October 22, 2001

Hysterical women – a byproduct of war

Have the terrorists put something in the water that is causing Americans to behave, uh, irrationally? After reading Peggy Noonan's recent column in the Wall Street Journal, you have to wonder. Poor Peggy: there she was, standing in Rockefeller Center, contemplating the burden of Atlas holding up the world. No doubt profound thoughts were being filed away for future ruminations, as she stood there with her 14-year-old son. The street was near-empty when,

"Suddenly to our right, on the sidewalk, we saw two "Mideastern looking men," as we all now say. They were 25 or 30 years old, dressed in jeans and windbreakers, and they were doing something odd. They were standing together silently videotaping the outside of St. Pat's, top to bottom. We watched them, trying to put what we were seeing together. Tourists? It was a funny time of day for tourists to be videotaping a landmark – especially when the tourists looked like the guys who'd just a few days before blown up a landmark."


Tourists in New York City? How suspicious can you get? And they were "Mideastern looking," according to Detective Noonan, which could mean – anything. But seriously deluded people never realize just how and why they've turned into nut-balls: their subjectivity is a shield, behind which they are safe from any objective analysis. Emotions, not facts, energize their fantasies, because, you see, for someone suffering from an advanced case of mental illness, trying to put what they are seeing together is a process that doesn't resemble thought in the slightest. What it seems like, from Noonan's vivid description of her interior mental processes, is a very bad case of PMS:

"We watched them. After a minute or so they finished taping St. Pat's and turned toward where we were. We were about 20 feet away from them, and we eyeballed them hard. They stared back at us in what I thought an aggressive manner: a deadeye stare, cold, no nod, no upturned-chin hello."


Come on, Peggy, admit it: you think you're so damn famous that you really were astonished they didn't recognize you. It's as if you expected them to get all excited and exclaim: "Hey, there's Peggy Noonan, the famous speech-writer and columnist, staring rudely at us! Whaddaya know about that?"

"They stared at us staring at them for a few seconds, and then they began to videotape Rockefeller Center. We continued watching, and I surveyed the street for a policeman or patrol car. I looked over at the men again. They were watching me. The one with the camera puts it down for a moment. We stared, they stared. And then they left. They walked away and disappeared down a side street.

"Let me tell you what I thought. I thought: Those guys are terrorists."


So what, exactly, had been the great crime of these two "Mideastern looking" guys? That they were videotaping an edifice that has been the favored subject of millions of tourists? That they were probably Italians with great tans, maybe a couple of Sicilianos? Perhaps the real crime of these two darkies was that they somehow failed to genuflect in the direction of Princess Peggy, and instead returned her hostile glares with a well-deserved "deadeye stare." Noonan, ditzy to begin with, has quite clearly lost her mind. But, then again, she's in good company, because so has much of the rest of the country.


Noonan's crazed column is a perfect case study in the mass psychology of madness, the kind of insanity that leads to lynch mobs, lawlessness, and the final breakdown of the social order. A female, screaming in panic, is suddenly gripped by hysteria – isn't this a common feature of any disaster scenario? Noonan isn't the only one: Ann Coulter, as I discussed in another column, has fixated on the alleged dangers of all Mideastern-looking men, and wants to deport them (except, those who are US citizens). Mona Charen, who once had the nerve to smear Pat Buchanan as a "racist" and "xenophobe," concurs:

"There are thousands of Arabs in the United States at this moment on student and travel visas. They should all be asked, politely and without prejudice, to go home. This will work hardships in many cases, and that is regrettable. But…."


Like Coulter, Charen doesn't bother facing the question of what to do with all those Arab-Americans who are US citizens, since presumably – given these paranoid premises – they would pose an equal danger. But, then, the female mind does not work logically, and especially not in a time of crisis, when they are genetically programmed to go ballistic.


Perhaps this had some survival value back in the days when human beings were hunter-gatherers, trolling the savannas in packs: when danger threatened, the females would set off a chorus of frenzied screams, loud enough to be heard for miles. This would be the signal for the males to come running to the rescue. However, this is one atavism which is a definite liability in the modern world, especially now that we have such a thing as newspaper columnists of the female persuasion. As catastrophe strikes, and the women start to scream, it's best to get them into the lifeboats – and out of the public discussion. This is a time for cooler heads to prevail….


Noonan, as I have indicated, has to be read to be believed. While she admits to a moment of lucidity – "And then I thought: Whoa, wait a minute" – this soon passed, and all those female hormones took over. Of course, if she had flagged down a cop car – I can't believe there wasn't one in sight, the city was crawling with them in the wake of 9/11 – and demanded they arrest the men, they would have told her to take a chill pill – and go home fer Chrissakes, lady! "So I just filed it away," she writes, "as did my son." Oh, clever Peggy Noonan, a smart Irish girl who knows when to keep her mouth shut. "But neither of us could shake it," she writes. Yes, madness is like that….


Everything has significance to an advanced nut-case, there are no coincidences: the smallest events are fraught with meaning, usually ominous. Noonan's symptoms are classic: she blithers on about her driver, who, miraculously, wasn't a Pakistani. She was on her way to the Oprah Winfrey Show, and to gather material from the plebeian classes – by way of research, you understand – she asks the guy: "So, you bothered like everyone else at what's going on?"

It is an odd question, really, I mean who wouldn't be bothered driving down the street in midtown Manhattan, just a few days after the attack on the World Trade Center, with the stench of death still hovering in the air? There is also, you'll note, a strange phraseology in her question, as posed: something is said to be going on, although it isn't clear, from the context, just what Noonan means. But the driver picks up on it right away, without having to be told, and goes into a paranoid riff:

"Yeah, I am. I been feeling funny since a thing I saw the other day. I'm standing with a bunch of limos and drivers, we're waiting outside that big building, 520 Madison. And suddenly – we're all hanging around talking – and suddenly we see these two guys, Mideastern guys, in turbans. And they're videotaping 520 Madison Avenue top to bottom. Right in front of us. So we look at them and they look back – and then they keep doing it! So one of our guys starts to walk toward them, and the guys with the camera got outta there quick. And I'm telling you, it gave me the creeps!"


Oh, the wisdom of limo-drivers! Why, who knows how many newspaper columns might never have been written if not for their Solomonic sense of rectitude! This, I'm afraid, was enough to push poor Peggy over the edge, and right after the show she rushed off the set and called the FBI tip line, babbling her story at some poor G-man:

"I say, ‘You guys must be getting 1,500 tips an hour.' He says yes [his sigh is almost audible], but they're all appreciated and if I see any more Mideastern looking men videotaping I should call."


Crazy people, the real nutballs, are typically gullible to a fault, almost childlike in their naivetι, and never know when they're being humored. But our Peggy is no dummie:

"I figured: They're busy taking other, more urgent tips, this isn't going anywhere. Then I remembered an FBI agent I'd met in the neighborhood, tried to reach her, couldn't get her at her office or home. I leave messages, hear nothing, figure she's out chasing the bad guys."


Good lord, the poor woman is positively frantic, at this point, dialing the phone as if it is her one last link to sanity. The problem is, no one is answering, or at least no one is giving her the answers she wants to hear. So instead of confronting the issue of her own, uh, lunacy, she retreats deeper into her developing psychosis. Like the schizophrenic girl portrayed in I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, whose fantasy realm of gods and heroes is her shield against a world where human ambiguity can be dangerous, Noonan creates an entire mythology out of the random occurrences of her life:

"Now jump to this past week. Two things happen. My son is surfing Internet chat rooms last Sunday and goes to a conservative site, where he sees an interesting thing. A man or woman has written in to say – again I paraphrase – ‘The oddest thing happened at work the other day. I work at a petrochemical company, and these two Mideastern looking guys come in and say they want to videotape the inside of the plant for a college course they're taking. They were approached and asked for identification by the manager. They became surly, angry, and left. Later the manager phoned the school they claimed to be students at – and they weren't even registered!'

"My son calls to me, we read it and look at each other. I decided to call the FBI again."


I will pass over the question of why Noonan didn't name the "conservative site" in question, aside from noting that if that site had been Lucianne.com the Wall Street Journal would no doubt have taken the opportunity to broadcast the fact to the world. FreeRepublic.com is the name of the site, it is the most popular and consistently interesting site on the Right side of the Web, and I, too, saw the thread that tall tale was on. I have seen hundreds like it, and so has Noonan, if she's spent any time at all on FR recently: like society at large, the Freepers are in a state of hysteria – only more so. And, as in the world of the punditocracy, a good proportion of the hysterics are women, like the broad who posted reply #64 on this thread:

"I have a small disposable camera and a little spiral-bound notebook in my purse or backpack now wherever we go. About a week after 9-11 my kids and I went to the local Wal-Mart. As we were walking from our vehicle through the parking lot, I saw two young Middle Eastern guys, twenty-somethings, walking out of WM toward us. They had no bags from the store. They had nothing in their hands at all. But in the 10-15 feet width of space between parked cars, they were walking like they were joined at the hip, with their arms pressed together and their heads down, kind of a ‘let's hurry up and get out of here before someone sees us' kind of exit."


Good G*d! So here is this harpy carrying her little camera and notebook, following people around, and generally making an all-around nuisance of herself – and she doesn't feel in the least bit embarrassed about it! Indeed, she broadcasts her madness to the world – she's proud of it! That's the defining characteristic of life in wartime: it brings out the absolute worst, as well as (on some rare occasions) the best. A mild snoop becomes a fanatical spy, and the slightly obnoxious become utterly intolerable – because, you see, they are in charge, or think they are. I'll spare my readers the rest of this vicious woman's tirade, except that she ends her peroration by exclaiming: "Be ever vigilant!" Of such people police states are made.


Of course, you'll find the biggest opponents of a police state on FreeRepublic, too, but that's because the place is so big and has so much traffic that it reflects not only the conservative movement but the country at large. In any case, there are hundreds of such paranoid ravings on FreeRepublic, a good deal of them posted by hysterics of the female persuasion. That Noonan glommed onto one of them so readily is yet another symptom of what appears to be a widespread illness, a mass hallucination amid a veritable epidemic of anthrax-sightings, otherwise known as war hysteria. Any normal person, especially one with some background in journalism, might look askance at this story: to an hysteric, however, it appears to be the gospel truth, since it seems to imbue Noonan's hallucinations with the aura of credibility: "My son calls to me," writes Noonan, "we read it and look at each other. I decided to call the FBI again."


It is like something out of the diary of a mad housewife: mother and son uncover heinous plot to blow up Walmart's, or Saint Patrick's Cathedral, or whatever. And, you know what? The FBI called her back! I kid you not: this is how our intrepid law enforcement agencies are going after Osama bin Laden – by listening to Noonan's semi-coherent conspiracy theories and solemnly taking it all down:

"My initial tip line report has, apparently, trickled up into the ‘check it out' category. Or maybe they've gotten enough reports like mine that a discernible pattern has emerged. At any rate, the agent asked me to go through my story and the driver's story, and then I threw in the report on the Internet, and he gave me his name and number and asked me to call if I saw anything else. All this, of course, has me thinking. Maybe it has you thinking, too."


You bet it does, Peggy girl. It makes me think that the Wall Street Journal editor who let that one go through the editorial process untouched by human hands ought to be fired forthwith. It also makes me wonder whether someone so obviously disturbed ought to be entrusted with the care of a 14-year-old boy: this kind of madness is apparently all too communicable. But most of all it makes me very much afraid: I mean, is this what the FBI is spending its time on when a cabal of crazed mass murderers is on the loose? No wonder they didn't have a clue as to what was happening in the days prior to 9/11. If Noonan's nuttery is something they take seriously, then they are sure to miss out on the real thing when it passes right under their noses – and in that case we are all doomed, now aren't we?


There have been plenty of public exhibitions of madness in the days since 9/11, but none, to date, is so blatant and embarrassing as Noonan's acting out on the op-ed page of the WSJ. For all this anecdotal "evidence" of a Vast Arab-American Conspiracy – i.e. the overheated ramblings of other hysterics – is just the buildup for La Noonan's grand conspiracy theory, to wit:

"I think there are a lot of ‘sleeper cells' – not a few, as we all hope, but a lot. I think some of them are in Queens and Brooklyn and Manhattan, and in Jersey City and elsewhere in New Jersey. Boston, too. Maybe some are in the capital or Virginia or Maryland. Maybe some of those who delivered anthrax to the U.S. Capitol took a taxi. Maybe on the other hand they took the shuttle from LaGuardia."


Yeah, and maybe they hitchhiked. It is incredible that such nonsense could be printed on the editorial page of any mainstream newspaper: Oh, those pod people are everywhere! Sleeping underground, germinating their nefariousness, until, one day, they awaken…. Put down the crack pipe, Peggy, and snap out of it! Having lost the key element that separates the inmates of an asylum from the rest of us – the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality – you are sliding down the slippery slope into a mental abyss. You need professional help – and so does the Wall Street Journal for allowing you to embarrass not only yourself but also the entire staff of that paper.


Is it really necessary to say that the ethnic cleansing program envisioned by the Three Witches of the War Party is eminently impractical as well as utterly un-American? Okay, then, I'll explain to the more hysterical females and their male counterparts: surely all Bin Laden has to do in order to get around this dubious strategy is to recruit a few white guys. Shoot, he has already. And what about those Arabs who are also American citizens? La Charen says that they will have to undergo "scrutiny" – but why draw the line there? Why not simply subject everyone to merciless scrutiny, just to be on the safe side: why not set up a full-fledged police state, complete with injunctions against certain types of speech, while deporting all Arabs (or those who even look vaguely Arabic)?


This last is not so unthinkable, for, according to Noonan, she was thrown into a veritable tizzy by the sight of "Mideastern looking" men "wearing turbans." The idea that Osama bin Laden's underground army is going to be parading around the streets of Manhattan in turbans is just ludicrous enough for a space case like Noonan to believe. Please don't tell her that it is the Sikhs – closer to Indians (from India) and not in the least bit Arabic – who wear turbans, and that these guys were very probably not Afghans, or Arabs: it would spoil her fantasy, and, besides, that isn't how delusional systems work.


Fantasy worlds constructed by the clinically insane are the products of careful editing: everything that contradicts the reality of the fantasy is simply edited out. So it doesn't matter that the tinfoil-hat stories Noonan picked up on FreeRepublic are not verified, or verifiable: it doesn't matter that there's no evidence for the kind of widespread – indeed, practically omnipresent – conspiracy imagined by her. When you want to believe something, it doesn't take much convincing. And clearly Noonan wants to believe it out of some need to impose a pattern on what is otherwise, to her, inexplicable.


It is especially funny – unintentional humor is the best kind, don't you think? – when the touchy-feely highly emotional Noonan, who admittedly is going off on a "hunch," goes all analytical on us. These cell members, she solemnly informs us, "may not be sure what their next move is. They're not sure of their next assignment." Gee, I don't know, maybe the anthrax in the Capitol has something to do with their next move, but then I'm not a Wall Street Journal pundit, so what do I know? Ms. Noonan, naturally, has her own theory, and it is a unique one:

"I think cell members have been going around taking home movies of potential targets. I suspect they've been downloading them into computers and shooting them off to Osama and his lieutenants in the caves. I suspect they've been building a video library of places they might hit over the next few months and years and decade. And I think once they take one of the targets down they'll happily return to the scene of the crime, take a nice tourist-type videotape of the crater they made – they'll tell the cops they want to record the brave rescue workers – and send it triumphantly home."


Of course, admits La Noonan, "that's all based on nothing but hunches," otherwise known as feminine intuition. Now, let's look at this logically (and, ladies, do try to follow along with me….): Why are they bothering to videotape these well-known targets (such as St. Patrick's Cathedral) an activity that is sure to arouse a certain amount of suspicion post-9/11, when there are plenty of images of these targets already extant? Of what possible use would a "video library" of potential targets be to Al Qaeda – to "send them triumphantly home" to what purpose?


Noonan's screed here veers off into complete incoherence, but what comes through is an abiding hatred of all things Arabic: turbans, and the "arrogant" and "showy" "Mid-eastern looking" men who wear them. Noonan writes with the fervent dreamlike urgency of a madwomen whose visions have overwhelmed what little common sense she once possessed:

"I think I saw some of them that night across from St. Pat's, and I continue to regret not confronting them, questioning them and, if I had to, tackling them and screaming for help. I could have gotten us all arrested. If they had been innocent tourists I would have apologized, begged their forgiveness and offered to buy them a very nice dinner. If they had not been innocent, I would have helped stop some bad guys."


Oh, how I wish she had tackled those poor tourists – stuck in New York, probably, and wandering about in hopes of salvaging their vacation. Noonan would then have been, rightly, arrested, and, when she tried to impress them with her importance by dropping a few names – Ronald Reagan, Wall Street Journal – it would have infuriated them just enough to clap her in the hoosegaw, where she would have cooled her jets, and learned a much-needed lesson.


The whole world would then have read about the ex-Reagan speech-writer and Wall Street Journal columnist driven stark staring mad by the 9/11 attack, who had been arrested, screaming, after assaulting some hapless tourists. As it is, we will not be spared her hysterical subjectivity: she'll just get worse, until her madness becomes so apparent that she'll be forced to get help. Either that, or the rest of the world will have gone made along with her – in which case no one will notice that a nut-ball, the kind that usually writes 20-page letters-to-the-editor in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, is pontificating on the op ed page of one of the world's leading newspapers. And this last may be a real possibility….


As Noonan cheerily informs us:

"In the past month I have evolved from polite tip-line caller to watchful potential warrior. And I gather that is going on with pretty much everyone else, and I'm glad of it."

I, for one, am not glad of it. The lunatics, it seems, have taken over the asylum: not only that, but their craziness is contagious, and its partisans are actively trying to spread it: why else write such a newspaper column? Noonan then goes on to record her glee at reading a story about some minor indignity endured by two "Mideastern looking" men on a plane, who were asked not to sit together. While admitting that "they were probably going to a bioethics convention," she nonetheless revels in their discomfort:

"They made it clear they resented being split up, and I understand their resentment, and would feel real sympathy if they told me about it. You would, too."

"But you know what? I think we're in the fight of our lives, and I think we're going to need their patience. And I think those who have not yet developed patience are going to have to grow up and get some."


Let's all be "grown up," here, and go hysterical, like the Three Witches of Neoconservatism. Let's ditch the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, the social contract and the fabric of society itself, in a panic to stamp out the "sleeper cells" that live in Peggy Noonan's overheated imagination. We're in the fight of our lives, all right: not only against Osama bin Laden, but against hysterics with a not-so-hidden agenda who will invoke "patience" and even "patriotism" as a rationale for abandoning the free society.


People like Noonan, Mona Charen, and Andrew Sullivan (as shrill and womanish as any of the aforementioned harpies) are all so predictable: Sullivan, for example, is a foreigner, who presumes to lecture American critics of the war for being "anti-American" and darkly implies that an Arabic-leftist "fifth column" needs to be dealt with, perhaps, like Ariel Sharon (his hero) is dealing with the Palestinians. He doesn't care about the Bill of Rights: after all, they don't have any such Bill where he's from. Charen and Noonan, too, brush all concern for civil liberties aside with very little ceremony. Here is the latter on the "very special circumstances" in which all laws, both human and divine, must be suspended:

"Because under very special circumstances – and these are special circumstances – you sometimes have to sacrifice. You have to drop your burly pride a little and try to understand and be accepting and accommodating and generous-spirited.

"I think we're going to require a lot of patience from a lot of innocent people. And you know, I don't think that's asking too much. And when it's not given, I think we should recognize that as odd. About as odd as videotaping a great cathedral in the dark."


It's not asking too much – from a people already half-enslaved. Yes, there's always some "special circumstance" in which the laws propounded by the Founders – not to mention the laws of simple human decency – have to be repealed out of sheer necessity. These "emergency" edicts are always "temporary," of course – except that, as history has shown, they always somehow become permanent. People get used to being ordered around, and, when nobody much objects – for fear of being thought "odd" – this state of affairs seems normal and right.


In an important sense, the mass poisoning of American society has been carried out much more effectively than any anthrax attack could guarantee: the spores of hatred, suspicion, and the totalitarian mentality, are being spread throughout the land. The Noonans, the Charens, and the Coulters are the carriers of this deadly bacillus, and the contagion is spreading dangerously. The madness known as war hysteria, first trumpeted by a bevy of mostly female Bacchantes, is sure to spread to the less enlightened sectors of the male population, starting in the editorial offices of the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal, and ending G*d knows where….

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.


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