Regardless of the client or consultants I worked with I found that people are the same. From Californians to Puerto Ricans to Virginians. From school district executives to telephone company employees to directors of large financial corporations. People are the same. They wrap themselves in the same blanket of willful ignorance and wallow in the same trivial distractions. In Suburban Middle America, the September 10 mindset reigns.
One particular episode is iconic for me in this regard. During the early days of the invasion of Iraq I took the red-eye from San Diego every Thursday. I would get to the airport a little early, saddle up to the one bar and order a tall Bass. Like most airport bars this one had several TV sets behind and above the bar. It was March. I had been captivated by the invasion since it started. My productivity had plummeted. I couldn’t stand to be away from the news to take a whiz. I remember being particularly gripped by the CNN footage from atop a tank; the TankCam so to speak, beaming back stunning, live images of the Iraqi dessert.
So here I was in a bar in the San Diego airport, drinking a beer and watching live images from atop a moving tank racing through the desert as our military invaded another country. (I’m still stunned by that.) I looked around the bar for someone to share my abject amazement with. I found no one. The bar was full but everyone else was watching college basketball on the other three TVs. No one bothered to watch the TankCam. To a person the crowd preferred college basketball to live images from a moving tank in a war zone. (I’m still stunned by that.) That single moment has stretched out now for nearly three years.
Most people are willfully ignorant of what is happening. The rest are only vaguely informed. They find the details confusing and obscure:
- Hizbullah is a Shi’a terror group/political party in Lebanon but Hamas is a Sunni terror group/political party in the Palestinian territories.
- Syria is a Sunni Arab country run by Alawites, considered heretics by the Sunnis, and supported by Iranians who are Persians and Shi’as. The Iranians harbor Al Qaeda figures who are Sunni Arabs but who are killing Shi’as in Iraq who are Arabs and not Persians.
- The centrifuge plant in Natanz, based on Pakistani designs, enriches uranium to make fuel for nuclear warheads to put on missiles supplied by North Korea that may reach Vienna, the headquarters for the IAEA charged with monitoring the treaty that North Korea dropped out of and Pakistan never signed.
- Most Jordanians are Palestinian but Jordan is not Palestine, although it used to control the West Bank where most “Palestinians” live, except those who are in Jordan where they are bombed by Al Qaeda which supports the “Palestinian cause”.
Most Americans, including smart people I work with, including my own family, don’t have any idea what the cartoon riots were about. There are many reasons for that. For one thing they didn’t see the cartoons. But just as importantly, they don’t understand the situation of Muslims in Europe. Americans, in their naivety, imagine Europe like something out of a 1950s movie or a tourist brochure. Most have no clue about the seething jihadists and the radical imams, or the demographic implosion of native Europeans. When I mention to people that 10% of France is Muslim they are stunned, unable to process such a fact.
Like the crowd in the airport bar, Americans have turned their eyes from world events and anesthetized themselves with sports and celebrities and political nonsense. Cheney’s hunting accident received far more detailed coverage than the Iranian nuclear program. Jessica Simpson’s divorce is on the cover of a dozen magazines a week and on a dozen more tabloid shows but you have to be dedicated to search out a single scrap of information on Iran’s missile capacity. This may shock foreigners but it’s true. Pitiful for a superpower, but true none the less.
Average Americans, for example my own beloved mother, know more about the ins and outs of the Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie relationship than about Ahmadinejad’s mad plans.
Not that Americans are stupid. We just have short attention spans and are a bit self-centered. Mostly, to use a very 9/11 phrase, we fail to imagine. Even those who pay some attention don’t connect the Cartoon Jihad to the Iranian nuke program to the French-Muslim riots to the London bombings to the van Gogh assassination. People are aware of each individual event but simply do not imagine that something connects them. They do not allow themselves to think such thoughts. Part of this is that Americans are basically good hearted people who don’t spend their time dwelling on tragic events.
We are a land of optimists. This is normally a very good trait. But we do not live in optimistic times. We simply do not think that people who build nukes and say they want to kill Jews really mean it.
We are living, quite unaware, in the Pre-War Years. For some of us this is a time of anxiety, nervously awaiting the end of an era. But for most, it is an unappreciated Golden Age. We will look back on it with nostalgia.
That’s how it was in my beige, anonymous suburb in early 2006, in the years Before The War. People drove to work, cheered at their kids’ soccer games, mowed their lawns, and went about their business, assuming that the future would be like the past.
I imagine this is very much like life was in Paris or London in 1912. Everyone was vaguely aware that war with Germany was inevitable, but only in an abstract academic sense. No one, not those paying the closest attention to events, not the most far-sighted artists and thinkers and strategic planners, no one ever imagined what the future held for them.
In the spring of 1912 Parisians filled the cafes and gossiped about which minor aristocrat attended the opening of which opera. The women talked of the season’s fashion. In British pubs men discussed cricket or the latest political maneuvers of Labor. The spirit of the late Queen Victoria still suffused life in Europe. Her blood relatives were scattered around European capitals. The Kaiser was her grandson; her granddaughter the wife of the Czar. European life continued as it had for generations.
Six years later 10 million people were dead. Whole villages in England and Wales lost every grown man under thirty. A wasteland of utter devastation stretched from the English Channel through France all the way to Italy. Three centuries-old empires were gone. Revolution seized Russia. The Sultan had been deposed and the caliphate abolished. The Kaiser had abdicated and fled into exile. The czar, his wife and children were prisoners of the Bolsheviks, waiting to be murdered. A generation destroyed in a military meat grinder. A way of life blasted out of existence.
Afterward, no one cared about the aristocracy or opera stars. People were amazed that they ever did.