This is going to get boring very quickly, if it hasn't already. For that I apologize. But it's out of my hands. It may take centuries -- it may even take a nuclear winter or two -- for America's editorial writers to get over the habit of congratulating themselves for scoring a victory over terrorism with each successfully-celebrated holiday. In the last issue, we covered Halloween. In this one, we'll take on Thanksgiving, which, because of its status as an exclusively American holiday, was the source of a massive outpouring of self-congratulatory propaganda this past week.
H.L. Mencken once said: "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public." There is a corollary to that idea. It goes like this. "No American editorial writer ever lost his job by being too patriotic." The rule even applies to those writers who actually cheapen American traditions by recalling them in grossly inappropriate situations. Take this offering by the Christian Science Monitor, normally one of the more circumspect of America's major papers:
"On this Thanksgiving, Americans can draw together and celebrate their triumph over adversity -- not unlike what the Pilgrims must have endured their first winter."
Let's see. The Pilgrims had to survive cold, famine, and a native population that could have (and I might add, should have) been extremely hostile. The current American population had to survive... the pre-empting of a single week of NFL football. No, check that. They changed the schedule. The delay of a single week of NFL football.
Again, I don't want to seem like a spoilsport. I think America in general has reacted fairly well to the 9/11 attacks. But to compare the desperate material struggle of the first European settlers in North America to what most Americans have had to go through in the last few months is... well, it's a joke. You didn't hear this kind of talk in Russia after the apartment bombings, because there are too many people still alive in this country who remember, for instance, Stalingrad or Leningrad. Your average Russian would piss his pants from pure shame if it were even suggested to him that his recent participation in the Revolution Day parade, or his brave decision to stay home and watch the latest episode of Za Steklom, somehow amounted to a "victory over terrorism."
Then there are the passages in editorials in which we give ourselves credit for "what we've learned" since 9/11. Here's a section of that same Monitor piece, written in mangled grammar uncharacteristic of that paper:
"Individual Americans have learned the difference between caution and fear, closing security loopholes, guarding against prejudice, reconnecting or connecting for the first time with neighbors, and learning once again what not to take for granted."
I tried at least five times to make sense of this sentence, but was unable to. After the predicate clause, the whole thing falls apart: when you "learn the difference between" things, you have to follow with a list of pairs -- between courage and fear, between gay and straight, between Eva and Zsa-Zsa. But here we only get one pair, and then in the end we repeat the verb, so that we've "learned... to learning once again what not to take for granted."
But the real problem with this passage is not that's it's ungrammatical, it's that it's not correct. As was demonstrated sadly last week by the passage of the notorious USA Patriot bill, Americans -- and in particular American legislators -- do not know the difference between caution and fear at all. We've rammed through a bill that gives the government the right to listen in to conversations between attorneys and suspects in federal cases, basically eliminating, in one fell swoop, the attorney-client privilege. I think it is fairly safe to say that attorney-client privilege was not a "security loophole", any more than the right against self-incrimination has been.