It was a ceremony to mark the official end of the American military occupation of Iraq. But Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (left) sounded more like the United States was moving in to stay when he spoke Wednesday in what the New York Times described as a heavily fortified courtyard at Baghdad Airport with helicopters hovering above.
"At 8:46 on the morning of September 11, 2001, the United States became a nation transformed," the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9-11 Commission) said, noting the time at which the first of two planes attacking the World Trade Center struck the north tower. The "transformation" seemed real and dramatic at the time. Even before the shock wore off, the America that some accused of having been on a "holiday from history" since the end of the Cold War was suddenly aroused and united in purpose. The seemingly feckless President became both symbol and spokesman of that new resolve as he stood amid the rubble at "ground zero" at New York, bullhorn in hand, and promised that the people responsible for knocking down the Twin Towers would soon hear from all of us and feel the power of our righteous retribution. Most of the nations of the world, including many that had long been critical of the United States, poured out their sympathy and support. Even the left-wing French newspaper Le Monde published a headline proclaiming, "We Are All Americans."
While much of the nation's news for the past several weeks has been focused on the national debt, the killing of 30 U.S. and seven Afghan troops, along with an interpreter on Saturday reminded Americans of a debt to fighting forces that cannot be repaid. The shooting down of a Chinook transport helicopter by the Taliban insurgents, killing all on board, was another grim reminder that the cost of war cannot adequately be measured in trillions of dollars.
When Chalmers Johnson, a retired Asian scholar and former Naval officer during the Korean War, visited Japan in the mid-1990s, he was surprised to discover 38 U.S. bases on Okinawa alone, half a century after U.S. forces captured the island in the last great battle of World War II. If Johnson, past president and founder of the Japan Policy Research Institute at the University of San Francisco and author of numerous scholarly books on Asian affairs, had been unaware of the enormity of America’s military involvement in far-off lands, it is hardly surprising that the public at large has been even less aware. The American people, he would later observe in The Sorrows of Empire, “do not realize that a vast network of American military bases on every continent except Antarctica actually constitutes a new form of empire.”
For a few brief, shining moments, it looked like another “splendid little war,” to borrow Secretary of State John Hay’s description of the U.S. triumph over Spain in 1898. Just six weeks after American and allied coalition forces had begun “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” President George W. Bush landed on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln to announce the end of major combat operations. Above and behind the President, a banner announced triumphantly, “Mission Accomplished.”
President Barack Obama's dismissal of Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan has inspired comparisons to the drama played out nearly 60 years ago when President Harry Truman relieved Gen. Douglas MacArthur of his command of the Far East. Neither of the current actors benefits from the comparison.
A fanatic, Santayana said, is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim. It's a pretty fair description of the way Americans celebrate Saint Patrick's Day, which, as you may have noticed, includes scarcely a mention of Saint Patrick. It appears to be all about celebrating how wonderful the Irish are at drinking and singing songs, even if the beer is an unlovely shade of green and most of the singing is off key. Some of the songs are about how brutally wicked the English have been, as if to vindicate the popular definition of Irish Alzheimer's: "We forget everything but our grudges."
Or as G.K. Chesterton put it:
Oh, the weather outside is awful,
But a fire would be unlawful,
'Cause particulates fill the breeze —
Let 'em freeze, let 'em freeze, let 'em freeze!
Thank God it's Thursday. Not just any, ordinary Thursday. This Thursday is special. This is a great day in the lives of millions of Americans, though you won't find it designated a holiday on your calendar. It is not too much of a stretch to call it a holy day for those more familiar with a scorecard than a Psalter, for whom the "bread of life," is a bun holding an overpriced hot dog. Today is Opening Day of the 2011 baseball season and many will be attending what Annie Savoy has called "the Church of Baseball."
Never before or since has the mere birth of a helpless, powerless baby been so enmeshed in a network of fear and loathing, hope and happiness of a kingdom, an empire, a world. From Matthew’s Gospel, we learn of kings, or wise men, who came to Jerusalem inquiring about the newborn King of the Jews. “For we have seen his star in the east and are come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2) King Herod was not pleased, but was greatly troubled by the threat of competition. From Luke we learn that a tax imposed by Caesar was the cause of the pilgrimage to Bethlehem that fulfilled the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in the city of David.