When the U.S. entered World War II, the director Frank Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life) left Hollywood and, at the age of 44, enlisted in the Army, where General George C. Marshall put him to work making pictures for the war effort. The films, several of which were released under the umbrella title Why We Fight, sought to explain why America was at war with Germany and Japan. They outlined the ideologies of Nazism and Shintoism, examined both enemies’ militarism, fanatical obedience, master-race mentality, and lust for conquest, and noted the reverence with which Hitler was held in Germany and Hirohito in Japan.
The last of these films, Know Your Enemy: Japan, began with an opening scrawl reminding viewers not to confuse loyal, freedom-loving Japanese Americans, such as the Nisei regiment who fought bravely in the European theater, with the people of Japan “to whom the words liberty and freedom are still without meaning.” A narrator then picked up the theme: “We shall never completely understand the Japanese mind, but then they don’t understand ours either.…But we must try to understand Japan because we have become locked in the closest of all relationships: war.” Ambassador Joseph C. Grew made the same point in introducing another series of short films, The Enemy in Japan (1943): “To beat the Japanese, to do the job thoroughly, we have got to understand them.”
Those films weren’t perfect, and viewers today might decide that at times they’re perpetrating crude stereotypes. But they were serious efforts to explain to American fighting men, and to Americans generally, what made our enemies tick. They acknowledged that people in different cultures have different mindsets and values, even as they quite properly recognized that in some cases – such as that of the Nisei – people raised in one culture can assimilate into another. They were, at bottom, acts of respect toward the American people, and especially toward America’s GIs. It was felt that if Americans were willing to sacrifice for victory, and if brave young men were prepared to lay down their lives, they deserved to know the unvarnished truth about whom we were fighting and why.
On the evening of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush spoke to the nation on television. His voice was measured but wooden. His tone was all wrong. No righteous rage. He was obviously reading. He stumbled over words, made awkward pauses. He spoke of “moms and dads,” as if addressing a Boy Scout jamboree. He said: “Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil despicable acts of terror.” Note the passive voice, the impulse to anonymize.
In fact, those thousands were murdered by Saudi Arabian Muslims heeding their religion’s call to jihad. But Bush didn’t mention Islam or jihad. He said that the terrorists had failed – a ridiculous statement to make only a few hours after the attack. On the contrary, it was Bush who, by choosing not to speak frankly about the perpetrators and their motives, had failed his country. He failed the dead. And in this failure he engendered and foreshadowed our own national failure, over the next two decades and more, to know our enemies and thus understand now to foil their objectives.
Bush never changed his tune. At the September 14 memorial service, he said that Americans’ “responsibility to history” was “to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.” Ridiculous: as if the world will ever, this side of the Second Coming, be wiped clean of evil. (Bush posed as an expert on Islam but didn’t even seem to understand his own religion.) Yes, just as Bush spoke of “evil,” FDR had spoken of “infamy.” But FDR had also named the enemy. To be sure, in later speeches Bush would sometimes refer to Al Qaeda, but with remarkable frequency he preferred to go abstract, or vague, or narrow. (Hence “the war on terror” – the first war ever against an abstraction.)
Two days later, at the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., Bush said: “The face of terrorism not the true faith of Islam….When we think of Islam, we think of a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world.” And on September 19, addressing Congress, he said: “The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends.” Who was Bush – an infidel – to speak of “the true face of Islam” and to call the terrorists “traitors to their own faith”? In fact Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Islam’s most important living theologian, has said that jihadists killed fighting Americans are “martyrs” to the cause of “conquering Rome” (i.e., the Christian West). As for “Muslim friends,” sura 3:28 of the Koran forbids friendships with infidels.
Bush kept repeating his mantra: “Ours is not a campaign against the Muslim faith. Ours is a campaign against evil” (Chicago, September 27). “We do not fight Islam, we fight against evil” (Warsaw, November 6). On November 15, in a Ramadan message, Bush actually referred to “The Holy Qur’an” and described it as teaching “charity, mercy, and peace.” Four days later, at an Iftar dinner, he again referred to “the Holy Qur’an” and, in addition, cited “the prophet, Muhammed.” It was a disinformation campaign, pure and simple – one in which other American thought leaders joined eagerly, whether they knew they were spreading lies or not. Meanwhile, the few souls who dared speak the truth about Islam – explaining, for example, that 9/11 was just one act of jihad in a centuries-long Islamic war of conquest (and not, as we kept being told, a desperate act by poor, oppressed victims of Western imperialism) – were dubbed bigots.
I’m not suggesting that if Bush had gone in another direction, the mainstream media and most politicians wouldn’t have taken the Islam-friendly line anyway. But for three years after 9/11, he had the bully pulpit. If he’d spoken the truth about Islam, it would’ve gotten out. And if he’d acted upon that truth, there’d have been other policy choices. We’d have been spared the thousands of deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq, and spared, too, the acts of terror committed within our borders by Muslims, some of whose neighbors, co-workers, or local police – having absorbed the message that viewing Muslims with suspicion was tantamount to Islamophobia – ignored obvious warning sounds. And rather than tarnish the liberties of patriotic Americans with the Patriot Act and Homeland Security Department, Bush could’ve done something about the insufficiently vetted Muslim immigrants who kept pouring into the country.
Instead, so clueless were we still about Islam seven years after 9/11 that we put in the White House, as I wrote here at this time last year, “a man who was the son and stepson of Muslims and who’d spent much of his childhood in the Muslim nation of Indonesia, where he’d been registered at schools as a Muslim, taken Koran classes, worn Muslim garb, and attended mosque.” It would’ve been one thing if Obama had firmly distanced himself from Islam. But to read his book Dreams from My Father was to meet a man who plainly had deeper emotional bonds with Indonesia and Kenya than with the U.S., and a stronger tie to Islam than to Christianity. His Cairo speech of 2009 was sheer Islamic propaganda. As I put it last year: “If Bush whitewashed Islam, Obama exalted it.”
He did more. After campaigning on a promise to bring Americans together, he strove to divide us. Supported by voters who saw his election as a triumphant sign that racism was essentially dead in America, he gave racial division a new lease on life – and aided the process by which Islam was, in effect, magically transformed from a religion into a race, so that antipathy toward its vile, barbaric ideology now amounts to racism. Moreover, Obama’s race-obsession empowered the mischievous purveyors of critical race theory and of the lie of white supremacism.
In 2016, we lucked out. Against all odds, a truth-telling Beltway outsider who actually loved America, had Americans’ best interests at heart, and actually knew how to lead entered the White House. On September 11, 2018, I celebrated the fact that we finally had a president who got it: he recognized the threat of China, of open borders, of the mass export of blue-collar jobs. And when it came to Islam, Trump had “crushed ISIS, shown Islamic heads of state who’s boss, and (against the resistance of both major-party establishments and the legislative and judicial branches of the U.S. government) done his best to pull in the welcome mat.” Instead of starting new Middle East wars, he engineered peace treaties between Israel and several Islamic states. At long last – hallelujah! – we seemed to be starting to get the post-9/11 era right.
But it didn’t last long. The globalist Deep State, which was repelled by the very words “America First” and which had no problem sending the children of deplorables off to battle, brought him down. And we found ourselves with a corrupt, authoritarian, and half-senile husk of a Head of State under whom, as I wrote last September 10, not long after the Afghanistan withdrawal fiasco, “America feels like a damaged and diminished nation – its power weakened, its alliances shaken, its once-unshakable core beliefs largely shattered, not least by the suiciddal compulsion to speak well of Islam.” A year later, in the wake of Biden’s September 1 Nuremberg rally in Philadelphia, things are even worse.
No, of course it’s not all about Islam. In fact, under the political rule of whoever is pulling Joe Biden’s strings, and under the bizarre sociocultural sway of radical woke activists, America has been transformed very quickly into a country that’s so dramatically different from the one we lived in on September 10, 2001, that the twenty-first anniversary of that atrocity can feel almost irrelevant to our present concerns and calamities. But let’s remember that it was on 9/11 that the shock was delivered to our system that, responded to in precisely the wrong way, saw us wade deeper and deeper into the current muck of doubt, deception, and division.
It was on 9/11 that George W. Bush, by offering us lies about Islam instead of truth, helped ease us into Obamaworld – and thence into the present low, dishonest era in which the elites who govern us (with an increasingly autocratic hand) demand our assent to a grotesque set of ideologically rooted lies about gender, about climate, about race, about immigration, and, yes, those same old lies about Islam. Colossal lies, too, about what Donald Trump did while in office, and about what his followers did on January 6, 2021.
On 9/11, almost all Americans were, however briefly, patriots. Now, according to the preposterous puppet-in-chief, patriots are a “threat to democracy,” embodying an “extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.” On 9/11, we were struck by terrorists; today, our leaders go out of their way to avoid calling actual terrorists by that name, even as they pin that label on peaceable Trump voters. Just a few years ago, many of us were watching Homeland and rooting for the CIA agents who, we believed, were guarding our freedoms; now we know our intelligence agencies are Stasi-like tools of the Democrats.
On 9/11, George W. Bush said that the terrorists had failed. Have they? Today in Afghanistan, the Taliban is back in power (and, thanks to Biden, amply armed). In Western Europe, our allies – who’ve suffered their own share of jihadist attacks – march steadily toward total Islamization. And America – where two of Congress’s most powerful members are America-hating Muslims – is palpably less free, confident, unified, safe, powerful, and prosperous than on September 10, 2001, At that 9/11 memorial service, Bush observed that Americans couldn’t yet view 9/11 from “the distance of history.” Are we there yet? Is 9/11 history now? Dare I lament the course that that history has taken, and fondly imagine how different things would be now if we’d had Trump in the White House on 9/11?