As a young person born under Reagan and raised during the Clinton era, I remember three events as defining my childhood. The first was, sadly enough, the Lewinski scandal, about which the less said the better. The third was the death of John Paul II—a sad occasion in and of itself, but one marked by a tremendous sense of pride at being Catholic and joy at the grace of God, Who gave us for so many years so great a pope. Between the two events there was another, a more confusing and disturbing one, which (to my mind) has had and will continue to have far greater effects on us Americans than the end of either a papacy or of all presidential respect. Even great men must die, and in our culture it was only a matter of time before we elected a president worthy of being called “the Impeached”; but the events of September 11, 2001, will continue to have ramifications for years to come.
There is an impression among some Americans that their fellow citizens have forgotten that date. I cannot tell whether or not that is true; all that I know is that among those people whom I know well, no one has forgotten. We don’t discuss it much, but somewhere within each of us lies the indelible impression that we are at war.
Our war is twofold. On the one hand we face the barbaric—it is no exaggeration to use that word—forces of extremist Islam, where death is the punishment for apostasy, where those who violate sexual mores are stoned to death, and were women are often treated as if they were less than human. On the other hand—and it is equally terrible to us—we face the newly pagan west, where death is the ultimate evil, where the only thing truly condemnable is the molestation of children, and where women are often treated as if they were less than human. Oh, wait . . .
But in all seriousness, were there not a few of us who, as we watched the towers burn and listened to the condemnations of Bin Laden and others, felt some ring of truth in the accusations made against America? When our most wholesome export is Miley Cyrus . . .
Let’s face it: we are an ugly country. A true conservative must admit as much. Yet that fact should not cause us to give up the fight—either the internal one to change our culture, or the external one to save our hide hardly worth saving. Chesterton had a good way of putting it (in “The Defendant”):
“On all sides we hear to-day of the love of our country, and yet anyone who has literally such a love must be bewildered at the talk . . . [T]hese men do not realize what the word ‘love’ means, that they mean by the love of country, not what a mystic might mean by the love of God, but something of what a child might mean by the love of jam. . . . It is the essence of love to be sensitive, it is a part of its doom; and anyone who objects to the one must certainly get rid of the other. This sensitiveness, rising sometimes to an almost morbid sensitiveness, was the mark of all great lovers like Dante and all great patriots like Chatham. ‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’ No doubt if a decent man’s mother took to drink he would share her troubles to the last; but to talk as if he would be in a state of gay indifference as to whether his mother took to drink or not is certainly not the language of men who know the great mystery.”
I submit that in it is in light of this quote that we may understand the problem with building a mosque at Ground Zero. It is as if our mother, after being attacked and beaten in her own garden by some over-enthusiastic Salvation Army men (while she was tipsy), were to be asked to allow the Salvation Army’s Santa to collect on her doorstep. Nothing against Santa or the Salvation army, but it would show a distinct lack of taste and good feeling on their part. Perhaps I could also put it by saying that the imam who wishes to build the mosque has half confirmed our suspicion of his barbarism by proving that he is not a gentleman. There are better things than being a gentleman; being a saint is one of them; but there does seem to me to be something wrong with the American gentlemen who lets the saint—or the fanatic—get away with insulting his parent.