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Jewish World Review Sept. 26, 2001 / 9 Tishrei, 5762

Bob Greene

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"Smart money" -- or encouraging our enemies?


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- WITH all of the proclamations of love and loyalty to the United States in the last two weeks, you have to ask yourself if the people with the big money are secretly snickering at President Bush -- and at the rest of us who are taking the president seriously.

How else do you explain what has happened? The president, speaking to Congress, said: "The entire world has seen for itself the state of the union -- and it is strong."

Meanwhile, even as the nation was applauding Bush's words, the stock market plunged 1,370 points last week, the most ever -- and business executives across America raced one another to see who could be the first to institute massive layoffs of employees.

If you didn't know better -- or if you didn't hold out hope that you weren't seeing what you were seeing -- you would think that the people who control the big money in the U.S. were playing the rest of America for suckers. Go out and spend, America was being told by its elected leaders -- put your faith in the stability of the country, and go about your daily business.

And at the same time, the smart-money men and women were taking whatever profits they could from the stock market, selling off their holdings -- and were getting rid of the people they employed.

There is something deeply sad -- and dangerous -- about this. On the Monday when the stock market reopened for the first time since the terrorist attack, I suggested in the column that if everyone would go out and invest just a little -- say $100 -- in the market, then the nation would send a strong signal to the world that murderers could not knock us off our feet.

I suppose I was stupid. While I was advocating that, the men and women who control American business and finance were scurrying from the market like rats. I received many calls and letters from regular citizens around the country who had read the column, and who wanted to buy a little stock, as a gesture of support for America -- but who didn't know how. They had never been a part of the stock market, and they were asking how to purchase a few shares of something.

Those are the people whom the big money managers are treating like fools -- in essence, laughing at. You might think -- especially because the terrorist attack was on the part of Manhattan that is the financial capital of the U.S. -- things might change, just this once. That quick profit-taking would take a back seat to hope and belief in what is good for the country.

But it didn't happen. And every time a big national company lays off 10,000 or 20,000 people, those are 10,000 or 20,000 people who won't be able to get the economy, and the nation, off the mat. Talk about giving aid and comfort to the enemy -- the people who attacked America and murdered airline passengers, office workers, police officers and firefighters couldn't have dreamed that we would help their cause out quite this enthusiastically.

There is more than one kind of national security. There is the kind that involves soldiers and weapons. But there is also the kind of security that comes from knowing that people will pull together and sacrifice for what is good for the country, when the stakes are high enough. Putting a flag in your window, or singing a patriotic anthem is easy. Being willing to sacrifice quick financial results…well, apparently that is more difficult.

Arthur Miller, in his 1947 play "All My Sons," wrote about a businessman in World War II who, for the profitability of his company, took shortcuts in manufacturing aircraft equipment that resulted in the deaths of American servicemen. The businessman was not depicted as totally without redeeming qualities -- just as an American who, during a time of war, made the choice to conduct business as usual.

The man finally realizes, toward the end of the play, that the servicemen who died were not just abstractions, but young men who should have been able to depend on him as if they were members of his family. He knows, in the end, how he has betrayed them: "They were all my sons."

Something to keep in mind now -- as the stock market goes through its second full week since the attack, and as business executives meet in boardrooms to decide how many more loyal employees to lay off.



JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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