Thursday, March 11, 2004

The Summer of 2003

Although President Johnson began the massive deployment to Vietnam in 1965, it was not until 1968 when the full domestic impact of its mismanagement hit home, embodied in the experiences of those who had already served there. By that calculus, the effect of the war against terrorism will not be culturally and politically felt until around 2006, borne on the memories of hundreds of thousands who have served, with memories of liberation and victory, in all corners of the globe. Jason Van Steenwyk, a journalist and reserve officer just home from Iraq is planning a new career as a  vagabond on the way to writing a book.  He will be trading his rifle for a guitar and military transportation for decent set of wheels before hitting the road to set down his experiences, maybe between gigs. He will be cool in way that Greenpeace volunteers or campaigners of Howard Dean can never be. Steenwyk describes his plans:

I find myself torn between a desire to write EVERYTHING down for historical purposes, and a desire to move on and put the war behind me and return to civilian life. I am in the very early stages of discussing a collaboration on a book. If it comes through, it will be an all-consuming project, but I think it will be a good book--and very different from anything on the market right now. I haven't pitched it anywhere yet, though.

Every generation has its defining moments of shared experience. Once it came at Yasgur's Farm. But time moves on and for others it came in downtown Manhattan or Mosul. Captain Daniel Morgan of the 101st Airborne matter-of-factly talks about how to avoid hassles and kill Ba'athists in a fascinating article in the Army Times.

I adopted a SOP called the Button Hook, which is derived from how a unit attempts to capture or kill a sniper. A mounted patrol receives enemy machine gun fire and RPGs. The “Button Hook” calls for the immediate cordon of the suspected area by surrounding the block with its vehicles, sealing off possible enemy escape routes. The convoy commander simultaneously calls for OH-58D Kiowas to reinforce the cordon and to identify escaping personnel or suspected vehicles. If the convoy commander has the forces, he begins to clear the area from the most likely target to the least likely target. If he lacks the forces, he maintains the cordon and calls for the QRF infantry. This course of action will lead to the capture of the attackers or to some information.

Everything he says will be instantly clear and familiar to a certain of group of people, like a kind of code. There will be no need to explain QRF any more than it was necessary to define a 'roach' or 'shotgun' to an older generation. "Remember when we did the Button Hook?" If you were there, you knew. And if you weren't, you couldn't know. This effect will be magnified in the coming years. The liberals may have been correct in thinking the war on terrorism would be another Vietnam, but they got the cast of characters wrong. The right answer comes back at them from a mirror and the words, "don't trust anyone over 40".

And they've burned their bridges too. No dogs or recruiters allowed on the campus grounds. Maybe the feeling is mutual. Earlier Belmont Club posts dealt with the phenomenon of social conservatives "opting out" of what they perceive to be a society increasingly dominated by political correctness. It eerily echoes the call by counterculturists of 1960s to "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out". The admonition to try hallucinogenic drugs, invent your own religion or join a commune have been replaced by quiet exhortations to remain a virgin until marriage, home-school children or join a traditional church. And the impact is no less great. Reader PT wrote in response to Opting Out:

I will not buy French products, even though in the past I was a huge fan of Izod shirts. I have a German car, but it is the last I will ever own once my lease is up in a year. I do not watch television, nor do I subscribe to the local newspaper due to its’ clear ideological bent. ... We will fight for what we believe, but we learned after the formation of the Christian Coalition that if we are overtly vocal in our protests that we will be vilified by those who hold sway in the media. For example, I once had a girlfriend start to cry when I mentioned that I was a Christian conservative. We will fight, but it will remain as the Silent Majority. Will we ever give up on America.

One wonders how much is first choice and how much is pure rebellion. It would be entirely possible to remake Guess Who's Coming to Dinner with a Christian conservative in the role of Sidney Poitier. Peggy Noonan feels it. The times they are a-changing. If John Kerry's message sounds old, maybe it is old, like someone from the Summer of Love giving a speech in the 21st century.

And then I had it. Captain Rex Kramer in "Airplane," played by Robert Stack. At the end of the movie he's alone in the tower at the microphone, talking to an empty plane...It's tired. It's like Teddy Kennedy outtakes from 1980. Mr. Kerry sounds like an Al Gore knockoff. No, worse, he sounds like every Democratic politician of the past quarter century.

Maybe the chuckles don't cut it any more as people shy off to have families knowing they will need help to pay the pensions of a generation which left half their offspring  in the medical dumpster. Maybe rebellion is steeling yourself to clean up the weeds which were allowed to grow in all the dark corners of the world. Maybe it starts by calling things their right name. But in the meantime, there's a few books to be written and a few riffs to play.