April 21, 2004
Peggy Noonan’s Pearl Harbor
by Maureen Farrell
"A certain style of manliness is once again being honored and celebrated in our country since Sept. 11," Peggy Noonan wrote in Oct. 2001, back when "a certain kind of man came forth to get our great country out of the fix it was in."
She was writing, in part, of her observations on Sept. 14, the day President Bush stood at Ground Zero before a sea of such brave men, and, bullhorn in hand, bellowed, "The people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon" -- even though, as we all now know, visions of a much wider war secretly danced in his head.
In hindsight, Noonan’s observations about how the firemen, cops and other "grunts of New York" were finally "given their due" was a kind of Chicken Soup for the Stepford Citizen’s Soul, which, void of ultimate truth and substance, nevertheless helped people feel good for a time. Replete with American Beauty’s Carolyn Burnham’s forced chirpiness, Noonan’s article implied that applause, flag-waving and air-blown kisses would be enough to mask the ugly reality simmering beneath the surface.
"The trucks would go by and we’d cheer and wave and shout ‘God bless you!’ and ‘We love you!,’ she wrote. "We waved flags and signs, clapped and threw kisses, and we meant it: We loved these men. . . "I turned to my friend and said, ‘I have seen the grunts of New York become kings and queens of the City.’ I was so moved and, oddly I guess, grateful. Because they’d always been the people who ran the place, who kept it going, they’d just never been given their due. But now -- 'And the last shall be first' -- we were making up for it." [PeggyNoonan.com]
Bush’s photo-op and Peggy Noonan’s prose notwithstanding, reality has since changed many a perspective. "Since the attacks, Bush has been using images of himself putting his arm around a retired FDNY fire fighter on the pile of rubble at ground zero," International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) General President Harold Schaitberger wrote. "But for two and a half years he has basically shortchanged fire fighters and the safety of our homeland by not providing fire fighters the resources needed to do the job that America deserves." [IAFF.org]
A speechwriter for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, Peggy "Thousand Points of Light" Noonan is far more skilled at evoking masterful imagery and partisan propaganda than at getting to the stone cold truth, however, and though Schaitberger explained that the IAFF would be "aggressive and vocal in our efforts to ensure that the citizens of this country know about Bush’s poor record on protecting their safety," it's doubtful that, despite her love, Noonan will be lending her ample talents to spreading such news anytime soon.
No, Noonan is equipped to deliver metaphorical and mythos-laden missives, as she did that October, when she asserted that John Wayne had somehow arisen from the Sept. 11 ashes. "I was there in America, as a child, when John Wayne was a hero, and a symbol of American manliness. He was strong, and silent," she wrote. "And I was there in America when they killed John Wayne by a thousand cuts. A lot of people killed him -- not only feminists but peaceniks, leftists, intellectuals, others," she explained, ignoring the fact that cancer, which is often the result of willful denial, was actually far more deadly to the Duke than the murderous imaginary leftists living in Noonan’s noggin.
"I missed John Wayne," she continued. "But now I think . . . he’s back. I think he returned on Sept. 11. I think he ran up the stairs, threw the kid over his back like a sack of potatoes, came back down and shoveled rubble. I think he’s in Afghanistan now, saying, with his slow swagger and simmering silence, "Yer in a whole lotta trouble now, Osama-boy."
Never mind, of course, that more than two and half years later, Osama-boy is trying to play "Lets Make a Deal" with the Europeans or that on Sept. 11, 2001, our own erstwhile John Wayne sat in a Florida classroom listening to a story about a pet goat while the nation was under attack. And in this particular cowboy movie, the commander in chief zigzagged across the country, while his handlers lied about a nonexistent terrorist threat to Air Force One. Ultimately, when the truth emerged, the country understood why the "W" in G.W. most assuredly does not stand for Wayne. "I mean, I was just trying to get out of harm’s way," Bush said.
Noonan’s fantasies about Bush’s capable, manly man persona did not go unnoticed, however. In the Oct. 2003 issue of Vanity Fair, James Wolcott examined the outbreaks of clueless punditry gripping the nation, explaining, in exquisite detail, how "cable news wars have degraded, politicized, and polarize TV coverage into a dangerous burlesque." Taking aim at the media’s biggest offenders, which included Hardball’s Chris Matthews and Ms. Noonan, Wolcott commented on how Matthews "gets as gaga as Andrew Sullivan and frequent guest Peggy Noonan over that hickory-smoked hunk of masculinity, George W. Bush." [BuzzFlash.com]
And though Andrew Sullivan soon admitted that Bush’s "Mission Accomplished" moment was a huge political blunder, Matthews and Noonan continued their drool-fest when the President gave a speech at Fort Carlson, Colorado in November, 2003:
Meanwhile, reporters were forbidden to talk to the troops before, during, or after the rally/photo op and were handed a list of ground rules. "Ground Rule 9 for the media covering President Bush's presidential visit Monday sounded more like an edict from Beijing or a banana republic," the Denver Post reported, explaining the marching order to "write positive stories about Ft. Carson and the U.S. Army."
Such is the state of the American media, however, which is why Noonan’s depiction of Bush’s recent press conference is troubling to anyone who owns a TV and/or a brain. "The president rambled and repeated talking points, playing for time as he tried to remember what he'd decided he was going to say in response to this question or that," she wrote, in what was a fairly apt description, before (get this) blaming the media for Bush’s bumbling.
"But here the press came to his rescue," she wrote, "and God bless them. They are so clearly carrying water for the left-liberal establishment, they were so clearly carrying water for the preening and partisan hacks who dominate the 9/11 commission, and the Washington Post's coverage of the news conference yesterday morning was so clearly teeing up Bob Woodward's next book, that the media nullified their hostility. They could have done some damage to the president with a grave and honest spirit of inquiry." [OpinionJournal.com]
Comparing the press to a "left-wing Snidely Whiplash" (while calling to mind William Kristol’s admission that, "The liberal media were never that powerful, and the whole thing was often used as an excuse by conservatives for conservative failures"), Noonan next invoked the ghost of FDR to prove her convoluted point. "Imagine it is April, 1943 and FDR is meeting with the press," she wrote, before transcribing the fantasy press conference taking place in her head. "Mr. President, why did you fail us on Dec. 7? You call it a day of infamy, but didn't it reveal your leadership style to be infamous? Why did you let the U.S. fleet sit sleepy and exposed at Pearl Harbor? Do you think your physical infirmity, sir, has an impact on your ability to think about strategic concerns, and will you instruct your doctors to make public your medical records?"
Finally, Noonan donned her psychiatrist/patriotic police hat and concluded why today’s press (the meanies) are not like the reporters in Frank Capra movies. "But of course they wouldn't have asked these questions. Our press corps in those days was more like Americans than our press corps is today. They were both less self-hating and more appropriately anxious: Don't be killing our leaders in the middle of a war, don't be disheartening the people. Win and do the commentary later."
It is understandable why some would prefer the press to remain as docile and managed as they have been since 9/11, after all, it is easier to describe them as "self-hating" and not "like Americans" than to expect them to do the job they should have been doing all along. And certainly Noonan continues to score points for those whose critical thinking skills have been MIA since 9/11.
But if the press, as Noonan says, favors the Democrats, how does she explain the whole Monica Lewinsky ordeal? And why were there 526 major media stories about Bill Clinton’s "draft dodging" in 1992 as opposed to 38 stories in 2000 about Bush’s iffy record at the National Guard? And just how does Noonan account for the fact that, as Rolling Stone, several media studies and Joe Scarborough have all explained, the media were "fairly brutal to Al Gore"? "If they had done that to a Republican candidate," Scarborough told Chris Matthews, "I'd be going on your show saying, you know, that they were being biased."
Then, too, if the press is "so clearly carrying water for the left-liberal establishment," why-oh–why, during the lead up to war in Iraq, were the nation’s airways (by a whopping 6 to 1 ratio) populated by pro-war sources over their antiwar counterparts? And why was "tired, left-wing liberal" Phil Donahue fired despite having the highest rated show on MSNBC? Did it have anything to do with the leaked NBC-commissioned report that reportedly complained that Donahue "seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration's motives"? And, for the love of Mike, if the media really is so partisan, how on earth does Ms. Noonan explain her regular TV appearances outside the confines of the Wall Street Journal?
Noonan’s easily dissected observations on the media aside, her Pearl Harbor analogy also contains some gaping holes. What if, after the Pearl Harbor attack, FDR asked Congress NOT to conduct an investigation? What if it was uncovered that FDR had sordid business ties to Japan and Nazi Germany? And what if FDR’s father and corporate cronies stood to reap billions in U.S. tax dollars from the war? ("I don't want to see a single war millionaire created in the United States as a result of this world disaster," FDR said. Could Noonan imagine G.W. Bush saying the same?)
And can you imagine if, after Germany declared war on America, FDR went ahead and attacked Bermuda in retaliation? ("Well, well, well. President George was in one hell of bind this week, when it turned that that Saudi Arabia funded Al Qaeda, not Iraq," Greg Palast wrote, adding, "Realizing we'd invaded the wrong country, Bush did the honorable thing: he [came] out against gay marriages").
And what if a World War II era John O’Neill confessed that FDR had told him to "back off" attempts to keep the country safe? [The New Yorker] Might not Noonan think it wise to allow the press an unscripted question or two?
Despite Noonan’s handy use of "liberal media" propaganda, it should be noted that on June 18, 2001 (nearly three months before 9/11) Insight Magazine ran an article entitled "Preparing for The Next Pearl Harbor Attack" and dissected the threat -- as well as the Clinton administration. "Pearl Harbor probably will happen again," J. Michael Waller wrote, quoting the nation’s "top experts," who reported that the attack would occur on America’s mainland. "For the first time since the Japanese fleet bombed Pearl Harbor nearly 60 years ago, the United States is fully vulnerable to attacks it cannot deter or easily prevent, Pentagon experts [told] Insight." [Insightmag.com] And, as Sen. Gary Hart, co-chair of the official Hart-Rudman Commission recently wrote in Salon.com:
Venting his frustration over the fact that commission he co-chaired with Republican Senator Warren Rudman warned President Bush "that terrorists were surely going to attack the United States and that our country was woefully unprepared" (only to have their findings shunted aside), Hart explained: "Sixty years after Pearl Harbor, books are still being written about whether the Roosevelt administration had any warnings of potential Japanese attacks," adding, "There certainly was no U.S. Commission on National Security in 1941 to issue such warnings." (For more, see "Commission warned Bush: But White House passed on recommendations by a bipartisan, Defense department-ordered commission on domestic terrorism," Salon.com, Sept. 12, 2001 [Salon.com])
Some have taken exception to Hart’s assessment, and certainly a former Democratic presidential candidate holds less sway than say, Republican Senators like Sen. Richard Shelby or Sen. Arlen Specter and a host of others who have come forward to blow the proverbial whistle. "They don't have any excuse because the information was in their lap, and they didn't do anything to prevent it," Shelby remarked. "I don't believe any longer that it's a matter of connecting the dots. I think they had a veritable blueprint, and we want to know why they didn't act on it," Specter said.
But Peggy Noonan asks "why ask why?" -- at least while the country is at war -- which could, in all seriousness, be for the rest of our lives. But her depiction of events (and the nation’s need to overlook unpleasantness) was not the only sojourn down Loopy Lane. Cliff May, also a regular denizen of Liberal Media TV Land, expounded on the Pearl Harbor connection in the National Review. He wrote (and I’m not making this up), "President Roosevelt waited until after World War II to put in place a commission to investigate what mistakes led to Pearl Harbor. That was a wise move, but then Roosevelt did not face the kind of hyper-partisanship that plagues America these days." [National Review]
Unfortunately, May overlooked a couple of important details, namely that: 1) By the time World War II ended, FDR was dead and 2) FDR established the Roberts Commission within days after the Pearl Harbor attacks. [Ibibilio.org]
And, as CBS News recently reported: "There were nine investigations into Pearl Harbor, if you include the immediate query done by Naval leadership. The most public, but not the most comprehensive, was the Roberts Commission, convened 11 days after the day of infamy.
By order of President Roosevelt, the mandate of the commission was to determine whether there were derelictions on the part of U.S. military personnel that led to imperial Japan's successful attack on America's most vital naval base on Dec. 7, 1941.
By contrast, it took the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States -- the Sept. 11 commission's formal title -- more than [a] year to be formed. Initially resisted by the Bush administration, the Sept. 11 panel is not that dissimilar to the investigations into Pearl Harbor." [CBS News]
And despite propagandists’ depiction of America's Norman Rockwellian good old days, partisan bitterness and bickering ensued [Slate.com] -- and continues to this very day. (For more see Sunday’s New York Times, [NY Times] or refer to the April 13, 2004 Newsmax article entitled "Unlike George W. Bush, FDR Had Specific Warnings" [Newsmax.com])
Proving that he, like Peggy Noonan, holds a Frank Capra-like remembrance of events, May also reported that "FDR's Republican opponent, Thomas Dewey, declined to criticize the president in regard to foreign policy during a time of war" adding that, "It's almost hard to believe that there was a time when Americans knew the difference between their foreign enemies and their political adversaries."
But alas, as Atrios reported, "The big part of Dewey's campaign was the claim that Roosevelt was 'soft on communism.' and Dewey "also attacked Roosevelt's war preparations, and blamed his policies for the deaths of our troops." [Atrios.blogspot.com] It’s a shame May doesn’t know the difference between fact and fiction.
Such blatant dissembling aside, some pundits and commentators have nevertheless captured the mood and the outrage brilliantly. "Imagine these startling headlines with the nation at war in the Pacific six months after Dec. 7, 1941," radio host Charles Goyette wrote in the American Conservative. 'No Signs of Japanese Involvement in Pearl Harbor Attack! Faulty Intelligence Cited; Wolfowitz: Mistakes Were Made.' Or how about an equally disconcerting World War II headline from the European theater: 'German Army Not Found in France, Poland, Admits President; Rumsfeld: ‘Oops!’, Powell Silent; ‘Bring ’Em On,’ Says Defiant FDR'." [AmConMag.com]
And, as fellow conservative columnist Charley Reese explained (while delving into Bush’s repeated claims that that Saddam used weapons of mass destruction), "One can easily say the same thing of the United States. We used weapons of mass destruction -- nukes during World War II and poison gases during World War I. Other facts Bush omits are that during the Iran-Iraq War, the United States was backing Saddam Hussein, and the U.S. intelligence agencies published a report exonerating Iraq from the gas attack that killed a village of Kurds. [Reese.king-online.com]
And, borrowing from the Project for a New American Century’s published promise that "A new Pearl Harbor" would be needed to "rebuild America’s defenses," [John Pilger] theologian David Ray Griffin has researched the inconsistencies surrounding 9/11 in his aptly named, The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11. [History-US.com]
But, oddities aside, Noonan could not conclude her Pearl Harbor fairy tale without inserting a word or two about Bill Clinton. "More and more it seems to me Mr. Bush is not only Bill Clinton's successor but his exact opposite," she wrote. "Mr. Clinton perfectly poised and hollow inside, a man whose lack of compass left him unable to lead within the Oval Office but who gave a compelling public presentation of the presidency, and Mr. Bush a strong president with an obvious soul, decisive at the desk, but with no dazzling edifice. It's actually amazing that two such different men came so close together. Lucky for us, considering the history, that Mr. Bush was the one who came now."
Of course, everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, as lopsided and deluded as it may be. Given her problem with the "partisan press" however, maybe Noonan should consider this same standard in all things -- great and small. Perhaps she should ask, for example, what if FDR had been hounded by a Ken Starr inquiry? Might it have hindered his ability to guide us through the Great Depression and World War II?
And maybe, just maybe, while Noonan is once again braying about Bush’s strong leadership skills, she should consider Richard Clarke’s observations or revisit Mr. Bush’s Sept. 11 trek across the country. Or perhaps she might ask herself why, on Sept. 11, a secret underground bunker government was installed without Congress’ knowledge [Washington Post] or how Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld’s participation in the Reagan-era "Armageddon Plan" [The Atlantic] helped this along. Is this gang and their "clandestine program designed to set aside the legal lines of succession and immediately install a new 'President'" "more like Americans" too?
Personally, I’m tired of the propaganda and out and out lies and the fact that far too many Americans gobble up such nonsense in droves. This is not a partisan issue. This is not the same old Democrats vs. Republicans, liberals vs. conservatives debate. This is dead serious. Pearl Harbor serious. We need to forget about taking sides and start looking at the truth regardless where it leads. (For more, see "How the ‘Mainstream’ Media Enables the Bush Administration ... and Why They'd Be Happy to Do the Same for Kerry and Friends." [PressAction.com])
As Paul Craig Roberts, another conservative columnist, recently wrote, "Once there was a time when American conservatives defended their country from government. No more. Today conservatives defend Bush’s warmongering neo-Jacobin government at all costs." Citing letters he’d received from "pro-Bush, pro-military superpatriots," who said that "everything the US is doing in Iraq is not only correct, but also morally ordained by God," Roberts mused: "And there I was thinking that Americans might be beginning to catch on that our boy president had no cause whatsoever to invade and occupy Iraq. One must wonder how many Americans are any longer capable of basic thought compared to the multitudes that sit in front of Fox News and receive their daily indoctrination." [Antiwar.com]
And there you have it.
Unfortunately, a nightmare scenario involving another terrorist attack in November, followed by four more years of Bush and a return to the draft in 2005 is, at this point, not as far-fetched as it once seemed. Nor is the prospect of frightened Americans goosestepping along, snarling, once again, at anyone who dares to peek beyond the smoke and the mirrors.
The saddest part of all, of course, isn’t what this would do in terms
of flesh and bones, but what it would do to the fabric of our nation.
Perhaps before long, enough whistleblowers will come forward and scream
to the rooftops and the country will at long last awaken from its slumber.
In the meantime, however, how many of our sons will be lost? And, even
more importantly, what will be lost alongside them? From where I sit,
the last remaining shard of what has historically and truly made us "more
like Americans" is teetering in the breeze -- and is one tragedy away
from falling from its perch.
Maureen Farrell is a writer and media consultant who specializes in helping other writers get television and radio exposure.
© Copyright 2004, Maureen Farrell
otherwise noted, all original