The Magazine

Please Say This . . .

(Advice on the State of the Union. No charge.)

Jan 22, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 18 • By DAVID GELERNTER
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"I have spelled out good reasons for Americans to be impatient with our war in Iraq, good reasons for us to ask more of our Iraqi allies, good reasons to change our own plans. We must fight this war the best and smartest way we can. But realism is a two-way street. So now let me tell you why I am optimistic and why I know we will win; and then let me show you the big picture.

"If the fight to topple the tyrant had dragged on for years, I might be pessimistic today. If Saddam had launched poison gas at our troops and killed thousands, that would have been a disaster. If the tyrant's foul sons had escaped to rally loyalist opposition, that would have been a serious blow. If Saddam himself had escaped to haunt the world like an evil spirit--if the eminent murderer Abu Musab al Zarqawi were still alive and free--then I might be pessimistic. If the Iraqi people had failed their two largest tests, that would have been terrible--but the election worked beautifully; the trial of Saddam Hussein was managed well under difficult circumstances. If (on the other hand) an outburst of violence had marred or derailed the election, if the trial or execution of Saddam had led to the large-scale violence so many people predicted, I might be pessimistic today.

"But I am not. Many important things have gone wrong. Those that have gone right are even more important. Under the circumstances, I owe it to our troops, our allies, our Iraqi friends, and above all to the American people to be a realist and an optimist. We and the Iraqi people will win in the end.

"Of course some people argue that the war itself was a mistake; that all we can hope for today is to minimize our losses and get out fast. You know their reasons. Let me give you mine for believing that we were right to go into Iraq, righter than we ever knew.

"If we hadn't, Saddam would still be writing checks to subsidize Palestinian terror against Israel; Israel would still be shadowed by Iraqi Scuds. But maybe those are not our concerns. Breakthroughs in Lebanon and Libya would never have happened; probably we would never have traced a worldwide black market in nuclear know-how to Abdul Qadeer Khan in Pakistan. Those are American concerns. Today we might face two Irans, not one--two America-hating tyrant regimes with their weapons programs heated to max-boil. Those are American concerns. Above all, how many 9/11s did we avert by showing that we would hit back and hit hard, and stand and fight for as long as it takes? Terrorists understand bullets, not baloney. U.N. resolutions don't impress them. Did we encourage 9/11 by standing down and backing off during much of the 1990s? We'll never know for sure. But a great nation must act on its best judgment, not hang back and dither, when its safety and the world's are at stake.

"Now let me show you the big picture in Iraq. This war against terror and tyrants is a war over nothing less than life and death--a war between the champions of life and the party of death. Let me explain.

"First, there is no basic difference between a tyrant like Saddam and a terrorist like bin Laden or Zarqawi. Terrorists are would-be tyrants who hope to rule the world and destroy every trace of freedom. A tyrant is a terrorist in office. Tyrants rule by terror, and maintain their own stable of in-house terrorists called the secret police.

"Our enemies in this war seem varied but share one doctrine. Secular and Islamic fanatics, terrorist tyrants, and tyrannical terrorists all agree on death. They believe in and cultivate death; they are the party of death. And we are the party of life--and they hate us for that and hope to destroy us because of it. No war we have ever fought is more fundamental than this.

"Obviously we can't confer life; can't even protect and preserve it--not always. But we do our best. Life comes from God, and we hope to be its champions. We told the world so in 1776; life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are the things we stood for. Those words echoed John Winthrop's as he sailed to Boston in 1630. He wrote about the city on a hill he hoped this land would become. He was quoting the Bible, and finished by citing another biblical verse: 'Choose life and live, you and your children!' On those words we set to work and built this great American community.

"We claim no special credit for being the party of life. We invite every person and people in the world to join us. The less exclusive this party, the better. But as champions of life, we have awful responsibilities. We have spent American lives, the dearest thing we have, to sweep away two murderous tyrannies in Afghanistan and Iraq. Two nations once ruled by death now have the chance to choose life. We pray God they take it, and we mean to help them.

"But our enemies believe in death and say so plainly. Almost 30 years ago, Shiite fanatics gathered in Tehran to scream hatred at this nation; they weren't content with 'down with America,' they screamed 'death to America' and meant it. The secular tyrant Saddam Hussein tortured and slaughtered his enemies and their little children. His terrorist friends believe in the same doctrine, 'murder thy enemy.' The random killing of men, women, and children inspires their supporters to dance in the streets. Fanatic Muslim clerics preach murder in their holy places. And on 9/11, al Qaeda accomplished what even Hitler never did: the mass murder of American civilians.

"These proud champions of death kill innocent people all over the world, and their own people at home; they have even discovered new reasons to kill themselves. Suicide murderers are in a rush to reach heaven, which they picture as a discount whorehouse. If that's not sufficiently depraved, behold the ghoulish spectacle of a mother celebrating the death of her own (terrorist) child--a brand new hero by dint of the misery he has inflicted on other mothers and other children. Theirs is the party of death indeed.

"We understand our mission. The champions of life must defeat the champions of death. We must and we will."

I wish the president would say something like this in his State of the Union address. In any case, having written my own speech, I will proceed to write my own commentary.

America the champion of life might sound like a wildly ambitious claim, but it is a fact and (partly) the result of historical accident. The fact shows up plainly when you compare America and Europe. Death shadows Europe's great cities, and some of her great ceremonies, because Europe's medieval past is ever-present; and the medieval world (during certain periods) was obsessed with death. We are free of that shadow and have made the most of our freedom.

We honor our dead--but don't inaugurate our presidents in Arlington cemetery. When the Queen of England was crowned in Westminster Abbey, on the other hand, several of her predecessors were buried just a few steps away behind the high altar, or another few steps beyond that in Henry VII's chapel. The Lincoln Memorial celebrates the man's life; Lincoln is not buried there, nor is Washington at his shrine or Jefferson at his or FDR at his. There are shrines in central London too--Edward the Confessor's in Westminster Abbey is the most famous. Edward is buried there.

There is nothing ghoulish or depressing about Westminster Abbey. It might easily be the most magnificent building in the world. It is the heart of England, is breathtakingly rich in art and history--and is stuffed with tombs. Paris, likewise, has the abbey church of Saint Denis on its outskirts, where ancient French kings and heroes are buried, and in the center of the city the Panthéon, with its secular saints like Voltaire, and Les Invalides, with Napoleon's sarcophagus.

Death has no comparable presence in central Washington, or in any great American city. Arlington cemetery is an important and sacred place, but America has nothing remotely like an official burial building for its heroes.

Europe's magnificent architectural patrimony is full of death. England's medieval cathedrals are probably, as a group, the greatest collection of buildings on earth. But in many of the greatest--Winchester, Lincoln, and Wells among others--you will find beautifully maintained "cadaver monuments," where lifelike effigies of distinguished bishops (say) are laid out atop painfully realistic sculptures of their decaying corpses, crawling in some cases with neatly sculpted vermin and worms. America is the champion of life by her own choice--and because she has no ancient past in which to glory.

***

Arab tyrants and Islamic terrorists are champions of death. Nowadays we often forget the Nazi connections of their predecessors. The Nazis knew all about death--as a political tool, ideological weapon, terrorist maneuver; they reveled in death in their concerted attempt to rule Europe and Asia, annihilate the Jews and thereby kill the world's conscience, and kill God. Their Arab and Islamic successors would prefer to rule the whole world and not just Europe and Asia, but otherwise their program agrees with Hitler's, more or less.

Briefly consider Haj Amin al Husseini, mufti of Jerusalem, as forerunner of Islamic terrorists; and Gamal Abdel Nasser, dictator of Egypt, as forerunner of the secular Arab tyrants. Their Nazi connections suggest that they and their successors are in fact the party of death.

Haj Amin was appointed mufti in 1922. He was bitterly anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist. Jews are "notorious for perfidy and falsification and distortion and cruelty of which the noble Koran provides the strongest testimony against them," he wrote in his memoirs. He was eager to collaborate with the Nazis. In March 1933, shortly after Hitler came to power, he sent congratulations via the German consul in Jerusalem. He endorsed the Nazis' anti-Jewish boycott and promised to work towards the same goal in British Palestine. His penchant for violence and sponsorship of terrorist groups (the "Resistance and Jihad Organization") harmonized perfectly with Nazi methods. The Nazis sent money to the mufti; Arabic translations of Mein Kampf became (and remain) big sellers.

In Egypt, the "Young Egypt" party, the "Green Shirts" (like the fascist Black Shirts and Nazi Brown Shirts), was founded in 1933. Its slogan: "Allah, Fatherland, and People." The young Nasser became a member. When he came to power in Egypt, Nasser (according to David Pryce-Jones) became "the first Arab to have created a police state, complete with arrests at dawn, tribunals to pass pre-determined sentences, concentration camps and the secret police, and the whole grim and bloody apparatus of control through bureaucratic terror." ("Terror" and "tyrant" go together.) In time he became a classical Nazi-type Jew hater. In a 1964 interview with a German neo-Nazi newspaper, Nasser called the Holocaust a myth and regretted Hitler's defeat. (Remind you of anyone?) His cult of personality rivaled Hitler's and Stalin's.

***

In Iraq the fighting is hard but we have achieved something magnificent. We have destroyed a totalitarian tyranny, but not only that: We have made it possible for Iraqis to go to the polls, create a humane government, and choose life. Of course we have more to do. Of course we will stay and do it. Shakespeare wrote, "How poor are they that have not patience."

David Gelernter, a national fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.