I was struck by a couple of seemingly unrelated news and commentary pieces lately that converged to bring my attention to the concept of “closure”. One item was on the conviction of Bobby Frank Cherry in the 1963 bombing that killed four young Birmingham girls. Another was the report that there are about twenty thousand body parts of 9-11 victims being stored pending identification in refrigeration units on the Staten Island land fill site. And in an op/ed piece, Diane McWhorter sees parallels between the Cherry crime and the terrorist attack on the U. S. last September, in the sense that both acts were considered “unthinkable” at the time. Both news items and the related commentary are manifestations of our postmodern hunger for closure, as though we can close and seal the book on racism and evil, here or anywhere. The world is littered with the graves, marked and unmarked, of those who died as a result of the “unthinkable”. To expect closure is a construct of the postmodern mind that has been cleared of the mystery of life and seeks a rational conclusion to, and psychological compensation for, every terrible event. We are periodically reminded that evil is real, it exists to some degree in every human heart, that the battle with it is never over, and that there is no closure in this world, only in the next one.
As a follow up to my April report on the Texas Association of Business health care survey, I pass along the following, particularly for the benefit of those readers who took issue with my comments about the now outmoded and pernicious tradition of tying health care insurance to employment. Forbes magazine notes that government now pays 45% of our health care bills and that it is fast approaching 50%! Socialized medicine? We’re close, even without Hillarycare. And, as usual, Milton Friedman offers some pithy insight, as from his recent remarks at a White House luncheon in his honor, which I quote: “Those who spend their own money on themselves are careful about how much they spend and what it buys. Those who spend someone else’s money on themselves don’t care what they spend but are attentive to what it buys. Those who spend their own money on someone else are careful how much they spend but careless about what it buys. Those who spend someone else’s money on someone else aren’t careful about how much or what it buys. That last case is government.”
The recent reorganization of the FBI in the wake of allegations and much evidence that it did not properly respond to serious warnings of terrorist activity last summer is long overdue, but probably not enough. I expect another round, possibly including much higher level terminations.
These preliminary steps at the FBI are but the first of many that will be necessary to transform our thinking. We need a major shift in our collective mindset and it will not be easy for Americans to absorb. For too long, we have lived with a false sense of security behind two oceans without fear of war on U. S. soil. To be sure, the Cold War was real, but psychologically, a potential nuclear conflict between two superpowers, each with much to lose in the exchange, is a much different threat than terrorism, which, in many ways, is more insidious.
Compounding the challenge is that a primary role of our domestic investigative agencies will now of necessity be prevention, not apprehension after the fact. This means a transformation to a culture that allows for pre-emptive strategies that will no doubt conflict with many of our civil liberties. The American Civil Liberties Union has already expressed dismay at some of the recent policy changes. They haven’t yet seen anything like what will be necessary to get the job done, and this conflict will almost certainly produce visitations to many of the liberals’ most cherished judicial precedents of the past forty years. Can you imagine the reaction in this country if we were subjected to a handful of suicide bombings like those in Israel? How fast do you think the prohibition of “profiling” would end? How quickly would vigilante groups be organized? How fast would airline pilots be armed?
In a recent Wall Street Journal essay, former Reagan undersecretary of defense Fred C. Ikle talks of the “political asymmetry of ends and means”, by which he means that our current enemy, like the nineteenth century anarchist, seeks not conquest and expansion of his nation-state, but complete destruction of ours.
We need a shake up (and wake up) that prepares us for a fundamentally different kind of warfare, a kind that is alien to our value systems. As Jonah Goldberg has suggested, this will also require “total war”, a type that not only defeats the enemy’s military capability, but forces a complete transformation of his society, as with Japan and Germany after World War II. Can we handle it?
The ultimate Texas shrine was injected into the political correctness wars a few days ago when an official of the Houston Independent School District announced a change in the way the siege at the Alamo will be treated in history classes, so as to make the dialogue less of an “us vs. them” confrontation and supposedly not be as offensive to the large and growing number of HISD students of Latino descent. We await the re-writing of the textbooks to see what revision of the facts will be proposed. This follows the huge annual Cinco de Mayo parade and celebration of Mexican cultural pride and a March debate between the two Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidates that was conducted entirely in Spanish (to his credit, Dan Morales protested loudly, to no avail; he lost the argument and the election).
The Alamo incident is producing a backlash, much of it, I am pleased to say, from students of Latino ancestry who said they simply want to be taught the truth and the facts. After all, the siege at the Alamo was about a lot of things—courage in the face of long odds, the human will to freedom, property rights, and America’s manifest destiny—but not about race or ethnicity. Similarly, most Hispanics I know believe that the only successful route for their children is through assimilation with American culture, beginning with a mastery of English. But the flap brings to mind reports on articles and commentary coming from the National Council for Social Studies, a large organization of teachers of history, geography, and political science, who have the responsibility for teaching civic values to our young people. If their pronouncements are to be believed, this group sees its mission to “de-exceptionalize” the United States and promote the idea of the cosmopolitan citizen without allegiance to a particular history, culture, or locality. Nothing could be further removed from the Founders’ ideal of civic education as a pre-requisite to self-governance. Is there any wonder why there is moral confusion about our role in the world?
Two recent events involving public standards of morality were instructive to me. In one, the director and cast of a Conroe, Texas production of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” resigned because of the censorship of parts of the script involving curse words and the portrayal of teenage actresses as prostitutes. The other was the Supreme Court decision ruling unconstitutional a law banning “virtual”, or computer-generated, child pornography. What is the common thread here? There are two. One is that for most of our history the Constitution has protected a community’s prerogative to establish standards of public morality. The Conroe case has not, to my knowledge, been litigated and, so far, the community’s prerogative has been sustained. In the virtual porn case, the Court is continuing its disdain for this community prerogative and the democratic process. The second point is that, until recently, the courts recognized a public interest in the moral and ethical development of youth and generally found no objection to the legislating of limitations on exposing minors to pornographic materials. In fact, no less a liberal than Justice William Brennan supported the long-standing view that the principal harm of pornography is its capacity to corrupt and deprave and that there is a government interest in preventing this moral corruption. For an enlightened and perceptive take on these issues as well as other aspects of our natural law heritage and how it has been undermined by our judiciary, I recommend The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion, and Morality, by Robert P. George.