NEW YORK -- There are new names for everything in the United States now. The World Trade Center is called Ground Zero, that shadow government that used to be just an idea in conspiracy theory literature is now officially called the Office for Homeland Security, the Grizzlies are in Memphis, it's all a big mess now. Oh, and The New York Times now has a new Sunday section, to go along with Arts and Entertainment and Real Estate -- it's called "A Nation Challenged."
"A Nation Challenged" is like a cross between a classic "focus/editorial" section and a special news insert, and functions as both -- a long-running special editorial insert section devoted to 9/11-related issues.
I had heard that The New York Times had performed more efficiently than usual lately, but I was completely unprepared for the effect of the actual paper in print. It features wartime propaganda so bald that it would not be out of place on leaflets dropped by C-130 onto enemy territory. It probably makes sense to raise the question of how much the government really distinguishes between winning those faraway hearts and minds, and winning ours back here. Probably not much. The only difference is that as an American, as opposed to as a member of a future subject race, you have to pay $2.50 for the pleasure of reading your Times -- although I did enjoy mine with a free Meal-Ready-to-Eat, Beef with Mushrooms, that my father brought back from Afghanistan as a gift.
You can get the gist of "A Nation Challenged" fairly easily from the headlines alone. Here they are:
On Tora Bora, Horror Rained on Al Qaeda: Hospital Wounded Say Bombs Broke Their Spirit
(A thrilling account of what it's like to be on the "business end" of an American attack: captured belligerents recount their awe before American military might. Indistinguishable from gleeful St. Louis newspaper accounts of the "vaunted Ram offense," told from the standpoint of a Carolina Panther defensive back)
In Kandahar, a Top Scool Reopens, and Girls Are Welcome
(Self-explanatory feel-good "after" feature)
Port of Entry Now Means Point of Anxiety
(Classic "Ring-around-your-collar" feature about terrorist threat. Ominous pictures of container ships. What in the world is on those things? The Coast Guard is shown to need more funds, as its budget is "stretched thin")
Afghan Leader is Sworn In, Asking for Help to Rebuild
(The legitimacy process begins. Shots of elders busily passing around Karzai's speech)
At a New Dawning, Afghans Look Back in Anger and Ahead in Hope
(When you have headline cliches left over from last week, throw them together and make a soup. Describes the "feeling of pride and satisfaction" among the Afghanis at the installation of their new West-friendly regime)
Back to the Old Bathhouse; Free to Laugh Once Again
(By old friend Carlotta Gall, who I have never once seen laughing at anything except another Chechnya reporter who got less column space than she did. About the U.S.-mandated return of laughter to public bathhouses in Afghanistan.)
In a Wild Land, British-Led International Security Force Takes on a Narrow Role
(The p.r. bone thrown to the Brits. Succeeds also in making us feel large in comparison. With photo of thin-lipped British commando in camouflage.)
Wartime Forges United Front for President Bush's Inner Circle of Aides
(With photo of peacefully coexisting Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice. Features unnamed sources who insist: "The venom is gone")
Hollywood to Enlist Muhammad Ali's Help in Explaining War to Muslims
(No mention in this piece of Ali's former refusal to fight in Vietnam, except in one section which cites that fact as a reason Ali's image might be "acceptable" to Muslims abroad).
After these pieces there are two whole newspaper pages of bios of victims, small capsules next to head-shot photographs. The whole section is under the headline: