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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Thursday, 14 July 2005

Topic: World View

Common Decency is so Overrated

Tom Watson, over at The Huffington Post, as James Wolcott notes, discusses the difference between how the folks in Britain mourned our losses on September 11th and how the leader of the free world breezed out of the summit after their losses over there last week. He titles it Bush's Flight From Terror: God Save the Queen -
On the morning of September 13th, 2001, the officer in charge of the Coldstream Guards Band and 1st Battalion Scots Guards received a call from Buckingham Palace. Banish tradition. The music accompanying that day's tourist-swathed ceremony at the changing would be different. That day, the band played The Star-Spangled Banner. The Brits were with us.

Four years later, still firmly at the side of the United States in general, and this administration specifically, the British felt the domestic blow of what most Americans and Britons agree is a common enemy - even if we disagree on the prosecution of the struggle against that enemy.

Our President, George W. Bush, was actually in the United Kingdom when terror struck London. He was in Scotland, a two-hour flight from Heathrow. Understandably, he and the other leaders completed the G8 summit, unbowed by the carnage in the London transit system.

And then our President came home.

And in doing so, he knowingly cast a gob of bitter spittle in the face of our constant ally, and disgraced the United States of America.

Why didn't President Bush visit London? Why didn't he walk the streets, take a few questions from the press, show the power of his office to Londoners? Stand at the side of Tony Blair and Ken Livingstone?
Wolcott's answer?
Because, to repeat myself, he just couldn't be bothered.

But it is unfair to single out Bush. The Bush/Rush/Fox News/Ann Coulter/National Review mindless blare of American exceptionalism and entitlement has helped enlist millions of Americans into the ranks of selfish bastards. "We are all Britons" blogtalk is cheap, like wearing another one of those goddam colored wristbands to signal that you nominally support a cause (sympathy as kitsch). Yet again the American eagle has exposed its chicken feathers and rubber beak in the face of adversity.
And Wolcott points to Simeon Jenkins writing at the same site from London -
Can anyone on your side help? Five days after we had four bombs explode on the London Tube and with everyone saying, stay calm and stay normal, US Air Force officials ordered personnel in Britain to avoid London, whether or not in uniform and including their families. The order has since been rescinded, but the damage is done.

London must be one of the safest cities on Earth. The only conceivable purchase the terrorists can get is by sowing fear, a fear which is statistically irrational - Americans are more at risk on the roads round their bases than in the capital. Yet Washington handed Al-Qaeda a free publicity coup on a plate. It incidentally had every front page and every pub bar ranting about cowardly Americans, jeering at the US Marines 'We are not afraid' website, which adds 'We stand with our British brothers and sisters.'
Well if you haven't been following that see this from CNN or this from the BBC. I think the idea was that London was now a bombed-out ruin of a city, just a shell of what it one was, and full of mad bombers who would kill Americans with roadside bombs at the drop of a hat. It seems we got it confused with Baghdad, Mosul or Fallujah. Oops. Well, we lifted the ban. But the ban didn't go unnoticed - Thursday night Google shows 230 news stories about it from around the world.

Wolcott comments -
We are quite willing to stand by our British brothers and sisters, as long as we can stand a good safe distance and still do our shopping.

To me, the greatest insult to the British and their losses was delivered today, all the more insulting because it was thoughtless and unintentional.

I was watching the news of the two minutes of silence held for the victims of the London bombings, a silent vigil held not just in London but across Europe.
Britain's Queen Elizabeth stood in silence at Buckingham Palace. In London's Trafalgar Square, a giant banner declared 'One City, One World.'

Taxis and buses pulled over, workers left their offices to stand in the street and financial markets paused to remember the dead.

In Italy, government offices, railway stations and airports paused while television stations cut into normal broadcasting to honour the London dead.

In Paris, President Jacques Chirac's annual Bastille Day television address was put back so the French could mark the moment. Chirac stood silent on the steps of the Elysee Palace.
Has the United States or even simply Washington, DC held a silent moment for the victims of the London bombings? Has any national gesture of solidarity been proposed?

If so, I haven't seen or heard of it. We're just going about our business while insisting that the world perpetually acknowledge our scars and trauma from September 11th as our justification to wage whatever aggressive action we deem necessary to ensure it never happens again.

For months, we've been hearing and reading that Brits no longer discriminate between average Americans and the policies of our government - that the reelection of Bush has made them hold us in something of the same contempt they hold him. Well, they have good reason, and we keep furnishing them with better reasons all the time.
Yeah, well, we're special. They're not.

No good will come of this.

It used to be Americans abroad were seen as bumbling loud fools, kind of eternal children and a bit embarrassing - but everyone knew, really, all that could be forgiven as we were, at bottom, absurdly generous and always willing to help, and were the kind of folks you could count on. We came late to the two big World Wars, but we came, and did our best. We got things done. At bottom people recognized a common decency.

Now? Now we do torture-lite and we're proud of it. And we laugh at treaties. And sneer at such things as any international court. Bolton will, eventually, go to the UN to slap those folks around. And so on and so forth.

The ridiculously empathetic Clinton has been replaced by the we-look-out-for-only-us Bush. In London, every front page and every pub bar ranting about cowardly Americans, jeering at the US Marines 'We are not afraid' website? Great.

Well, we elected the man. He got more votes than the other guy, really, because of his attitude. We liked the swagger. It represented how we wanted to feel.

And if we want to walk away from the community of man? Fine. Screw 'em.

And we'll live with the consequences. Of course we will.

Posted by Alan at 20:12 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 14 July 2005 20:14 PDT home

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