, our day will come.) Happy New Year, too.

Denis BoylesDennis Boyles is a writer, editor, former university lecturer, and the author/editor of several books of poetry, travel, history, criticism, and practical advice, including Superior, Nebraska (2008), Design Poetics (1975), ...

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