I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The full-chested warriors -- Up Close and Personal

(updated below)

When Fox News journalists Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig were being held by Gaza kidnappers, they were used as solemn symbols of our grand struggle against Islamic fascists. But ever since they were released, physically unharmed, they have become, as John Amato documented the other day, the targets of the same sort of hostility and bizarre resentment which was directed at Jill Carroll when she was released. It's almost as though the fact that they weren't killed -- and then refused to read some fictitious propaganda script about their captivity -- instantaneously transformed them from glorious martyrs in the War on Terror to impediments which needed to be neutralized through attacks on their mental health and character.

Yesterday, David Warren, a columnist for Real Clear Politics and The Ottawa Citizen, attacked Centanni and Wiig for being cowards and "men without chests" and said that they illustrate so much of what is wrong with the West and why we are losing to the Islamofascists:

The case of the two Fox News journalists, held hostage in Gaza, is worth dwelling upon. . . .

The degree to which our starch is awash is exhibited in the behaviour of so many of our captives, but especially in these two. They were told to convert to Islam under implicit threat (blindfolded and hand-tied, they could not judge what threat), and agreed to make the propaganda broadcasts to guarantee their own safety. That much we can understand, as conventional cowardice. (Understand; not forgive.) But it is obvious from their later statements that they never thought twice; that they could see nothing wrong in serving the enemy, so long as it meant they'd be safe. . . .

I assume they are not Christians (few journalists are), but had they ever been instructed in that faith, they might have grasped that conversion to Islam means denial of Christ, and that is something many millions of Christians (few of them intellectuals) have refused to do, even at the cost of excruciating deaths . . .

And the two Fox journalists, whom I will not stoop to name, begged for their lives even though, in retrospect, their lives probably weren't in danger. . . . Men without chests, men without character, men who don't think twice.

Warren argues that the cowardice of the two Fox journalists in saving their own lives illustrates why we are losing the War of Civilizations -- because of what Warren calls the "Chestlessness" of our "men." As Warren puts it: "That is the substance of most Islamo-fascist propaganda: that the West consists of straw men, of men without chests, of men easily pushed over." To Warren, the cowardly chestlessness of Western men is why "the West is proving unable to cope with a threat from a fanatical Islamic movement, that it ought to be able to snuff out with fair ease."

Warren has a biography page on his website. In telling us about himself, Warren complains that "the thumb on (his) right hand still hurts sometimes from when it was broken in a dodgeball game," tells us that his favorite sport is cricket, talks of his love for Ella Fitzgerald and Jane Austen, touts his devout Catholicism, confesses that he has "been estranged [from his wife of 18 years] for going on four years," and says he is "fascinated by seeds, small shells, tiny fishes, & insects."

He also has a picture of himself, which I admit to finding genuinely relevant, for reasons I have explained here. In this case, what is so striking about it is Warren's shocking, almost-complete physical resemblance to other rhetorical tough guy warriors like Hugh Hewitt and John Hinderaker.

Perhaps most revealingly, this Crusader for Masculine Chestfulness confesses that he "could barely even pass phys. ed.," but assures us that he was "Not weak, especially; just more-or-less incapable of following orders." But don't worry, he assures us: "I am heterosexual." And while Warren denounces as "cowards" journalists like Centanni and Wiig who travel to Gaza and other war zones (Centanni was the first journalist on the scene where Saddam Hussein's two sons were killed), he gently, and with grand understatement, pronounces himself "an idle person."

Our foreign policy is driven at least as much by psychological factors as political ones -- at least. So much of the bellicose, tough-guy warmongering to which we are subjected on a daily basis -- all the talk about not wanting to be weak, scared, appeasers who run from fights -- is generated by the same forces that account for David Warren, someone who calls journalists in Gaza "cowards" while he lounges around listening to Ella Fitzgerald and whining about his sore thumb, someone who demands that other men risk their lives and more and more people be incinerated so that he can finally feel strong and courageous and powerful while he sits around complaining about Earl Grey tea ("Earl Grey is an especially contemptible tea, for it was first blended in the kitchens of the notorious Whig statesman").

David Warren really is a poster child for so much of the forces driving our country to endless wars and reckless destruction. It's the same mindset that allows people who have never sacrificed or risked anything for their country to accuse those who have risked their lives of being cowards and appeasers (see Jack Murtha, John Kerry, Wesley Clark, and on and on and on). Hey, Jonah Goldberg - why do you favor the war in Iraq?

Q: If you're a kid and you've had enough of the school bullies pants-ing you in the cafeteria, what's one of the smartest things you can do?

A: Punch one of them in the nose as hard as you can and then stand your ground.

But for people like Jonah and David Warren, that is accomplished by urging fights where they have nothing at risk. This is not a "chickenhawk" argument. It is far beyond that. So much of our public dialogue is dominated by people -- exactly like David Warren -- desperate to bask in the reflected glory of epic warriors without ever risking anything and to feel powerful and strong and resolute and "full-chested" while sitting at home, protected and safe but still scared of everything. They are people who have an endless need to parade themselves around as courageous nobles without ever doing anything noble or courageous.

UPDATE: Jon Swift examines the anger directed by others at the Fox News journalists for being released alive by the Islamofascists, while TBogg provides a graphic illustration of our brave warrior.

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