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"We Shall Rise Again," Say War-Scarred Rebels
The slight, bearded man padded over to me in well-worn birkenstocks, and quietly murmured the code phrase. I repeated the one to which we'd agreed on the phone, and he led me into an alley. He placed a blindfold on me, and we progressed into a building and, apparently, an elevator. I had no other clues as to my whereabouts except for the scents as I passed through the native environment for these determined, if deluded fighters--deep Vienna roast, and the yeasty aroma of a patisserie.
On the brink of resurgence of military action in the twelve-year cold war between the west and Saddam Hussein's regime, scrappy bands of rebellious journalists are positioning to take advantage of the upcoming confusion of battle. Their aim is to reestablish their crumbling empire, and restore their domination over American mindshare, lost during the war in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001.
Like confederate sympathizers of the American south, or lone Japanese soldiers on tiny Pacific islands decades after the end of the war, they are unable to accept defeat, or disavow the rightness of their cause--they vow instead to rise again.
I am traveling to a secret rebel camp, deep in a canyon on Manhattan's upper west side, to determine their state of readiness for the new fight, and the level of their morale on the eve of renewed battle. Because of my earlier sympathetic treatment of their tragic plight in the field hospital, I have earned their trust.
As we enter their lofty lair, somewhere high in the western peaks of the island, my blindfold is removed.
Blinking at the sudden light, my eyes eventually focus to view a spartan room, bare of all but the most vital necessities: fax machines; computers with high-bandwidth connections; comfortable ergonomic desk chairs; multiple big-screen televisions tuned to the BBC and CNN; tables piled high with back issues of The Nation, The Village Voice, and the New York Times; electric foot massagers from the Sharper Image; an espresso machine; and an expansive view of eastern New Jersey, providing them with a keen insight into the heartland of America. One small portable television is tuned to the Fox News Channel, with the volume reduced, and a hood over it so that only one person at a time can view it.
"Know the enemy," explains my guide. "We have one person keep an eye on them, but we don't want to risk corrupting the objectivity of the troops."
Hung in apparent reverence on the wall, next to the "Che" poster, is a fading portrait of Bill Moyers. There is also a picture of George W. Bush, but it is being used as a dartboard.
Over in the corner, huddled over a space heater, a melancholy young woman is quietly teasing a dirge-like version of "La Marseillaise" out of her harmonica. Sitting next to her, listening, but looking bored, an obvious newsroom veteran methodically cleans his keyboard in preparation for the rigors to come.
My guide takes me over to a corner desk, for my interview with their supreme leader, who goes only by the name, "Commandante Howell."
"We've just about completed regrouping and rearming with new arguments after the setback in the Hindu Kush," he explains. "Fortunately, the rush to war has been so prolonged that we've had plenty of time to assess our past tactical errors. We realize now that we were using the wrong historical analogies in our predictions of disaster for the US--we were fighting the last rhetorical war."
Despite his brave words, it's clear, looking around, that their ranks are much thinner now. Many of their unfortunate colleagues have been lost to them forever in the brutal education camps, in which they were taught to actually think. But quite a few managed to evade capture or injury, and others escaped rehabilitation before they became rational, and are now ready to fight another day.
There are some new, fresh recruits, but they have very little experience, having seen little action except an extended and losing battle over a men-only golf course. Still, it partly hardened them for the battle ahead.
But the rearming hasn't been going well.
"In retrospect, it's clear that the Vietnam analogy wasn't appropriate for Afghanistan," he continues. "Neither was the Afghanistan analogy. Actually, we're still not quite sure what analogy would have been applicable, but that's water under the barn now. Our focus is on finding the right analogy for this upcoming brutal massacre of innocent civilians in Iraq, that will lead to a bloody quagmire and thousands of young American boys in body bags, with millions of new recruits for Al Qaeda."
I suggest that the first Gulf War, in which the Iraqi army collapsed quickly, surrendering even to second-rank Italian journalism teams, with most of the few American casualties from friendly fire, and nary a word from the "Arab street," might be the most apt. He shakes his head impatiently.
"No, no...you don't understand. What good is an analogy that doesn't result in an obvious interpretation that disaster for America from this, or any military action is inevitable?! We must have an analogy of mass destruction (AMD). But don't worry, I have my top military strategists working on it."
He points to a couple bespectacled journalists, a man and a woman, poring over history books and maps. I ask him if they have any military experience.
"No, it's very hard to find journalists with military experience--most of them are retired. But it's actually better that way--people with actual military experience might not be objective."
He coaches them--"You might want to focus on desert battles--that jungle deal didn't work all that well above the tree line."
As we continue to talk, they call out suggestions to the Supreme Leader as they find them.
"Here's one. Little Big Horn."
"Is America Custer, or Crazy Horse?"
"Hmmmm...here's one called El Alamein."
"Did the Arabs win that one?"
"No, actually the Brits whipped the Krauts."
This prompts only a glare.
"OK, How about this? Can you say Masada?"
"Isn't that the one where all the Jews off themselves? I have to admit, it does have a certain appeal...So are the Americans the Jews, or the Romans, in that scenario?"
"Keep looking. Tell you what, maybe the desert thing doesn't work that well. Expand the search--just stay away from the jungles."
As they go back to their books, he walks me over to another room in which the soldiers are being drilled in their new battle mantras. More conventional armies have the men charge stuffed bags with bayonets. This one hammers on keyboards, frantically typing "going it alone unilateral rush to war smoking gun cowboy failure of diplomacy let inspectors do their work selected not elected no connection to Al Qaeda..."
The training can be brutal, and the ranks have been thinned even further with injuries, ranging from carpal tunnel syndrome, to many broken syllogisms after prematurely jumping to conclusions.
One veteran, no longer able to type, has been moved into a blow-dried brigade of talking heads, and practices reading the litany from a teleprompter.
From the other room comes a war cry of triumph.
"We've found it! If you ignore the fact that it's winter instead of summer, and far eastern Europe instead of the Middle East, and that the French were vastly overextended, instead of having the essentially unlimited logistics capability that the Americans will have, and the fact that the Russians were actually fighting for their country against an invading dictator, instead of about to be liberated from their own, Napoleon's march into Russia is the perfect analogy. Either that, or Stalingrad. In both cases, it was a disaster for the dictatorial invaders."
"Hmmm...well, I don't like the fact that it necessitates beating up on the French and the Germans, but at least the Russians get to win, so I guess it will have to do."
He turns to me.
"I want you to take our message back to the Americans. We may seem weak and confused, and illogical, but that doesn't matter, because we have something more important--a belief in the rightness of our cause. We know, despite all the evidence, that we're smarter than you are, and with that knowledge, victory will ultimately be ours--you cannot hold down a journalism major forever."
"Once our Stalingrad analogy is shown to be prophetic, despite the internet, and weblogs, and fair and balanced news channels, and educational vouchers, we will once again tell the American public what to think, and liberate them from having to do it for themselves."
"Tell them, the arrogant media shall rise again."
Posted by Rand Simberg at March 18, 2003 10:30 AM
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The media shall rise again
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The Arrogant Media Shall Rise Again
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Tracked: March 18, 2003 07:33 PM
That was some great satire...this blog just earned a bookmark from me.Posted by John at March 18, 2003 01:37 PM
Absolutely friggin' brilliant!Posted by Dr. W. Johnson at March 18, 2003 01:40 PM
I loved your first one, and this was just as good!
Bra-Voh. Lucky you got out of their with your sanity...Posted by Dave Worley at March 18, 2003 01:55 PM
Wait... that was satire?Posted by at March 18, 2003 02:31 PM
"We may seem weak and confused, and illogical, but that doesn't matter, because we have something more important--a belief in the rightness of our cause."
"We know, despite all the evidence, that we're smarter than you are..."
Is it just me or are these two quotes just perfect encapsulations of two of the most vocal and increasingly irrelevant factions in public debate.
In any case, that's some mighty fine satire.Posted by Jason C at March 18, 2003 02:33 PM
I always support "our journalists" so I hope nobody will accuse me of not being sufficiently far left if I ask just one question.
Are we really doing enough to protect "our journalists" from a fact attack which I think Bush and Blair will very likely use? I'm just asking.
And by the way, I loved the post. Well done!Posted by John Matthews at March 18, 2003 02:41 PM
"[P]rematurely jumping to conclusions." And that's only one! I love it.
I've been an irregular reader, visiting perhaps once a week, but after this, and reading your other essay, I'll be back regularly.
It might interest you to know that a journalist in an online-news discussion list to which I subscribe (see poynter.org for their lists) wondered which sites people turn to for war news. I plan to mention your site among the blogs I list.Posted by James at March 18, 2003 02:49 PM
I've been reading & re-reading it to savor all the fine moments. This is Lileks and Steyn caliber. Brilliant!Posted by Judith at March 18, 2003 03:47 PM
Perfect, just perfect!!!Posted by Jim at March 18, 2003 04:05 PM
"Are we really doing enough to protect "our journalists" from a fact attack which I think Bush and Blair will very likely use?"
You mean <gasp!> a weapon of mass instruction???
<bloodcurdling scream>Posted by Kevin McGehee at March 18, 2003 10:32 PM
This is tremendous satire. It ought to be up for whatever the blogosphere's equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize is. Better yet, after reading this and its predecessor last night, I nearly choked on my coffee this morning when I opened the papaer and saw this headline + opener which must have come straight from the secret "lofty lair" you attended yesterday. This appeared in the WSJ, so apparently the opinion editors over there are not exercising control over the news-pages a la "Commandante Howell," although that the following qualifies as "news" is news to me:
"Past Mideast Invasions Faced Unexpected Perils
Invaders Have Been Repelled While Arab Casualties Mount
As President Bush steers the U.S. toward war, history offers a sobering lesson.
For two centuries, foreign powers have been conquering Mideast lands for their own purposes, promising to uplift Arab societies along the way. Sometimes they have modernized cities, taught new ideas and brought technologies.
But in nearly every incursion, both sides have endured a raft of unintended consequences....
Again and again, Westerners have moved into the Mideast with confidence that they can impose freedom and modernity through military force. Along the way they have miscalculated support for their invasions, both internationally and in the lands they occupy. They have anointed cooperative minorities to help rule resentful majorities. They have been mired in occupations that last long after local support has vanished. They have met with bloody uprisings and put them down with brute force...."
There's so much more, and it is filled with classics like "Mr. Bush says this invasion will be different," ... but "Napoleon proclaimed a similar new era of equality and respect for 'true Muslims' as he marched into Cairo in 1798," while his "real goals involved France's colonial rivalry with Britain" Unfortunately, wsj.com has limited access so I can't link the whole thing.
The article contains a nifty little infographic detailing how "Foreign Invaders of Middle Eastern Countries Often Haven't Fared Well," which infographic includes such powers foreign to the Middle East as France, Britain, and... Israel! How could I have missed the obvious connection!
Finally, the article concludes with a helpful litte chart detailing four different "Invasions" along with the "Proclaimed" and "Real Goals" of each and finally the "Results" and their "Lessons for the US" of which these nifty little tidbits of wisdom gleaned from history are characteristic: "Muslim mobs are easily stirred up against foreign occupiers" and "Without international legitimacy, the best-laid war plans crumble."
That two bespectacled journalists pouring over their books really hit gold with this one, they must have been very busy after you left.Posted by Elan Peretz at March 19, 2003 05:31 PM
This segment's ingenious satire brings up an interesting point: What role do journalists perceive themseleves as having? Those of use with a tendency to think for ourselves might like to pretend that the media is about presenting facts, that there isn't some pathological obsession with presenting reality skewed from limited perspectives.
And of course, for many journalists, it is about presenting objective facts for those of us unable to take time off work to jet around the world following conflict. But I have to wonder about those who really do think that they "control" the delivery of reality to their audience, and I wonder with equal queasiness about the millions that let them...Posted by Stu Kamin at March 21, 2003 09:26 AM
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