May 18, 2003, on this blog: The Most Critical Time in the History of the World
A while back, Josh Marshall posted a nasty little piece of hate mail he received … that illustrated this point.
It’s the typical supercilious undergrad tone — the kind of thing written by people who want to be Ben Shapiro when they grow small. But one sentence in particular (and yes, this is all one sentence, if not quite one thought) stood out:
This may be the most critical time in the history of the modern world much less of our country; and it is my fervent hope that the American People will remember and appropriately reward those, like you, who have chosen to use this opportunity to forward a political cause, and not incidentally their own careers, by attempting to sabotage an honorable effort to make the world a safer, better place.
You have to love the uppercase “American People” — and I’m guessing this guy never expresses a hope without it being “fervent.” But the important part here is the section in bold — that ours is “the most critical time in … history.”
Like many people who blindly support[ed] this war — including perhaps many in the White House and the Pentagon — the writer is desperate for his life to have some greater meaning or purpose than it apparently does. He hasn’t quite managed to stare into the abyss, but he’s taken a quick glance in its direction and seen something deep and dark and frightening that he doesn’t quite know how to deal with.“All flesh is grass,” the prophet Isaiah said, and “the grass withereth.” This guy, understandably, doth not want to wither. He wants his life to matter, to mean something. He wants to be remembered after he is gone.
He has given this war a metaphysical, religious significance. For him, the war isn’t about oil, or “liberating” Iraq, or overthrowing an evil dictator. It’s grander than that — grander even than the dreams of empire that seem to be motivating Cheney, Perle and Wolfowitz. This war is an attempt to give his life meaning by turning our times into “the most critical time in the history of the modern world.” If our times are meaningful, he hopes (fervently), then our lives must also be meaningful.
The writer gives his life meaning by taking a part in this great, epochal, transcendent struggle.
And note how easy, how undemanding of sacrifice, it is for him to play a role in this epochal, historic event. All he has to do is watch Fox News and fire-off the occasional sophomoric e-mail — maybe even wave a flag, attend a corporate-radio rally, or rename some snack food.
This letter-bomber is not the only one narcotizing his existential crisis with an enthusiasm for “shock and awe.” This is widespread — it’s one of the reasons it is nearly impossible to have a civil conversation with our fellow Americans who believe — or want to believe, or need to believe — Bush’s baseless arguments for capricious war.