January 16, 2002
They are the mutant offspring of Virginia Postrel, Andrew Sullivan, and Ariel Sharon: meet the "warbloggers," internet mavens who see themselves as the trendiest of the trendy, the vanguard of the chattering classes, whose little "weblogs" (i.e. diaries) are supposed to be The Latest Thing. Many of them claim to be libertarians, and, simultaneously, they just loooove this lovely little war we're having. They love it so much that they write about it practically every day on their little websites, and the results are strangely uniform. But before we get to that….
What the heck is a "blog," anyway? How uncool of you not to know! The scoop is that, nowadays, it's not necessary to know all that arcane computer stuff to set up your own website: all you need to do is sign up for a free account at Blogger.com (or any number of other sites, such as Pitas, or Userland). They've made it so easy to do that even a technophobe like myself can make it work. Once you've entered all the server info, fiddled with the FTP and set up all your folders, you're set: formatting new entries is automated. All you have to do is start updating and you're in business. You're blogging…..
Or bloviating, as the case may be.
Basically, a blog is a hi-tech version of those little diaries they used to sell in the five-&-dime, the kind that had little locks on them, and that girls, in particular, used to confide in. Except now, with the coming of the Internet, the lock is gone, and the writer is confiding to the few dozen or a few thousand readers who, for some reason, find his daily log of meandering expostulations, mini-essays, and Internet links infinitely fascinating. Now, in spite of the conceits of these bloggers some of whom seem to think that they're pulling off nothing less than a "technological Reformation" the weblog as a form has been around a lot longer than the current crop. But we aren't just talking about a form of writing, or a given technology and format here.
There is a distinctly ideological "line" that virtually all of these blogger types seem to embrace: the War is good, bracing, and invariably righteous, and all its opponents are wimps, traitors and, worse, Ted Rall. Or, rather, Rall-like in their knee-jerk holier-than-thou America-hating leftie-pacifism. These bloggers were inspired by the onset of the war, as Glenn Reynolds, the proprietor of Instapundit kind of the New York Times of the bloggers' subuniverse points out. The "Big Media" are being "challenged" by these little one-man sites, kept honest, as it were:
"This process was well under way before September 11, but it has accelerated since. The phenomenon of 'warblogs' weblogs, or personal webpages, dedicated to discussing the war has played a major role in disciplining press coverage and punditry. Some blogs are run by journalists including big names like Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus, and Virginia Postrel and some by amateurs with no credentials beyond a penetrating mind and biting prose. But all tend to have certain characteristics: snappy prose style, irreverence toward established sources, and rapid response."
They also tend to have certain ideological characteristics: to a man (and woman) they are as scathingly intolerant of any and all dissent on the War question as they are vehement in their contempt for Arabs all Arabs, as such and blind support for the state of Israel. It's frightening, really, with so many sites there must be hundreds of these little war-bots spawned in cyberspace, springing out of the psychic ether like Myrmidons and lunging at anyone who doesn't toe the Party Line.
This United Front Against "Islamo-Fascism" takes on some pretty ugly connotations in the testosterone-drenched prose of one of the biggies at least in his own mind Ken Layne, a jack-of-all-trades media type who boasts that not only is he a college dropout, but he has also "lived and worked in many strange places." His critique of a Salon piece detailing the achievements of Arabic civilization consists of a systematic debunking of the idea that Arabs did (or could) conceive anything worthwhile and original: according to Layne, not even minarets were their idea. In the trademark macho-bitchy style of these "penetrating" blogmeisters, Layne declaims:
"I don't mean to rob the Ancient Arabs of their notable influence on Western Civilization. Indeed, I hoped this Salon piece would mention some really interesting stuff, like the use of 'El' in Spanish, (it's an evolution of the Arabic 'Al'), or the Muslim creation of hashish-crazed Assassins, or the Cuban national dish (Moros y Cristianos). But this Salon piece was obviously intended as a feel-good buy-some-North-African-art-for-your-condo article for American liberals uncomfortable with the War Against Islamic Terrorism. And that's sad."
What's really sad is that Layne thinks he's being oh-so-politically-incorrect and daring gee, think of it, piling on Arabs when a bunch of them just launched the biggest terrorist attack on America in modern times. Who woulda ever thought of it? According to Layne, Arabic civilization has value only as a kind of conveyor belt importing Asian values Westward and classic Greek and Roman civilization Eastward. The Arabs, says Layne, "should be applauded for rescuing and translating Greco-Roman texts, spreading Chinese math and maintaining Roman and Grecian and Asian ideals, philosophy, science and customs." As for having any value in and of itself, clearly Layne believes that this is pretty much limited to having "made Sicilian food tasty." Never mind that the Arabs had already mapped the heavens while Europe was still living in the Dark Ages.
In the end, however, Layne's swagger is somewhat deflated when he fails to follow through and instead opines
"Does this mean one or another culture is better? Of course not. For all I know, I'm a French-Irish-Arab-Jew-Native American-Roman-Negro. I might even have some German in my blood. Who the hell cares? I look at my big-ass Roman nose and trace my shady lineage to the Empire."
After presenting several paragraphs of what he no doubt considers evidence in favor of the thesis that Arabs have always been culturally deprived, he wimps out in the end. Having "made Sicilian food tasty, and Granada's baths relaxing," those Muslim ragheads "did good work. It belongs to all of us now. Only a racist would say otherwise." From the foregoing, it would seem that it takes one to know one. But of course Layne isn't a racist, since that would involve having the courage of his convictions, however morally wrong and laughably facile they may be. Layne, for all his macho posturing, turns tail and runs from his own argument.
Although there is nowhere on his site a photo of its progenitor, I have no doubt that Mr. Layne can indeed at least trace his intellectual lineage to the Empire. The spirit of Imperial Rome its arrogance, its cruelty, the megalomania of its often-demented rulers suffuses his overly muscular prose. The American Empire, circa 2002 Anno Domini, is populated by the Ken Layne type in disconcertingly large numbers: the young lords (and ladies) of the known universe who make hubris a virtue, and are eager too eager to inherit the power and suck up to the glory. With their hectoring, their jibes at the Ted Ralls of this world oh, what would they do without him? they are the would-be enforcers of a new conventional wisdom. The warbloggers long to "discipline" the media coverage not only of this war, but of everything.
The spirit and style of this aspiring media elite is pretty much summed up by the ruminations of one Bjorn Staerk, whose "warblog," "The World After WTC," sports a Norwegian cross superimposed over the stars-&-stripes. Discussing an essay by Naomi Klein on the impact and meaning of 9/11, he writes:
"What a bore she is. She absolutely refuses to take any pleasure at all from being on the side of Good against Evil. She can't find anything good to say about religious fanatics, so she makes fighting a good cause itself a suspicious act. One of the advantages of growing up a nerd is that our subculture, with the apocalyptic battles of Fantasy and the galactic perspective of SciFi, has a moral compass branded so firmly into it the relativism of people like Klein stand out like a suit at a hacker convention. Of course it is dangerous to live your own myth, (Klein should watch the Babylon 5 episode Comes the Inquisitor for a discussion of the subject), but so is being blown up by terrorists."
Here we have the apotheosis of "modernity": some punk kid who thinks the world is a friggin' computer game and cannot distinguish fantasy from reality. Peace is "boring," and only war is enough to excite the passion of our militant young nerd. Armed with the "galactic perspective" that only someone who has read the complete works of Isaac Asimov can possess, young Staerk and his American and British confreres are marching off to war, ready to lay low the entire Middle East.
Right in the front ranks is "Sergeant Stryker's Daily Briefing," another "warblog" of affected bellicosity, this one done up in shades of military khaki and a photo of a helmeted John Wayne barking into the camera. John Stryker is supposedly "the pseudonym for an aircraft mechanic in the U.S. Air Force." But the Sergeant must keep his identity secret, you see, "to prevent his jealous and wrathful employer from smiting him from on high for contrary opinions." One of these opinions is the absolute evil of Saudi Arabia, which is seen by the warbloggers as the real power behind Osama Bin Laden. As Stryker puts it:
"Saudi Arabia is looking into reconciling with Iraq. On the surface, this appears to be a ploy on Saddam's part to strengthen ties with neighboring states in an effort to prevent any US military action against him. It's also a ploy that our friends the Saudis seem all too eager to engage in. Of course, this information is nothing new to people who realize that all terrorist roads lead to Riyadh."
Ken Layne chimes in, hissing in the same tone that we hear from Bin Laden when he talks about the "Crusaders" and "the Jews":
"Charles Johnson has another gem from our friends the Saudis. This charming column from the Saudi government daily Al-Riyadh is a long and boastful rant about the beauty of hatred. Did you know Arab babies get their seething hatred of Jews from breast milk? Neither did I. It can be dull work, going through the Saudi trash every day. But it's important work, and we are lucky to have anti-idiotarians such as Charles Johnson and Bjørn Stærk exposing these swine day after day.
"Have you posted a damning link about the House of Saud lately? I know I've been slacking off. So, let's all put the Full-Bore-Fact-Check on the Saudis. As long as the evil and corrupt House of Saud exists, there will never be peace in the Middle East. As long as Saudi terrorists are tolerated and funded by the House of Saud, we will have more days like Sept. 11. And as long as Saudi royalty runs loose in Florida, we are tolerating slavery in the United States."
Layne is at least as hateful as any article in Al Riyadh, but the radical severity of his post-9/11 psychosis prevents him from seeing the irony of his position: or, indeed, any irony anywhere (it's supposed to be dead, didn't you know?). As the radical caucus of the War Party, the warbloggers see themselves as an intellectual fighting force, the media vanguard of an emerging American empire. They echo the most radical notions of the so-called neoconservatives, such as the columnist Jeff Jacoby, now calling for the outright military conquest of the Saudi peninsula and the seizure of the oil fields.
Oh yes, we must be sure to keep up our relentless Full-Bore-Fact-Check on the Saudis but never the Israelis. That is one of the cardinal rules of warblogging: never the Israelis. As His Majesty, King Andrew, recently announced: Israel must be supported "unequivocally" i.e. no matter what horrors are carried out by Ariel Sharon and his nutball rightwing followers.
The weird group-think of the warbloggers is apparent in how they echo each other so faithfully, shouting "amen, brother!" into the endless reaches of cyberspace, backslapping and mimicking, all to create a "buzz," a din of voices raised in unison. With material fed to them by the pro-Israel group Memri, the warbloggers selectively cite (and reinterpret) the Arab media, with the point always being the irredeemable evil and anti-Semitism of those filthy ragheads.
Super-blogger Sullivan is particularly fond of this cheap and meaningless exercise, I suppose because it fills up empty blog-space: he and his fellow bloggers trade little tidbits like kids exchanging trading cards, linking and re-linking to the same circular arguments. One imagines their Arab equivalent, carefully culling the clippings from American and Israeli sources for evidence of anti-Arab hatred and disdain for the Muslim religion: with the advent of the warbloggers, they certainly have a rich source of material to mine.
The fanatically pro-Israel stance of the warbloggers is due, at least in a few cases, to the influence of the Ayn Rand cult, who believe as Rand did that Arabs are subhuman creatures devoid of rights, and that Israel, as a Western democracy, is a superior civilization, and therefore deserves our unstinting support. Yet another Norwegian Randian, one Fredrik Norman, implores his American friends to "Give Israel the moral support it so desperately needs." Citing the Jerusalem Post, young Fredrik avers that:
"The US is giving Israel an extra $28 million to purchase counterterrorism equipment, primarily robots that perform controlled explosions on suspected bombs."
Oh, but billions of our tax dollars since Israel's founding is not enough:
"What's needed in Israel much more than robots is our full moral support in the effort to destroy the terrorist factions within the PLO, Hamas, Hizbollah and whatever other but similar groups there might be. As the New York Post explains today, 'It's time for Washington finally to get tough with Arafat. Nearly a decade of offering him carrots simply hasn't worked. It's time to apply the stick and to make certain he feels it.'"
The complete isolation of the US from its Arab friends and allies, and a US-Israeli alliance against more than a billion Muslims this is what the warbloggers are gunning for. This is the real source of dissent in wartime America: not a peace movement, but a War Party that wants to take the President and his Secretary of State much farther than they want to go. In every case, their policy recommendations have one and only one beneficiary and it isn't the United States of America. What's funny is that in his next entry Norman complains that "the US is inching toward socialism," and links to a Linda Bowles column, somehow missing that Israel has been a socialist state from its very inception. We may, indeed, be inching toward socialism, but Israel is already there.
The warbloggers have taken the old leftie slogan, "the personal is the political," and used it as a weapon to bludgeon all opposition to their world-conquering spirit. In an entry on her web-log portentously entitled "America or death," warblogger and former San Jose Mercury News columnist Joanne Jacobs comments on a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece about the author's visit to his Jewish grandfather's home town in Moldova. The WSJ writer speculates that in all likelihood his family would've been murdered by either Hitler or Stalin if they hadn't gotten the heck out of there in time. "That's my family history too," Jacobs avers:
"In America, we were free and prosperous citizens. There, we'd be dead (poison gas, firing squad, starvation, cold, disease, etc.) or, at best, enslaved to the state.
"That's why I get so sick of kneejerk anti-patriots, America-bashers and whiners. If you can find a better country where did Alec Baldwin move to? bon voyage. Adios. Don't let the door hit you on the way out."
The aim of this sort of superheated ultra-emotional it's-all-about-me kind of rhetoric is to rule any and all criticism of US foreign policy out of order. What does Ms. Jacobs' family history have to do with this war? Absolutely nothing. Furthermore, I'll tell you what I'm sick of, Ms. Jacobs: I'm sick of "journalists" who salivate over Donald Rumsfeld, the Pentagon stud, and who think their role is to conduct the war rather than cover it. I'm sick of self-appointed Thought Police, like you and Andrew Sullivan, who think that any criticism of American hubris is "bashing" the country instead of its corrupt political elite. I'm sick of people posing as rebels and, yikes, even "libertarians"! who are ready, willing, and even eager to surrender the last of our liberties to the likes of John Ashcroft, and who see themselves as the enforcers of a new political correctness, always ready to enforce "discipline" on a media that may, at any moment, get out of hand. In short, Ms. Jacobs, I'm sick unto death of the likes of you.
But you know what? I'm not telling you to get the hell out of the country. I'm not saying "adios" and, believe you me, I won't let the door hit me 'cause I ain't going out. I'm staying right here in the public square, getting a lot more hits (visits, visitors, readers, whatever) than you and all your dinky little warblogger friends put together. Because, you see, you're dead wrong: wrong not only about the war, but sadly misinformed as to what America is all about. In the few times we've met over the years, I never really did get a clear picture of your political views, but perhaps you're at least acquainted with the idea that bashing official government policy is not the same as bashing the country. This may come as quite a shock to you, Joanne, but the government is not the people.
So you'll pardon me if I continue to bash our government's relentlessly stupid and suicidal foreign policy, while defending the authentic interests of the American people. And while you're at it, madam, please tell me how those interests are served by systematically starving tens of thousands of Iraqi children to death on account of US-imposed sanctions? How does it serve American interests to subsidize and protect a settler colony of religious fanatics against the whole Arab world?
The real America-bashers, Ms. Jacobs, are those who have no sense of the natural reluctance of a free people to impose its will, and its rule, on others. Those who insist we do so are bashing down the very foundations of our Republic, and won't be satisfied until they have built an empire out of the rubble. To that, I and millions of others will never consent, and if you don't like it… well, you can try to shut us up, but I wouldn't advise it. At least, not yet. For the time being, you're going to have to get used to it. Otherwise you could always emigrate. As you put it: Bon voyage! Adios! And don't let the door hit you on your way out.
The pretensions of the warbloggers aside for the moment, I must admit to having been taken a little aback by the discovery of a weird self-referential cyber-culture of warmongers inhabiting cyberspace alongside Antiwar.com. In reading their little debates over who was the first to blog, I got a horselaugh out of the various claimants to the title of First Blogger. Naturally, Ken Layne insists he did it, while Joanne Jacobs has another opinion. What this arcane debate leaves out of the equation entirely is that Antiwar.com preceded them all. This column began on March 3, 1999, as a daily commentary on the Kosovo war. Before the warblog there was the anti-warblog. So get over yourselves, warbloggers, and don't be so sure you can control the debate: there are some of us who just won't be "disciplined" all that easily.
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