Lee Child is a writer I avoided for a while — his books look like what I call "airport" books, you know the ones they sell in airports and drug stores, big and squat, tending to have things like bloody hand prints on the covers. But I had enough people rave about him that I decided to take a chance and was very pleasantly surprised. Child’s books are thrillers, but they have the elements that used to be associated with fiction before the academics took it over, elements like plot, character, pacing and provocative ideas. Jack Reacher is the protagonist, an existential hero who has no possessions, few human ties and the ability to beat up anybody in the room, all of which give him the opportunity to always speak his mind and travel the country righting wrongs. The best book in the series so far is THE ENEMY, a sort of prequel to the rest where it is revealed how Jack came to leave his beloved position as an Army MP and become the rootless loner he is today. The mainspring of the plot is activated by a faction of the army who are displeased with the prospect of their status being lowered because there is no more USSR for them to oppose.
Instantly, of course, I thought of another evil, nefarious faction who are constantly trying to take over the country — the Republican party. Anti-Communism has been the main club the Republican used to belabor their enemies since Joe McCarthy, and the essence of their modern identity. The "us vs. them" world view is necessary for the smug, hubristic country club self-image and when they lost the USSR, they lost some of themselves as well. No longer could they reflexively brand their enemies communists, no more could they justify war crimes and support for dictators as fighting communism, and no more could the red menace be used as a way to shovel the public’s tax money into the pockets of that old military-industrial complex. A certain ennui crept in, as evidenced by Bush I’s relatively aimless administration and his tepid re-election campaign, leading to (sigh) the Clinton administration (and shame on all of you who nit-picked him — who doesn’t wish he was president today). Now, it’s a stretch to say Bush II was elected president, but he did get quite a few votes, mostly on the American whim to switch from Coke to Pepsi for a change, little knowing the poisonous brew they were imbibing. Bush didn’t really have much direction at first — people don’t remember that his big defense priority at the start was to get that Start Wars missile defense system finally built. Then came 9/11 and suddenly the Republicans had found their lever with which to move the world. Quickly they dragged out all Reagan’s old speeches, crossed out Communism and crayoned in Terrorism. Terrorism — what a boon! Finally a name for what we’re fighting and what to say those who oppose us are soft on. Never mind that Terrorism is a tactic and not an ideology — a tactic used by us during the American revolution as well as any other force who didn’t have overwhelming material advantage. But it sure sounds like a good thing to fight — I mean who isn’t against Terrorism? And using the argument that Saddam was a terrorist — not really connected to the terrorists who were responsible for 9/11, but if people were under that misapprehension Bush sure wasn’t going to correct it — and we had to fight him because of it. In the same way that the Viet Cong must be destroyed because they were communists, even though they weren’t really planning to nuke or invade us, Iraq must be defeated because of this evil taint, even though they (before the invasion) weren’t really that friendly with Osama. But the Bush crowd didn’t really learn their Nam lessons, and certainly failed to pick up on more contemporary history like Yugoslavia. That lesson was that if there is a artificially constructed country held together only by a repressive regime when that regime is removed, the pieces will fly apart and the ancient enmities resurface. Sure, some of the factions in Iraq use terrorist tactics, but to say, as Bush continues to do in his "sober judgement" that we are fighting a terrorism that somehow threatens American freedom is only marginally effective as rhetoric and absolutely absurd as an assessment of fact. It seems like people are ever so slowly tumbling on to the reality of it, but, in our hyper-masculine, hyper-nationalist land they’re still quite nervous about being called weak on terrorism, of not "staying in the fight." Because there’s no draft, the college students, safe in their beer soaked MTV cocoon can’t be bothered to tear their eyes from Paris Hilton. The people who are actually being killed come from the underclass, the dream lumpen carefully shaped over decades to be the perfect consumers who can be sold anything with a sound bite and a slogan, who hold manliness next to godliness and confuse patriotism with NASCAR racing. In classic terror theory we’ve done far more damage to our liberty by our reaction to the terrorist attack than the attack itself accomplished. But what do I know — I’m just a commun — I mean terror — oh, heck –just brand me with the next -ism the Republicans use to blacken the Republic.