WORKING out last Monday, I heard a campaign flunky on TV insist that
progress in Iraq is an illusion. "The war isn't over until all of the
troops come home!" she grumped.
Guess we're still at war with
Germany. And Japan. Even Italy. Oh, and let's not forget all of our
military bases occupying the Confederacy.
The poor woman knew
nothing about warfare, history - or Iraq. She just wanted to see her
candidate win in November and wasn't going to let reality get in the
And one look told you she didn't even know any "troops."
But after my initial shrug (back to the bench for more crunches), it
struck me how wrong I'd been on a point I'd argued for two decades: I
claimed that Western societies have an advantage because of their
insistence on factual data.
Yet, since 9/11, I've seen and
heard no end of my fellow citizens' arguing from blind passion and
utterly refusing to ingest facts that didn't match their prejudices
(left or right). Since the turnabout in Iraq began a year and a half
ago, the rejection of reality has become an outright pathology for the
I've watched millions
of my countrymen and countrywomen insist that fantasies are real. In a
classic through-the-looking-glass reversal last year, Sen. Hillary
Clinton told Gen. David Petraeus, the man who turned Iraq around, that his reports of progress were fairy tales. It was the world turned upside down.
Since that woman on TV "explained" victory last Monday, I've thought
about the different kinds of people who refuse either to accept that
the situation in Iraq has improved remarkably or that quitting now
would have serious consequences.
When I break down the "fairy
tales can come true" crowd, the first division is into vendors and
consumers. Determined to elect the president of its choice, the
"mainstream" media has collapsed into outright lies and whopping
distortions. And, of course, political hacks will do anything to get
their candidate elected.
It's the consumers of fairy
tales - those desperate to believe - who are more interesting. They
come in several basic flavors, two of which we can quickly set aside:
Protesting university students.
Don't worry about them. Once they graduate and get a dose of reality,
most of the kids will do fine. The need for liberal-arts undergrads to
prance to the left is virtually hormonal.
Hollywood stars and other celebrities. No worries there, either. Just check out the box-office receipts for the dozen or so self-righteous anti-war (anti-military)
films. These folks are so far removed from reality that they believe
the roles they play give them genuine expertise. Don't get irate - just
laugh. (Coming soon: Susan Sarandon on quantum physics!)
But there's another sad bunch:
Those of us from our mid-50s into early 60s. The florid youth of
yesteryear who declared they were going to change the world, made a
mess others had to clean up - and the high point of whose lives came in
a protest march down University Boulevard, chanting, "Ho-ho-ho Chi
Minh! NLF is gonna win!"
The key to understanding the aging
activists' bitterness toward the military (disguised as concern for the
common soldier) and their obsession with the rights of terrorists is
that this cobbled-together cause gives them one last chance to rise
above their disappointing lives and to recapture, for one
Viagra-assisted moment, their glory days of raised little fists and
Reality proved bitter for this bunch. In an
infuriating turnabout, it was the nerds in the comp-science classes,
the geeks with punch cards in their shirt pockets, who changed the
world (and became billionaires). It just doesn't seem fair that the
folks with multiple degrees in Comparative Literature ended up, at
best, with tenure at an obscure college, serial divorces and a failed
book or two.
My generation's sense of entitlement is, of
course, legendary. But most of us got jobs and got on with our lives.
Only a soured minority never got over that brief moment in the sun
before the communes fell apart because someone had to do the dishes
(and pay for the penicillin).
Just as no evidence was ever going to convince them that Communists might not all be virtuous, nothing
is going to convince them that Iraq is emerging as a better place, for
its own people and for us, than it was under Saddam Hussein. They need to believe that our country, having failed to recognize their innate greatness, is wrong.
I'd pity them, if the stakes weren't so high.
If aging activists really want to change the world for the better,
facing reality would be a great first step. Magic beanstalks don't
really grow into the clouds. That's still a minivan, pal, before and after midnight. Little Red Riding Hood doesn't always make it safely home to the Upper West Side.
And the United States isn't always evil.
Ralph Peters' new book, "Looking for Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World," will be published on July 4.