January 14, 2003
Loose lips sink ships, said a
ubiquitous World War II slogan. It meant that Americans should be guarded
in their speech, lest the ubiquitous Enemy overhear some conversational
nugget that would enable him to kill Americas fighting men.
In wartime the Enemy is inflated
to satanic proportions. He is everywhere, he is an evil genius, he has
limitless goals, he seeks world conquest, he wants to extinguish our
freedoms (and everyone elses). And of course he is quite capable of
achieving all this. It must be flattering to have such preternatural powers
ascribed to you.
It follows that our own leaders
are wise, courageous, heroic men, fighting for the principles of freedom.
They possess knowledge we dont have, and we must obey them
without question, for they know what they are doing. We are in no position
to criticize them; besides, it would be unpatriotic to do so, since it would
weaken morale and help the Enemy. In order to help our leaders protect us
and our freedoms, we must put the government above ourselves, even when
it abridges the freedoms it is trying to save.
Writing in the New York
Post, Frederick U. Dicker, who holds a masters degree in
American history, assails Martin Scorseses new film, Gangs
of New York, for its anti-American view of New
York City during the Lincoln administration. He says the movie
demeans Lincolns efforts to save the nation, mocks the
Union Army, sneers at volunteer soldiers, derides native-born New
Yorkers, pours scorn on firefighters and police officers, and fails to find a
single person of quality among all New York Citys leaders, circa
Worse yet, and somehow related
to all this, is the fact that Scorsese has recently denounced, on BBC radio,
President Bushs plan to make war on Iraq. He says the real purpose
of the war is the oil.
Scorsese, as both film director and Hollywood celebrity, is, in
Dickers view, anti-American. He has joined the
As Dicker sees it,
America today is the nation that is leading the fight against world
terrorism, rooting out the vicious cells that would destroy our freedoms,
paying back the butchers of 9/11, and taking on the outlaw nations who
invade their neighbors, gas their citizens, and would, if they could,
enslave the world.
Whose view of the world is more
simple-minded: Scorseses or Dickers?
Just how can vicious
cells of terrorists possibly destroy our freedoms?
Since 9/11 we have seen new restrictions on our freedoms; but they have
been imposed not by the terrorists, but by our own leaders.
Terrorists can disrupt; they cant conquer. Their very choice of
terrorism as a method shows that they have neither the ambition nor the
means to rule us. If they have a coherent purpose, it may be to drive us out
of their world.
By outlaw nations
who would, if they could, enslave the world, Dicker
presumably means Iraq. But Iraq is in no condition to invade even its
feeblest neighbors. Its army is reportedly a mere shell of its former self,
when it had no more than regional aims of conquest. Its battered economy
is often compared to that of South Carolina.
To say that Iraq aspires to
enslave the world is a bit like saying that Jack the Ripper
wanted to be king of England. This is not to defend Jack the Ripper; it is to
define him. Scotland Yard ruled out political motives pretty early in the
case. Bad people are always bad in specific ways. Even Stalin seemed
sincerely fond of children.
Dickers piece illustrates
the way war can unhinge otherwise sensible people. He has always been a
perfectly good reporter on state politics in New York, but now he has gone
cosmic, with embarrassing results.
In wartime, the loosest lips are
those of people trying to be patriotic. Nothing is sillier than old wartime
propaganda, as any number of World War II films will attest. In fact those
films were still being produced long after the war ended, the silliest
being The Boys from Brazil, wherein the world is threatened
by bratty little boys cloned from Hitler. The Enemy had finally become a
sci-fi monster. Personally, I thought he might have been stopped early by
some preemptive spanking.