Jewish World Review Nov. 7, 2001/ 21 Mar-Cheshvan 5762

Wesley Pruden

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The slow creep back
to business as usual -- DESPITE the most earnest exertions of the anthrax bacillus, Osama bin Laden and other vermin, we're slowly creeping back to normal.

The grinches who dream of stealing Christmas are hard at work trying once more to scrub G-d from the nation's consciousness, the usual suspects of press and tube are nipping at George W.'s heels because he's (a) not dropping enough bombs on Afghanistan or (b) dropping too many bombs on Afghanistan, and the American Red Cross is caught again purloining nickels and dimes from the collection plates of unsuspecting Americans.

The war is already a month old and there's no sign of a surrender. Invoking the spirit of Pearl Harbor is great punditry, as if this really is a war like WW2, but there's scarce remembrance of the months after Pearl, the long slog through the summer of '42 when all the news was bad.

Edwin Kagin, a lawyer in Union, Ky., where being the town atheist is only slightly less prestigious than being the town drunk, wants to put a stop to the incessant singing of "G-d Bless America" in public places, which makes his teeth itch. "'G-d Bless America' is a backhanded slap at non-believers," he says, "with the subtle implication that if you don't think the 'G-d Bless America' part, you're not a good American."

Mortification has spread across the land with the speed of an anthrax spore. "If you think about it," says Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison, Wis., "'G-d Bless America' is a prayer. What if it said 'Allah Bless America' or 'Buddha Bless America'? Think about how distressed people would be. This is clearly a Judeo-Christian G-d."

Judeo-Christians - circumcised, born again or otherwise - are not very fashionable in this war, with our commander-in-chief constantly reminding us that hugging a Muslim twice a day is what makes grapes grow and the sun shine. Civil libertarians in Georgia are upset because so many of their neighbors are praying and going back to church.

When Scrooge and the cranks seemed about to wet their pants at the sight of a display of the Ten Commandments and the L-rd's Prayer at City Hall in Ringgold, Ga., a city councilman came up with novel medicine for their bellyaches. Councilman Bill McMillon proposed a display of the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer on either side of an empty picture frame - "for the people who believe in nothing."

In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry went to a junior high school to pray, as if daring the cops to arrest him for it. In South Carolina legislators want to change the mandatory moment of silence into "a moment of silent prayer."

It's not at all clear what such prayer would accomplish. Any prayer mandated by the state is not likely to make it through the ceiling of a schoolroom, but it demonstrates that a lot of hearts are in the right place even if it gives Scrooge and the cranks severe heartburn.

Scrooge, the cranks, the ACLU and the People for the American Way to the contrary notwithstanding, the generosity of heart of the public is, as usual, exceeded only by the generosity of purse. It's this generosity that has so overwhelmed the Red Cross that Red Cross officials relieved the burden of it all only by skimming some of the contributions meant for victims of September 11 and using it to buy computers, software upgrades, cell phones and other goodies for themselves.

This would hardly surprise a cop or reporter at an earthquake, fire or hurricane, where the Salvation Army typically arrives unannounced with coffee, sandwiches, blankets and clothes for the burned out, blown away or washed up, followed by Red Cross flacks taking photographs of themselves peddling doughnuts and handing out press releases about the doughnuts. The outrage is bigger this time because the disaster is bigger. Americans everywhere started throwing money at New York long before the dust settled at the World Trade Center and soon the Red Cross Liberty Fund had piled up more than a half billion - that's billion, not million - dollars.

There is so much loot that Bernadine Healy, the president of the American Red Cross until she was bounced out last week, tried to use some of the "spare" millions to introduce "grieving and healing outreach programs," which would have given work to a lot of on-the-scout shrinks and social workers even if not necessarily help to the people who actually need it.

When Eliot Spitzer, the attorney general of New York, proposed that all the charities collecting money for victims of September 11 share a computer database of those who need help so the help could be co-ordinated and fraud averted, the Red Cross folks squealed like the pigs some of them resemble, and relented only under public pressure. (No offense intended to the noble pig.)

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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