The Weekly Standard's "9/11 Generation"

The ability to cheer on wars while insulating oneself completely from their risks is a unique attribute of the current American generation.


Glenn Greenwald
July 23, 2007 3:10PM (UTC)

(updated below)

This week's issue of The Weekly Standard features a cover story by Hugh Hewitt blogger Dean Barnett. Entitled "The 9/11 Generation," it argues that America's current youthful generation is courageous and noble because it has answered the call of military service, in contrast to the cowardly Vietnam era baby boomers who chose protest instead. The article is being hailed in all of the predictable right-wing precincts, even though its reasoning highlights (unintentionally) exactly what is so corrupt, ignoble and deceitful about that political movement.

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The crux of Barnett's homage to what he calls the "9/11 Generation" is expressed as follows:

In the 1960s, history called the Baby Boomers. They didn't answer the phone.

Confronted with a generation-defining conflict, the cold war, the Boomers -- those, at any rate, who came to be emblematic of their generation -- took the opposite path from their parents during World War II. Sadly, the excesses of Woodstock became the face of the Boomers' response to their moment of challenge. War protests where agitated youths derided American soldiers as baby-killers added no luster to their image.

Few of the leading lights of that generation joined the military. Most calculated how they could avoid military service, and their attitude rippled through the rest of the century. In the 1970s, '80s, and '90s, military service didn't occur to most young people as an option, let alone a duty.

But now, once again, history is calling. Fortunately, the present generation appears more reminiscent of their grandparents than their parents.

How does one even begin counting the myths laid on top of more myths on which these claims are based? To begin with, while Barnett contrasts two significant groups of the Vietnam era -- those who bravely volunteered for combat and/or who were drafted (Jim Webb and John McCain and Chuck Hagel and John Kerry) and those who protested the war -- he revealingly whitewashes from history the other major group, the most ignoble one, the one which happens to include virtually all of the individuals who lead Barnett's political movement: namely, those who claimed to support the war but did everything possible to evade military service, sending their fellow citizens off to die instead in a war they urged.

Most revealingly, Barnett condemns those who refused to fight because they opposed to war and chose instead to work against it, but ignores completely those who favored the war but sent others to fight and die in it. Barnett has to ignore this group. He has no choice. He cannot possibly criticize such individuals because this group includes the editors and writers of the magazine in which he is writing, his blogging boss, and virtually the entire leadership of the political movement which he follows.

Back in 2005, Digby comprehensively described all three "baby boomer" groups of the Vietnam era -- including the one Barnett understandably wants to delete from history -- as follows:

The [Vietnam] war provided two very distinct tribal pathways to manhood. One was to join "the revolution" which included the perk of having equally revolutionary women at their sides, freely joining in sexual as well as political adventure as part of the broader cultural revolution. (The 60's leftist got laid. A lot.) And he was also deeply engaged in the major issue of his age, the war in Vietnam, in a way that was not, at the time, seen as cowardly, but rather quite threatening. . . .

The other pathway to prove your manhood was to test your physical courage in battle. There was an actual bloody fight going on in Vietnam, after all. Plenty of young men volunteered and plenty more were drafted. . . .

And then there were the chickenhawks. They were neither part of the revolution nor did they take the obvious step of volunteering to fight the war they supported. Indeed, due to the draft, they allowed others to fight and die in their place despite the fact that they believed heartily that the best response to communism was to aggressively fight it "over there" so we wouldn't have to fight it here.

These were empty boys, unwilling to put themselves on the line at the moment of truth, yet they held the masculine virtues as the highest form of human experience and have portrayed themselves ever since as tough, uncompromising manly men while portraying liberals as weak and effeminate.

In this regard, the "9/11 Generation" is no different than its predecessor. One group is comprised of an extremely small percentage of young Americans who volunteer to fight in combat. Contrary to Barnett's attempt to hold them up as the symbolic prop of the "9/11 Generation," they actually represent a tiny percentage of Americans in this age group. A far larger percentage of young Americans fought in the Vietnam war than have fought in the 9/11 era.

Then there is the much larger percentage of young Americans who vigorously oppose the 9/11-era warmongering. And finally there is the tragically sizable portion -- much larger than was true for the hated "baby boomer" generation -- characterized by that most contemptible attribute: vocal war cheerleading and a self-image of resolute strength combined with a refusal to fight, even though the war missions they cheer on are suffering due to a lack of volunteers.

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Contrary to the military heroism with which Barnett tries to cloak his political movement, it is this lowliest group -- Digby's "empty boys," the war cheerleaders who send others to fight in their wars -- which has led the country for the last six militarized years; which publishes the Weekly Standard and edits National Review and broadcasts the radio show of Barnett's boss; which comprises virtually the entirety of the leadership of the right-wing movement; and which has been responsible for the series of liberty-abridging policies implemented, the wars the U.S. has fought, and the new ones it threatens to fight, ever since the 9/11 attacks. The political movement of which Barnett is a part and off of which The Weekly Standard feeds is led by the very group of Vietnam-era baby boomers who failed "to answer the phone" and, worse, who hid under the bed while striking poses of warrior greatness.

* * * * *

It is no surprise, then, that the younger generation of the political movement led by the Vietnam-era chickenhawks largely emulates their cowardly and principle-free behavior. The defining attribute of the Weekly Standard strain of the "9/11 Generation" is the unprecedented ease with which one can cheer on endless wars without having to make even the most minimal sacrifices to sustain them. That is the unique and defining attribute of the Weekly Standard/Hugh-Hewitt strain of the 9/11 Generation.

Indeed, the "9/11 Generation" is uniquely able flamboyantly to perform one war dance after the next, while the war dancing is the only tangible evidence in one's life that a war even exists. The wars of past generations which the Weekly Standard's "9/11 Generation" endlessly exploits for political gain -- the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War II -- all entailed grave sacrifices made by all Americans, fundamental disruptions to the life of the nation. By contrast, the wars cheered on by the Weekly Standard's "9/11 Generation" entail no sacrifices for most of them. These wars are but bumper stickers to create a false Warrior identity and bestow political purpose onto lives which otherwise lack any. Whatever else that might be, noble is not it.

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Attempts to define "generations" by ascribing generalized attributes is always a crude and misleading undertaking. But to the extent that the war-supporting "9/11 Generation" of reality, rather than the fantasy in Barnett's mind, can be described, it is represented far more accurately by the "9/11 Generation" National Review pundit Jonah Goldberg, who authored the following psychologically warped and completely self-involved (though iconic) "justifications" for invading Iraq, followed by his explanation for why he wasn't part of the invading force:

Q: If you're a new sheriff in a really bad town, what's one of the smartest things you can do?

A: Smack the stuffing out of the nearest, biggest bad guy you can.

Q: If you're a new inmate in a rough prison, what's one of the smartest things you can do?

A: Pick a fight with the biggest, meanest cat you can b

Q: If you're a kid and you've had enough of the school bullies pants-ing you in the cafeteria, what's one of the smartest things you can do?

A: Punch one of them in the nose as hard as you can and then stand your ground. . . .

Q: If you're the leader of a peaceful and prosperous nation which serves as the last best hope of humanity and the backbone of international stability and a bunch of fanatics murder thousands of your people on your own soil, what's one of the smartest thing you can do?

A: Knock the crap out of Iraq. . . .

So how does all this, or the humble attempt at a history lesson of my last column, justify tearing down the Baghdad regime? Well, I've long been an admirer of, if not a full-fledged subscriber to, what I call the "Ledeen Doctrine" . . . . [H]ere is the bedrock tenet of the Ledeen Doctrine in more or less his own words: "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business" . . . .

I know -- from painful experience -- that there are lots of people out there who subscribe to the bumper-sticker slogan "peace through strength is like virginity through f**king" . . . If peace cannot be attained through strength, I invite one of these bespectacled, purse-carrying, rice-paper-skinned, sandalistas to walk out into a prison yard. Let's see how receptive Tiny and Mad Dog are to entreaties over the futility of violence. "Sir, there's no need for fisticuffs, I would be glad to share my Snapple with you. Can't you see this sort of conflict is precisely what the multinational corporations want?"

International relations is much more like a prison yard than like a college seminar at Brown.

* * * * * * *

As for why my sorry a** isn't in the kill zone, lots of people think this is a searingly pertinent question. No answer I could give -- I'm 35 years old, my family couldn't afford the lost income, I have a baby daughter, my a** is, er, sorry, are a few -- ever seem to suffice.

The strain of the "9/11 Generation" of which Barnett is a part, which is represented by the Weekly Standard and National Review Agenda of Endless War and led by George Bush and Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich and Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney and Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, is captured perfectly by those passages, which reveal the core mentality of this movement:

We need to prove to the world how powerful and tough and strong we are by kicking ass and starting wars and putting our boots on the ground and getting our hands dirty and bombing and invading and fighting like the Real Warriors we are because Civilization is at Risk. And the way we should do that is by sending those people -- the ones way, way over there -- to go and fight and risk their lives in the wars I love.

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I am a full-throated Supporter of the Epic War of Civilizations, but I can't fight in it, because my knee hurts and I need to collect advance checks from Regnery and I want to stay at home and wipe dribble from my baby's chin. But those people over there can and should fight. And between watching Star Trek on television and playing war video games, I will log off periodically to write articles and posts about how great these wars are and I, too, will therefore be strong and noble and resolute and brave.

That is the grotesque and principle-free face of the "9/11 Generation" which believes there is wisdom in the Weekly Standard and praises Barnett's article and, from a safe and sheltered distance, cheers on one American war after the next. They steadfastly refuse to "answer the phone" even as the wars they urge suffer from insufficient numbers of willing volunteers.

* * * * * *

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Max Blumenthal recently released a new video -- which he could have called the "9/11 Generation" with far more justification than Barnett's hagiography -- containing interviews he conducted during a nationwide gathering of war-supporting (though not war-fighting) College Republicans. The video reveals Barnett's 9/11 Generation in its authentic, unmasked form.

Standing tall in the Sheraton lobby, these young political warriors of the 9/11 Generation speak excitedly of wars as they swagger around with their chests puffed out, boasting of the need to show courage and strength to our Terrorist Enemies. But when Blumenthal asks them whether they themselves plan to serve, they stutter and scamper and offer Goldberg-like excuses for why they need not and cannot fight in the Epic Civilization War and, more pathetically still, offer up a laundry list of petty, nagging ailments and Gingrich-like knee problems and Cheney-ite "other priorites" more petulant and self-pitying than one hears from the most cantankerous nursing home patient.

War is an inherently dangerous and reprehensible option, even in those extremely rare cases when it is just. But the worst of all worlds -- pragmatically, ethically, and in terms of character-building -- is to bestow the ability for a nation to embark on one war after the next while allowing its most enthusiastic boosters to evade entirely any responsibility, sacrifice or risk.

Yet that is the attribute which most shapes the "9/11 Generation," or at least the Weekly Standard's strain of it. And this should come as no surprise, since their most revered political leaders are drawn almost entirely from that sub-group of the Vietnam era which cowardly cheered on that war while sending others to die in it. One would expect nothing less from their most loyal followers and the most enthusiastic supporters of the new risk-free wars they launch.

UPDATE: Nothing is more fact-free than Weekly Standard war propaganda. This chart, from the December 2004 issue of the Population Bulletin (.pdf), reflects the percentage of the American population which, throughout the country's history, served in its armed forces. This, by itself, shows how factually false Barnett's entire claim is:

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There are currently 41.9 million Americans (.pdf) who are between the ages of 18-29 -- the "9/11 Generation." And according to the CIA, there are roughly 108 million Americans "fit for military service" -- 54 million males and 54 million females who, as the CIA defines it, are able-bodied and between the ages of 18-49.

But the total number (.pdf) on active duty in American's armed services in 2007 only totaled roughly 1.4 million. Thus, a meager 1% of the total number of Americans fit for military service -- and less than 1/3 of 1% of the total number of Americans -- actually serve in the armed forces.

Moreover, roughly 60% (.pdf) of those in the armed forces are in the 18-29 age group, which means that 800,000 out of the 41 million Americans in this 9/11 Generation -- i.e., 2% -- have "answered the call" by volunteering to fight in the Epic War of Civilization against the Existential Islamofascism Threat. Thus, 98% of the "9/11 Generation" in America refuses to serve. It is a redundancy to say so, but nonetheless, the Weekly Standard cover story is a fraud.


Glenn Greenwald

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