Tuesday, November 02, 2004


He fell with a most satisfying “Whump!” to the floor.

Suddenly, a familiar voice behind me sounded. “Gently, GENTLY woman! The whole point is that you can do it with your fingertips, barely touching him. THAT’S what this exercise is about. I KNOW you can do it using your strength, now use his body to do the same thing.”

Walking to my end of the room, he faces one of the black belts. The black belt’s arms reach out for the instructor’s shirt, hands grabbing the material. The instructor presses the fingers of each hand into the assailant’s elbows from underneath, invisibly shifting his weight to one leg, tugging the student off balance. I know he’s doing this because I can see the student suddenly unsteady on his feet, uncertain. I know how it feels to be that student, how unbelievably light the touch is, how the floor suddenly shifts and refuses to bear your weight...all from the gentlest, lightest touch directed at the right area.

One elbow is directed across the body and down, the other across the body in the other direction, upwards towards the head. A push no harder than that to close a well-oiled drawer on the upper elbow. The student is now wobbling on one leg, his head pointed at the floor, the other leg in the air because his spine is locked and contorted in a twist that starts at his triceps, moves through his shoulders to his trapezoids and down the length of his back in a spasm that renders him rigid and supremely maneuverable.

The instructor see-saws him between standing somewhat solidly and facing an imminent conference between his face and the mat. He is controlling a fully grown man with his fingertips and the kind of force a child could exert without difficulty.

He looks at me. “This is all it will take.” - blowing a puff of air out between his lips - “To make him fall. Use his body against him.”

And that’s all it will seemingly take tomorrow – a puff of air – for America to remain standing upright or to tumble toward a disastrous leadership under John Kerry.

America had to let itself get into this kind of a predicament in the first place, though.

Just like the student had to first have his balance compromised, America had to have the basis of it’s free society questioned. Since the massacre on September 11th four years ago, various groups have been pulling and twisting, manipulating and pushing in an effort to topple President Bush’s government.

These moves ranged from the subtlest shifts left in some news coverage to the outright bludgeoning efforts of Michael Moore, certain outspoken celebrities and the world’s press (most notably, Britain’s). Bolstered by this kind of sentiment radiating from the very heart of the country that it reviles, Europe and its leaders joined the fray, yapping and frothing like small dogs sensing an easy victory at the ankles of a stricken giant.

Scandals of various proportions have erupted in the interim and been absorbed into the ever-shifting mass of public opinion. Bin Laden himself has made a Halloween appearance and reminded us that we are actually at war with something other than ourselves.

His speech, most interestingly, made use of every anti-Bush propaganda piece and news story printed in the last few years. It was as if Osama had pre-ordered the Fahrenheit 9-11 DVD and attended the DNC, taking fevered verbatim notes to prepare his Great Psychological Attack on the West. How wretched that our popular (and heavily, safely, properly, appropriately regulated) media were the source for most of the bilious enmity spouted by the man who would have us all subservient to his whims or dead.

Thankfully, the man’s English is awkward and speechwriting staff severely underpaid. If the pen is mightier than the sword, then all I can say about Bin Laden’s clumsy prose is that it was written with the kind of chewed-up plastic Bic that one finds in the gutter and is afraid to pick up. It merely served to remind the West that it was dealing with a fundamentalist madman. It strengthened the resolve of those who still see foreign nutters as a threat rather than a friend one hasn’t won over to the intricacies of milky tea and scones with jam.

So we find ourselves now on the eve of an election whilst embroiled in a very new kind of conflict that doesn’t seem to want to contain itself neatly within geographical boundaries nor contain it’s supporters in one geopolitical group.

If war requires unusual fortitude and certainty in the face of detractors – war with an enemy that is both without and within takes a special kind of leadership. Most notably, one that keeps its eye on exactly who the enemy is.

I don’t agree with Bush on many things – his views on stem cell research strike me as barbaric – but of the two men that are serious contenders to lead the West’s most powerful nation, he is the one that has my best wishes for victory. He has them because I can see that he has not lost sight of the terrific burden facing the office of President in the term to come - he can see the enemy and he knows he has to fight them consistently, ruthlessly and unapologetically.

A breath, though. A handful of votes. A statistical hiccup. This is all that stands between an America that will achieve this and an America that won’t. All because of the unchallenged machinations of a few that have forgotten what America stood for in the first place.

It reminds me of the words of a young American man being teased by two smarmy girls on the tube the other day for his accent and for being proud of his country.

“There was a time when you British were proud of your country, but you lost it.”

I’m afraid that if Kerry wins, Americans will be well on their way to losing it too.


(Cross-posted to A Western Heart.)

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