The Moment of Truth — October 27, 2001

A Mother Defends the War

Hi, I’m mejeffdorchen and welcome to the Moment of Truth, also known as God’s favorite porn.

The first two US casualties in the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban died, not in combat, but when their helicopter crashed. Listeners to this program and readers of this column may remember that military vehicle crashes are a recurrent theme of the Moment of Truth, because they are a recurrent event in reality. Over the past three years the US military has been able to crash on average about 3 of its vehicles into each other, the ground, or civilians. Resulting fatalities, including a cable gondola full of tourists, number in the dozens. Resulting expense to the US taxpayers runs into the billions.

Are collisions what this war is all about? The Twin Towers massacre was perpetrated by crashers. There’s that joke, or is it evidence of guilt, that a man who may have been connected with the massacre is under interrogation now partly because of his reported statement that he wanted to learn how to fly a 747, but he wasn’t really interested in learning how to land one. This is only slightly less macabre than the realization that the terrorists chose to come to US flight schools to learn how to crash. To crash into and kill civilians, no less.

But I don’t bring this up to mock US transport operators as bumbling and clumsy. I do, however, think that the thematic nature of US military crashing and accidents and blundering, a theme that now carries through to the present military action, should at least evoke the inkling of the question, “What else might the US military be too stupid do right?”

Because I accept, waveringly, that it may be necessary to kill a lot of people in order to protect our homes and loved ones from being hurt by terrorists. Of course, most efficient would be to kill just the terrorists. Although the most moral solution would be to catch them all and rehabilitate them by teaching them the value of decent employment, a smart orange jumpsuit, and a clean highway median. Morally satisfying, but unlikely. Next, less moral and slightly more likely, is to kill them all without killing anyone else. That has already failed. So we now have the even less moral solution, in progress, of trying to kill guilty people while in the process killing some innocent ones and displacing millions of them. And still I could see why even an opponent of the death penalty, gazing at her vulnerable children, might say, “We have to do this. If it was just innocent me versus innocent millions of Afghans, I might even sacrifice myself. But my children I brought into this world. I don’t know where they were before that, but I’ve brought them here now, so I would feel like a rude and presumptuous host if I made the decision for them to possibly sacrifice themselves for the sake of the lives of strangers on the other side of the planet, who in any case were invited into this world by someone else and are therefore that person’s responsibility.”

I need a name for this character, because she is the only one who can convince me that the present US attack on Afghanistan has any basis in the higher brain function. For personal reasons I shall call her Mother Fatboy Two-shoes. And right now Mother Fatboy Two-shoes and I need to sit down and talk.

Mother Fatboy Two-shoes, I might ask, now that we’re in the process of attempting to protect your children by trying to kill terrorists and topple a terror-supporting government, and we accept the fact that it may be necessary to kill and displace faraway civilians to do this, how do you think it’s going? And Mother Fatboy Two-shoes answers, “Well, so far so good. We are indeed trying to kill terrorists and topple a terror-supporting government while also killing and displacing faraway civilians. And I feel more confident about my children’s safety than if we weren’t doing it.”

Now, Mother Fatboy Two-shoes, I say, you do realize that the terrorists who threaten us aren’t circumscribed by Afghanistan’s borders. “Yes,” she replies, “but we have our intelligence forces working on that. And that’s secret, so far, so I can’t really object to it. I don’t even mind having my own mail read or my phone tapped, well-known Liberal that I am, because, again, I have to think of the safety of my children, and even if I am wrongly imprisoned as a terrorist sympathizer because I once participated in a protest to try to get McDonald’s to serve falafel, and am held indefinitely without being informed of the charges against me, it would still be worth it. And I don’t really think that’s a realistic possibility, anyway.”

Did you think before September 11 that it would have been possible for terrorists to annihilate the World Trade Center in the space of a few hours?

I’m not going to describe the look on her face, because I don’t want to use that kind of cinematic manipulation on you who come to me for Truth.

So I say, And about our intelligence forces: haven’t they had trouble predicting the major international events of our lifetime? And haven’t they been known to aid terrorists themselves, who don’t accidentally kill civilians but do so on purpose? And haven’t they been known to put together insurgent forces who fund themselves by trafficking drugs? Didn’t they do that the last time they were running around in Afghanistan? And aren’t you afraid those drugs might end up in the veins or up the noses of your children?

Again, I don’t want to resort to cinema-style manipulation, so I won’t mention the eye-twitching and chin-trembling that’s going on. In any case, I decide to lay off this line of questioning, these discussions of what we might call “blowback from the maternal instinct,” because it really does get too far into the speculative future.

Mother Fatboy Two-shoes brings out tea and orange chocolate milanos from Pepperidge Farm. Our conversation meanders. We end up discussing, of all things, Islam. This is weird because at first we were talking about the war, which is on terrorism and has nothing to do with Islam. But somehow we get around to Islam.

Mother Fatboy Two-shoes says, “I think the Qu’ran is boring and repetitive and not much more than a bunch of threats. I think Islam is unnecessarily austere and joyless. I think Islam and Catholicism are the two stupidest and most offensive religions I’ve ever come in contact with. So, I imagine that a fanatical murderous Muslim would be really annoying, even if he didn’t kill you.”

I have to agree, I say to her, but why do you bring it up? We were talking about the war, which has nothing to do with Islam.

“Well,” she says, “why did you bring up the CIA and drug smuggling?”

I don’t know, I reply.

We sit, the only sound the soft crunch of Pepperidge Farm milanos being eaten in autumnal reverie. Suddenly, the silence is broken by the scream of one of the children. In runs little Pippin, the middle child. He has poked out his eye with a small American flag.

More insights on the American family, its hopes, dreams, fears, fantasies and moral decisions, will unfold here in the coming weeks. Until next time, I’m mejeffdorchen and this has been the Moment of Truth.