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Jewish World Review Nov. 5, 2001/ 19 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Norah Vincent

Norah Vincent
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Consumer Reports

Whining and wailing won't win a war -- IT had to happen. As soon as the crush subsided and our little doom hiatus ceased, so did the hyperbolic truce that always follows a disaster. It was nice while it lasted, but now the pettiness is back.

"Nix the politesse," growl the groundlings. "This is war."

They say you can always tell a person's true nature by how he responds in a crisis. If the same can be said of citizenries, the verdict on us isn't good. We are "A Nation Challenged," announces the New York Times' newest section. Daily, the implied question hovers: Are we rising to that challenge? So far, the answer is a resounding no. If the recent collective shift in public opinion from panic to blame is any reliable indication, we are showing ourselves to be a weak and whiny people, too self-entitled and resourceless to face adversity or make even negligible sacrifices for the things we hold dear.

There are notable exceptions. When I say "we," I don't mean the firefighters, police officers, soldiers, aid workers and doctors who have distinguished themselves in this disaster. I don't even mean the government. I mean the public, as in John Q. I mean you and me. We've shown our true colors and in doing so, we've given credence to the Arab world's worst indictments of our lassitude.

We're not just losing the propaganda war, overseas, we're winning it for them here as well. They're resolute as weeds in defense of their pile of rubble, and we're inconstant as sand, shifting and shiftless beneath our turf, which is, given the alternatives, the last, best (and yes, deeply flawed) hope of Earth.

First there are the complaints about airport security. Bozo is irate because he couldn't take his nail clipper on the plane. Joe Dirt thinks it absurd that his cigar cutter was confiscated. Can this really be happening? In this climate you should count yourself lucky that it wasn't a body cavity search, and you should be more than happy to comply if it is. We complain about lax airport security, yet we gripe when asked to surrender a cheap grooming device.

Then there's the business of racial profiling. It isn't fair to ask Arab-looking men to get off flights when passengers or crew feel uncomfortable. But for the time being, it's a necessary and rational precaution.

As recent polls have shown, most blacks in this country--the usual victims of racial profiling--agree. It isn't being done expressly to humiliate people who share the ethnic background of our attackers. That's prejudice. It's being done to thwart similar attacks. That's Public Safety 101, and it's a relatively minor inconvenience to which all responsible Americans should happily accede. Many Arab Americans have done so already.

Finally, there's the anthrax beef. Postal workers got bubkes, goes the complaint, while other government employees got swabbed, Ciproed and evacuated on the double. And why? Because postal workers tend to be working class and black. Never mind that until the first postal worker was infected, no one suspected that you could inhale anthrax through a closed envelope. Now that we're wise, every exposed postal worker is as antibioticized as Sen. Tom Daschle's staff.

But this, it seems, is beside the contentious point. Everything is unsatisfactory to the sniveling hordes. The air war in Afghanistan is a travesty. We're just high-tech bullies terrorizing civilians and taunting them with inappropriate, unreachable, inadequate (the list seems endless) food. We haven't caught Osama bin Laden. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft is sounding useless terrorist alerts at home. And on and on.

What garbage. Thoughtful and constructive critiques of U.S. policy are indispensable, as always. Tantrums are not. We can't win this war if we're nit-picking away our own morale. Don't like the strategy? Then do something to change it. Don't carp from your armchair. Kennedy's famous epigram of personal responsibility has never been more applicable. So, wise guy, what have you done for your country lately?

JWR contributor Norah Vincent is a New York writer and co-author of The Instant Intellectual: The Quick & Easy Guide to Sounding Smart & Cultured. Comment by clicking here.

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10/12/01: Bring a child into a world like this?
10/05/01: The war on terrorism resembles war on drugs?
09/28/01: Apocalypse now
09/07/01: Swimming with sharks
08/31/01: Time to 'fess up, America. Condit is doing exactly what he was elected to do
08/20/01: An Anti-Deconstructionist's Delight
07/17/01: Individualism Trumps Identity Politics
07/13/01: Blame anybody except she who did it
07/02/01: On reparations and mental slavery
06/27/01: I left the Left behind --- and the Politics of Victimhood
06/21/01: Spoiled Americans Here; Big Bad World Out There
06/13/01: 'Gotcha!' guidelines
06/06/01: Tit for tat, David Brock is a turncoat's tale

© 2001, Norah Vincent