If the Dead Could Talk

Saturday, October 30, 2004

This past summer I followed the route of the U.S. Army’s drive from Normandy into Germany in 1944–45. It is quite something to visit Aachen, Mainz, the Hürtgen forest, Bastogne, Omaha Beach, and Pointe du Hoc and then juxtapose such visits with the daily pabulum in the International Herald Tribune, CNN, and the European dailies. And after two weeks, I think most would prefer the wisdom of the noble dead to the ignorance of the shameful living.

There are more than 10,400 Americans resting in the World War II cemetery at Saint Avold in the Lorraine—more dead here than at Normandy. No sitting American president, I am told, has ever visited the graveyard. One should.

The necropolis of thousands of uniform white crosses and Stars of David leaves the visitor mute—sadly, unlike the experience of visiting many of the World War II museums in Holland and Germany. The inscriptions at American graveyards admonish the visitor to remember sacrifice, courage, and freedom; they assume somebody bad once started a war to hurt the weak, only to fail when somebody better stopped them. In contrast, the “folly” of war—to paraphrase Barbara Tuchman—is what one gleans at most World War II museums in Europe. The displays, tapes, and guides suggest that a sudden madness once descended equally on normal-thinking Europeans and Americans at places like Nijmegen and Remagen. “Stupidity,” a European visitor at Arnhem lectured me, best explains why thousands of young men killed each other for no good reason over “meaningless” bridges. Perhaps—but I suppose the answer to that also depends on whether in September 1944 you ended up on the German or on the Allied side of Arnhem.

At places like Nijmegen one now reads less about the Holocaust, the invasion of Poland, and the Nazi hijacking of German culture and much more about the need for eternal peace, along with notes about the necessity of stopping racism and oppression. Europe now really does believe that such evil disappeared spontaneously, without Willies and Joes driving to their flaming deaths in thin-skinned Sherman tanks to stop SS murderers in 70-ton Tigers. But then, in a continent where George Bush last year was said to be a greater threat to peace than Saddam Hussein, why should one be surprised that affluent Westerners feel that SS killers led by Sepp Dietrich were as much victims of war as the defenseless Belgian civilians they butchered? It was not always so: The message at the graveyards of Verdun is not just the wastage of a million men but also the courage of the outmanned and outgunned French turning back and stopping a different—and far worse—vision of Europe’s future.

In recent months Islamic terrorists—right out of Gibbon’s pages on Attila—have been caught with the heads of their victims in their refrigerators in Saudi Arabia while Britain and the United States squabble over the extradition of an Islamic fascist whose career was dedicated to convincing Muslims in the West to destroy the United States while whining that infidels were occupying the ancient caliphate. In fact, the opposite is true: Detroit contains one of the largest communities of expatriate Arabs in the world outside the Middle East. Emigrants flock to gracious hosts in Michigan to live under tolerance and freedom impossible in their own Arab countries.

In response, crazy al Qaeda videos keep airing on its official mouthpiece, al Jazeera, depicting Western interlopers squatting on “Arab lands.” Can someone please tell the Arab world that its millions are stampeding to the Christian infidel West and that very few Americans want to go to the “Holy Lands.” Saying that Western workers have no business in Saudi Arabia is like saying that a million Arabs have no business in the American Midwest.

So the genius of bin Ladenism is that it promulgates lies that make Hitler’s best perfidies seem mild. And such untruths do seem to galvanize an Arab world that is increasingly guilty of an inability to sort truth from fiction. The receptive Arab Street lives in a perpetual world of asymmetrical thinking—nursing fantasies, inventing false grievances, and above all demanding from the West what it would never offer to others. After all, the Middle East once was furious at “Baghdad Bob” (Saddam Hussein’s minister of information), Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, not because he lied daily but because his lies were proven ludicrous and then humiliating on the world stage by the U.S. military.

So for the record: More Arabs go to the West than Westerners go eastward. Most U.S. troops are leaving Saudi Arabia; billions of American dollars flow to Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. We have even given billions to that wretched Arafat kleptocracy and saved Muslims from Kuwait to Bosnia. U.S. jets, not deranged riffraff from Afghanistan, stopped Milosevic. Beware of perceived grievances that have everything to do with pride, envy, and honor and nothing to do with reality. In fact, the Arab world had no more legitimate complaint against the Western democracies than Hitler did when annexing Czechoslovakia or the Japanese did in Manchuria. Just because the Japanese whined that cutting off U.S. petroleum forced them to bomb Pearl Harbor didn’t make it true.

Those who follow bin Laden may be poor and confused; so too were many of the Hitlerjugend who murdered their way into Normandy. But, like the Hitler Youth, for the killers of the mujahideen all efforts at compromise and mutual understanding are mere parlor games of the academic. We do not need to educate the Arab world that we are better than bin Laden any more than we had to beg Arab immigrants to try out new lives in an “unknown” United States. They know what we are about. At this point the American message of religious tolerance, equality of women, democracy, and secularism is too well known—and it is no more welcome to Islamicists than the idea of tolerating Jews was to an SS Panzer division. Yet, like Hitler’s young minions, the masked men in bathrobes with machetes have not yet learned to fear the power of Western democracy that could, if it so wished—as the 10,000 resting at Saint Avold have so proved—put a stop to their cowardly murdering rather quickly and thus end the Arab tolerance of these beheading fanatics.

Meanwhile, the United Nations scolds Israel about its fence to keep out suicide murderers to the applause of the European and Arab worlds. Yet both sit mostly powerless while Arabs systematically mass murder black Africans in the Sudan. Can we at least drop the falsity? In the new global CNN media circus, an Arab must kill 1,000 innocents deliberately to warrant the condemnation that the world allots to a Jew who kills one Arab inadvertently.

Back at home, we are told that the 9/11 Commission is to be praised for its pedestrian conclusions that we cannot afford more Taliban-like rogue regimes and thus must provide a message to match our bullets. How brilliant! But while the commission members are basking in unearned praise—remember the grandstanding of Messrs. Ben-Veniste and Kerrey to the cheap applause of the gallery—would they please tell us what to do about real problems, such as an Iran that is building a bomb, has harbored many of the 9/11 terrorists, and is the natural depot of al Qaeda planners from Saudi Arabia? Preaching that we must avoid another terrorist badlands is easy; warning that we cannot any longer tolerate a fascistic Iran, well, that is another thing altogether. That raises nasty, hurtful ideas like deterrence, collective action, and, yes, that evil notion of preemption.

Worse still, the commission has helped to resurrect the fable that we are hated for what we do or don’t do to Muslims rather than who we are. But the collective brain power of the commissioners could not adduce a simple explanation as to why the French and Germans are busy rooting out plots to blow up their own citizens—despite billions of E.U. money sent to terrorist organizations like Hamas, support for Arafat, and cheap slurs leveled at America in Iraq. Why do Muslim radicals hate Europe when Europeans have no military power, no real presence abroad, give billions away to the Middle East, despise Israel, will sell anything to anyone anywhere at anytime, and have let millions of Arabs onto their shores? Are daily threats to Europeans earned because of what Europe does—or is it because of who they are?

For rare honesty in a dishonest age, I would prefer to return to the wisdom of those inscriptions on granite in our military resting places abroad than listen to the new global nonsense, which is as intellectually dishonest as it is dangerous in conveying the lie that ignorance, rather than evil, causes war—or that wars break out over craziness rather than the murderous intent of an aggressive party. I don’t think those asleep at Saint Avold would like to hear that we fought the German Nazis and Japanese fascists the “wrong way” by relying too much on the Third and Seventh Armies and too little on education, mutual understanding, and “getting the message out.”

The Belgians in places like Wiltz and Saint Vith were not complaining about Americans “exporting democracy” when Panzers were stopped from renewing their murderous work in their countryside. They did not believe that America needed quickly to join the League of Nations or that the next election in Germany would bring them a reprieve.

And the tens of thousands sleeping under their white marble crosses in Belgium, France, and Luxembourg from the Meuse-Argonne to Hamm would not agree that, had we only been more reasonable and less bellicose, we would have been more popular and liked. You see, they would not concede that millions followed Hitler because America did not offer the German people an alternative to barbarism. In fact, they didn’t much care why Germany hated America, only how to defeat it and then—but only then—to guide it on a new path away from its savage past.

Indeed, if our dead could rise out of their graves they would surely rebuke us for our present blasphemy—shaking their fingers and remonstrating that bin Laden and his followers, both active and passive, are no different from Hitler and the other evil killers of their own age, who deserve to be defeated, not reasoned with or apologized to or understood. The voices of our dead abroad murmur to us, the deaf, that a nation is liked not for being good and weak or bad and strong but only for proving both principled and resolute.

Sleep in peace, you ten thousand of Saint Avold, and let us pray that we, the smug beneficiaries of your ultimate sacrifice, may still wake up from our own slumber.