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"Mike and Jon, Jon and Mike—I've known them both for years, and, clearly, one of them is very funny. As for the other: truly one of the great hangers-on of our time."—Steve Bodow, head writer, The Daily Show

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"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming

November 15, 2004

I've Looked At Love From Both Sides Now

No, wait -- I mean, I've looked at terrorism from both sides now.

Here's one side. This is from the autobiography of Colin Powell, who just resigned. He's explaining what led to the bombing of the Marine corps barracks in Beirut in 1983:

McFarlane, now in Beirut, persuaded the President to have the battleship U.S.S. New Jersey start hurling 16-inch shells into the mountains above Beirut, in World War II style, as if we were softening up the beaches on some Pacific atoll prior to an invasion. What we tend to overlook in such situations is that other people will react much as we would... And since they could not reach the battleship, they found a more vulnerable target, the exposed Marines at the airport.

Note the two sentences in bold. True, realizing that

(1) other people are just like us, and
(2) striking from impregnable fortresses leads to retaliation on whoever's within reach

does not make Colin Powell a supergenius. But certainly in comparison to the rest of the Bush administration, he is The World's Wisest Man.

Now compare and contrast to Osama Bin Laden:

I say to you, Allah knows that it had never occurred to us to strike the towers. But after it became unbearable and we witnessed the oppression and tyranny of the American/Israeli coalition against our people in Palestine and Lebanon, it came to my mind.

The events that affected my soul in a direct way started in 1982 when America permitted the Israelis to invade Lebanon and the American Sixth Fleet helped them in that. This bombardment began and many were killed and injured and others were terrorised and displaced.

I couldn't forget those moving scenes, blood and severed limbs, women and children sprawled everywhere. Houses destroyed along with their occupants and high rises demolished over their residents, rockets raining down on our home without mercy...

And as I looked at those demolished towers in Lebanon, it entered my mind that we should punish the oppressor in kind and that we should destroy towers in America in order that they taste some of what we tasted and so that they be deterred from killing our women and children.

What I take from this is that when Colin Powell said "other people will react much as we would" he was RIGHTER THAN HE KNEW. This is complicated, so bear with me.

It's not simply, as Colin Powell meant, that other people also get mad if they're attacked. It's that, just like among us, among other people there are those who will fetishize attacks on their "side" and turn them into victimization porn that gives them license to seek vicious revenge.

Osama: "I couldn't forget those moving scenes, blood and severed limbs, women and children sprawled everywhere."

Republican National Convention: "September 11... September 11... September 11... September 11... September 11... September 11... September 11... September 11... September 11... September 11... September 11... September 11... September 11... September 11... September 11, 2001"

Also, other people will use the suffering of those on the same side who they don't care about as an excuse to do what they wanted to anyway. Osama bin Laden, as a fundamentalist Sunni, surely does not care about the Shiites who were the main victims of the US bombardment of Lebanon. In fact, he probably sees them as deadly rivals in a battle for control of the Arab world.

Likewise, George Bush has shown through his actions that he could not care less about the people of New York. But it's actually worse than that -- the Republican party sees New Yorkers and people like them as deadly rivals in the struggle for control of America.

Yet an attack on people bin Laden doesn't care about serves as a handy pretext for attacking America as a demonstration of Al Qaeda's strength. And an attack on people Bush doesn't care about serves as a handy pretext for attacking Iraq as a demonstration of Bush's strength.

And lastly... when other people can't get at our battleships they strike at easier targets. Likewise, when we couldn't get at bin Laden, we "found a more vulnerable target."

It's really too bad Bush and bin Laden can't hang out together, since they have so much in common.

Posted at November 15, 2004 02:59 PM | TrackBack

Heh. That reminds me of Rumsfeld's remark about it being preferable to attack Iraq because "there are no good targets in Afghanistan".

Posted by: Scats at November 16, 2004 12:44 AM

Brilliant post, and it isn't an anomaiy. You have the best blog I've come across in quite awhile...

Posted by: Grillo at November 16, 2004 04:29 AM

This is really one of the best blogs around, isn't it? As a childhood friend of Jon's, I would hereby like to take credit for making him the funny, incisive man he is today.

And if occasionally he is not funny or incisive, it's due to the pernicious influence of people at that college he went to.

Posted by: Ted at November 16, 2004 02:56 PM

I hope it doesn't make anyone uncomfortable when I reveal that the two comments directly above were written by me under assumed names.

I am crazier than you could ever imagine.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at November 16, 2004 10:19 PM