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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

Thought Experiment

(Reprinted from the issue of April 19, 2007)

Capitol Bldg, Washington Watch logo for Thought ExperimentWe are constantly warned about the great menaces that now threaten us: terrorism, global warming, illegal immigration, and overpopulation. Led by the news media, we all automatically look to government to save us. What would St. Paul have to say about this?

To him, as to our Lord, the urgent and imminent danger is damnation. And time is running out.

This is not a peril the government takes any cognizance of. It not only tolerates but actively promotes moral and spiritual evils. What was once Christendom — Europe and all the Americas — has fallen into a worse condition than Africa, where, for all the afflictions and miseries people endure, the word of God is still taken seriously.

God wants to save us much more than we want to be saved. This is the season to remind ourselves of that, to rejoice, and to keep a sense of proportion about the far lesser (but more highly publicized) evils we face. The Devil wants us to worry and despair.

Brave Enemies

As I listen to the news from Iraq, I’m struck by the way our news media almost reflexively adopt the perspective of our government propaganda. Our soldiers are brave and patriotic, they are defending our freedom, and they deserve our support. By implication, the opposite is true of the enemy, who are presumed to be savage terrorists.

Well, on the principle that nihil humanum a me alienum est, I have to wonder: Is there no courage or patriotism on the other side? Are these qualities possessed only by the invaders? May not our enemies at times have their own share of them, even if they sometimes commit horrors? (After all, who created, and dropped on cities, the first atomic bombs?)

These questions are prompted not by sympathy, or by my own opposition to this war, but by the simple realism that recoils from melodramatic patriotism. If we love our country, we have to assume that others love theirs too.

An inability to imagine the enemy’s point of view is a serious practical handicap in war, like the inability to anticipate your opponent’s reaction to your attack when you play chess. And it’s downright childish to suppose that, because you call him a terrorist, he sees himself that way.

To listen to President Bush, you’d think that the members of the “axis of evil,” in a diabolical parody of the “international community,” had said to each other, “Hey! Why don’t we evil guys all get together and make trouble for the good guys?”

Hostages, Bombs, et Cetera

Read Joe Sobran's columns the day he writes them!Which brings us, naturally, to the latest hostage crisis in the Middle East, where 15 British sailors were detained for several days by the government of Iran. Apparently they were in Iraqi not Iranian waters, which is all right, since as our ally, Britain is entitled to be in Iraqi territory if we don’t object, since if we broke it, we own it, and.... Do I make myself clear?

Meanwhile, the Iranians announced that they are now producing, for peaceful purposes of course, that radioactive stuff you make nuclear weapons out of (plutonium, if I’m not mistaken), which only we and our allies are supposed to have, especially in the volatile Middle East, where we are trying to maintain the peace, and.... I think you follow my train of thought.

Now It Can Be Told

Two years ago, I flew to my hometown in the Midwest and passed up the chance to make national news. Despite the heavy security measures at the airports and on the plane, a stewardess (or flight attendant, as we now say) made a shocking remark.

She was a pleasant, comely young woman, from whom one wouldn’t expect controversial comment. As she served us beverages, I said casually to her and the passenger next to me that I wasn’t crazy about Mr. Bush’s war. I can’t recall why I said this; I think I was reading, and reacting to, an article about Bush’s plunging approval ratings.

To my surprise, she muttered passionately, “I’d like to off him myself!” I let it pass, with a friendly wink to suggest I took it as a joke. But I saw that she wasn’t joking. She was really angry at Bush. So was I, even if I expressed myself more mildly.

Quite unprofessional of her, no doubt, not to say totally indiscreet. If it had gotten back to her boss, or Homeland Security, there would have been the devil to pay. It shook me up. She’d put herself at the mercy of a total stranger (she had no idea I was a journalist!).

If I’d reported her, I could see the headlines in The Washington Post and on CNN: “Flight Attendant Held for Threatening Bush.” It would have blown over quickly, just another five-minute seizure of hysteria, but it could have ruined her life.

But I’d learned a lesson or two from this incident. I learned how deep the rage at Bush had gotten, even among ordinarily apolitical people, not just liberal types; and I felt the utter absurdity of supposing that the “war on terror” was making us freer, or even preserving the freedom we used to take for granted.

Imus in the Morning — and All Day

Don Imus of MSNBC, by now the mildest and most respectable of “shock jocks,” made an unexpected sensation with a mildly vulgar joke about the predominantly black Rutgers University women’s basketball team, and two days later various outraged black activists were demanding that he be fired. Such was the furor that the normally sassy Imus was soon abasing himself all over the place, begging forgiveness of such dignitaries as Al Sharpton. As I write, the network has suspended him for a fortnight.

O world, thy slippery turns! The “Reverend” Al Sharpton! “Civil rights leader,” forsooth! Am I the only one who still remembers that he achieved his national stature by swearing by the lurid lies of Tawana Brawley, not to be confused with Rosa Parks? And that he was successfully sued for slander by the policeman she’d accused of raping her? His august reverence, the jive artist! Still riding his high horse, two decades later!

All I can say in his favor is that he has generally avoided theological controversy.

Was Imus’s poor joke as offensive as treating this clown as the representative of his race? All Sharpton really represents is the degraded and degrading (to both women and blacks) rap culture that joke echoed. Imus didn’t learn those words from the Ku Klux Klan.

Why was this “news”? I guess because it forced the cable networks to divert their attention, briefly, from the latest developments concerning Anna Nicole Smith. Such is journalism in the 21st century. Take note, ye historians.

“I’ve been a journalist for nearly 35 years now. In that span, the world hasn’t gotten any saner, and I haven’t gotten any richer.” Regime Change Begins at Home — a new selection of my Confessions of a Reactionary Utopian — will provoke thoughts and smiles. If you have not seen my monthly newsletter, SOBRANS, yet, give my office a call at 800-513-5053 and request a free sample, or better yet, subscribe for two years for just $85. New subscribers get two gifts with their subscription. More details can be found at the Subscription page of my website.

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Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2007 by The Wanderer,
the National Catholic Weekly founded in 1867
Reprinted with permission

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