First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
I recently read -- or, rather, listened to -- Erich Maria Remarque's powerful World War I novel "All Quiet on the Western Front."
Because this novel was so influential, it's easy to forget that it was really the first anti-war novel told from the point of view of the common soldier.
In our own generation we've seen dozens of books and films that carry the same message: To the common soldier, wars are mostly miserable, sometimes funny, and almost never heroic.
But the influence of this book and its attitude has spread too far.
World War I really was a pointless war, which was begun because a few old men were too proud to back down, which continued for the same reason, and which caused the slaughter of almost an entire generation of French, German, and British young people because the generals were unbelievably stupid.
But not all wars are like that.
Sometimes there are commanders who are worth following.
Sometimes the war is worth fighting.
Sometimes the consequences of losing are so awful that you have no choice but to fight against a relentless enemy.
When I hear people today saying such unbelievably ignorant things as, "All this fighting is pointless! They need to negotiate a peace settlement right now!" I know I'm hearing echoes of Erich Maria Remarque's truthful book, misapplied.
There was no good reason for Germany and France and Britain and Russia to go to war in 1914. But there's a very good reason for America and Israel to be at war with terrorism -- because the terrorism was not caused by anything America and Israel actually did, and therefore will not stop when they stop doing it.
Instead, as in World War II, we face an implacable, evil enemy that wants us and everything and everyone we hold dear to be destroyed, so they can replace it with a system that, however "holy" they might think it to be, seems evil, oppressive, and unbearable to us.
There was an interesting point made in "All Quiet on the Western Front." A couple of times, Remarque mentions the "monster propaganda." Stories about how German soldiers eat babies ... or how Frenchmen do!
In every war, there seems to be a need to depict the enemy as monsters in order to justify slaughtering them on the battlefield.
Sometimes, as in World War II, the propaganda is simply absurd.
But in World War II, it's hard to look at our "anti-Jap" and "anti-Nazi" propaganda and think that it is somehow worse than what the reality turned out to be, once the war was over and we could get the facts.
Sure, our anti-Japanese rhetoric was nasty and racist. But the behavior of the Japanese military was consistently brutal and vile, sometimes by accident, but often by design.
And as for Hitler's minions, the true-believers of the SS, the Gestapo, and other Nazis in places of power were far worse than we had been capable of imagining.
However, this war is different. Look at our propaganda. The press has bent over backward to follow our president's lead in depicting our enemy as a misguided subset of the noble and peaceful religion of Islam.
To hold this view, of course, one has to ignore the evidence of history and present behavior and rhetoric as surely as the propagandists of earlier wars had to.
If our propaganda were true, one would have to think that the perpetrators of 9/11 and of the genocidal bombings in Israel came out of nowhere, and that it's pure coincidence that they all happened to be Muslims.
Fortunately, we don't have to depict our enemies as monsters, or put out propaganda about how Islam is a bloodthirsty, hatefilled religion that teaches their children to murder those who disagree with them and to tell any lie, kill any enemy, invade any country, and perpetrate any atrocity that is necessary to get what you want.
We don't have to make such statements because they put this propaganda out themselves.
We don't have to say, "Their mothers rejoice when their children blow themselves up along with Jewish babies," because their own news agencies tell the stories about how mothers rejoice when their children blow themselves up along with Jewish babies.
Muslim propagandists quite openly tell the most outrageous lies, distorting not only old history but day-old events -- lies so obvious and silly it makes them look like idiots, like the claim that the bombers of 9/11 weren't Muslims at all.
We couldn't invent something so unlikely as the head of state of Iraq paying a bounty to the families of suicide bombers, or Palestinians screaming about Israeli atrocities because some civilians might have died in the middle of hardfought combat -- while their suicide bombers continue to go into crowds of peaceful civilians and kill babies and old people.
In fact, our own propagandists have to work hard to keep us from seeing just how outrageous the hate-filled statements of our enemies are, so that we don't get really mad and decide we need to do what it takes to win this war.
On my flight to LA by way of Atlanta, I was cheerful enough when they made me take my shoes off and have my luggage swabbed in Greensboro. But when, in Atlanta, I was singled out to go through the whole wanding, shoe-stripping process yet again, it was just too much to bear calmly.
The man who did the second search told me that it is FAA policy that they must do a thorough search of the first person in line to board every flight.
Personally, I think he was lying. Because the FAA cannot be so utterly stupid as to have such a policy. Think about it. Once this becomes known, nobody will agree to be first in line!
Besides, what terrorist would want to be first in line? They want to blend in.
As for me, I had driven home from New York the night before my flight -- because all the Greensboro flights to New York had been cancelled because of storms the Thursday before, and once you take your car to a faraway city, you have to bring it back. So I had gotten to sleep at about six a.m. and woke up less then three hours later to catch the first leg of my flight.
By the time I got to the gate in Atlanta, I was walking dead. The company paying for my flight had sprung for a first-class seat, and I wanted to get in it as soon as possible and sleep. So I waited near the gate, barely staying awake on my feet, until they finally called for us to come on board.
What a vile trick, then, to subject me to a ten-minute delay for no other reason than that I was the person most anxious to get aboard. That isn't security, it's pure meanness. It didn't make anybody any safer.
At the very least, when a person has been subjected to a detailed, intrusive search before boarding one flight, his boarding pass ought to be marked so that the same person doesn't have to go through the same stupid, pointless, ineffective, and mean-spirited procedures on any other flights that day.
I keep hearing people fretting about how our airline industry is hurting these days. Well, here's a clue: I have replaced about two dozen airplane flights with car trips in the past six months, not because I'm afraid to fly, but because I'm sick of stupid "security" regulations that do not in any way make us safer in the air.
I would fly as often as I did before 9/11 if they would just get rid of the new procedures that don't accomplish anything useful.
There are secure doors on the airplane cockpits now. That's a security measure that makes sense -- and helps us feel safer when we fly.
But taking out the first person in line at the gate and subjecting him to harassment only makes us all want to be anywhere but in that line -- after all, somebody has to get on the plane first.
I complained to the guy who was field-stripping my luggage and repacking it with maximum clumsiness. He got testy about my complaints and started threatening me by saying that it was always my option not to fly -- yeah, right, now that I'm a six-hour drive away from home, sure it's my option.
So I pointed out to him that I was complying with all his instructions, that I was not resisting him in any way, that I was not raising my voice or using abusive language or even blaming him personally for what was happening.
"But I am an American," I said. "I may have to put up with bureaucratic stupidity that serves no useful purpose -- but I still have the right to gripe about it, and you have to let me do it."
It doesn't say it exactly that way in the Constitution, but we Americans all know that we have the right to gripe, and ain't nobody better try to take that away from us.
Copyright © 2002 by Orson Scott Card.
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