Incite -- (v) 1: give an incentive; 2: provoke or stir up; "incite a riot"; 3: urge on; cause to act
Sunday, July 18, 2004

One Small Step: Failure to Gain Perspective
Written by: Beck

In 1969, a reporter from the Soviet Union interviewed American astronaut Pete Conrad about Neil Armstrong's recent historic moon landing. One of the things he asked about was Armstrong's famous first words after stepping foot on the moon: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." [Incidentally, Armstrong flubbed that line. That's why it doesn't seem to make sense. It should have been "...step for a man..."] You see, the reporter was curious to learn who in the government was responsible for originally writing that line.

Conrad, a good friend of Armstrong's, informed him that Armstrong had thought the line up himself. While he clearly had planned it well in advance, no government propagandist had written it for him. Moreover, American astronauts were free to say whatever the hell they wanted. The reporter simply couldn't believe it. After all, as far as 1969 Americans were concerned, Neil Armstrong was the greatest hero in the history of the world. The Soviet reporter simply assumed that the government would want (and need) to control something like that. Conrad, to prove it to him, declared right then and there that when HE landed on the moon--Conrad was slated to be on the second moon mission & would be the third man to walk on the moon--he would say something at the expense of Armstrong's original quote. And he did just that.

While the reporter recognized that there were structural differences between his own government back in the USSR and the US government, he nonetheless assumed that all governments are basically alike in certain respects. Having lived his whole life in the Soviet Union, the man presumed that government oppression is a necessary aspect of life--in other words, it's for our own good. Tough love and all that. The propaganda arm of his own government was thorough and successful enough that even an educated and intelligent person--one who had been to America and spoken at length with Americans--still couldn't imagine a world in which people were free to do and say whatever they wanted.

The Soviet Union is gone. Russians today are free to come to the United States and see for themselves how we live and to draw their own conclusions. Nonetheless, this propaganda-blinded worldview lives on, albeit in a different land. People in the middle East hate America. There are exceptions, primarily amongst Muslim intellectuals, much as there were exceptions in the Soviet Union. The propaganda takes on a softer form of tyranny as well, with open borders and access to outside news outlets.

The anti-American propaganda, however, is a religious one rather than a secular one, making it that much more insidious. An intellectual living in the USSR, cut off from outside influences, can still deduce for himself that communism is a bad thing. Religion, however, relies on faith to make its arguments. And while you can present a person with 100 irrefutable arguments as to why the American way of life is superior to, say, the Iranian, and present the evidence to back it up, religious faith can sweep away all those arguments at a gesture.

Furthermore, the propaganda is a much more difficult target to pin down. When a state-run news agency says something anti-American, the State Department can counter, exert pressure, and hold it up for international inspection and opprobrium. And some times that does happen, inasmuch as most of the dictatorships in the Middle East have state-run media outlets. The worst of the propaganda, however, comes from private fundamentalist religious institutions & organizations. Apart from the PC paranoia about offending Muslims, the State Department has a much harder time arguing with or putting pressure on such difficult targets.

During the Cold War, the Soviets were the evil empire. They were the great enemy. They were an easy target, America was largely unified in opposition to it, and the government could gradually chip away at the Soviet regime until it crumbled. It was one target, easily identified, secular, and a UN Security Council permanent member. In other words, knocking down the USSR was an easy task relative to the one faced today. And it only took a little over 70 years to accomplish.

Yet most Westerners refuse to even acknowledge that they face a new enemy. People argue that Islamofascism only represent a tiny percentage of Muslims worldwide. I don't believe that myself--after all, they do run several countries, and Wahabi mosques densely carpet Europe. Much like that Soviet reporter, these people don't even begin to conceive that their view of America is horribly stilted, wildly inaccurate, and ultimately self-destructive.

And they hate us. And the threat is greater than anything we've ever faced before. I could go into why that is at length, but Lileks has saved me the trouble.
The presidency is not the sort of job for which you volunteer unless you're willing to do everything that's necessary. If we lose a city (and what a mild, offhand term for such a horror) there isn't going to be any debate about getting UN resolutions. At least I hope not. And what do you do then? Attack Iran's nuclear facilities, hope you can flatten North Korea before they decide the game is up and it's time to go first, oh, and incidentally the new missiles can hit LA -- surprise! Do you pave Syria if they don't roll over on day two? Damned if I know. I don't have to know what to do. Not my job. But if you want the job, you have to be willing to open the tubes and order Slim Pickens to the cockpit. It's always been that way, sure -- yet these things have had an odd distant theoretical flavor predicated on an unpredictable escalation. That enemy [i.e. our old enemy the Soviet Union] would nuke us as a last resort, because that meant the end of everything - power, caviar, liquor, nice cars, good dentists, dames, those nice little cigarettes with the gold bands around the filters? The ones that burn evenly, and you can smoke a dozen in an hour without getting tongue fur? Heaven on earth.

Our present enemy will nuke us as soon as they can, because it means heaven, period.
It seems that people have completely failed to realize the magnitude of any of this. The last poll data I heard showed that less than half of Americans now support the decision to go to war with Iraq. The truth is that we are fighting for our very lives. The only Americans losing lives right now may be soldiers that Bush chose to send to Iraq, but thrice as many died on September 11. Has everyone forgotten that? The Americans dying in Iraq are just one segment of American casualties suffered thus far in the defining conflict of the 21st century. And I don't have any illusions about it being over in under 70 years.

Oh yeah, and astronaut Pete Conrad's quote upon stepping foot on the moon? "Whoopee! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me." Betcha thought I wasn't going to tell you.

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