Back in the very early days of the War On Terror, the media gave President Bush much grief over the use of the word “crusade.” It was one of innumerable distractions (to borrow one of his successors’ favorite words) the media would offer to help the American forget about the smoldering ruble in lower Manhattan, Washington DC, and Shansville, PA, and focus on the true locus of evil in the world, the 43rd president. As Diana West wrote in 2004 (and she would expand upon these thoughts in her book, The Death of the Grown-Up):
I was nearly finished writing a column on a different topic when news of President Bush’s address at the Air Force Academy graduation ceremony flashed on the Drudge Report Web site.
“Bush drops ‘crusade’ from Eisenhower’s D-Day message,” read the headline.
What? He couldn’t; he didn’t … did he? Thanks to instantly accessible archives on the Internet, I quickly found Eisenhower’s Order of the Day given to the men of the Allied Expeditionary Force as they prepared to begin the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
It went like this: “Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed people of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.” And so, stirringly, on.
Sixty years later, facing another global threat from another totalitarian ideology, President Bush saw fit, wisely and importantly, to link essential aspects of our past and present struggles. These include the totalitarian nature of both Nazi fascism and Islamofascism, and the fact that freeing Europe then and the expanding freedom in the Middle East now are crucial to American security. In so doing, Bush invoked the opening lines of Ike’s order — but with a shameful, history-defiling cut. “Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force,” Bush said, quoting General Eisenhower. “The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.”
Missing, of course, is Eisenhower’s loin-girding line about those tens of thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen being about to embark on “the Great Crusade” — the reason “the eyes of the world” are upon them in the first place. This cut may not strike everyone as a reason to tear up Page One. But to me the omission hits at the heart of what is lacking in the so-called “war on terror” — the courage of clarity.
It’s possible President Bush didn’t drop Ike’s language himself. Indeed, his speechwriters might not have given him the choice. They well know that “crusade” was officially outlawed long ago. And by “crusade” I don’t mean Christendom’s medieval battles to reclaim the Holy Land from Muslim rule. But, of course, neither did Gen. Eisenhower (not in his D-Day remarks, and not in his popular account of the war, “Crusade in Europe”). Neither did President Bush, for that matter, when, in the week following Sept. 11, 2001, he said that “this crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while.” Speaking in terms of a cause may have steadied most Americans at home, but it drove Muslims, Europeans and political correctniks everywhere crazy. A headline in The Christian Science Monitor on Sept. 19, 2001 said it best: “Europe cringes at Bush ‘crusade’ against terrorists.”
It didn’t have to cringe long. Rather than inviting citizens of the world to join the new “crusade” against Islamic terror networks — the successor to earlier, victorious crusades against Nazism and Communism — Ari Fleischer, then the president’s spokesman, immediately expressed “regret” over unspecified “connotations” the word “crusade” might have had “for anybody, Muslim or otherwise.” In other words, America was officially sorry if anyone out there — and I mean “out there” — believed, five days after the fiery collapse of the World Trade Center, that the president of the United States was going send an army of barons to take Jerusalem for the Pope.
But new president, old thinking, it’s September 10th, and a once verboten word is apparently allowed back into our vocabularies, at least temporarily, until the deciders change their minds again: “AP’s Labeling: Obama the ‘Populist Crusader’ vs. ‘Hardline Conservatives.'”
It’s possible to conclude that the attack on the word in 2001 involved some sort of situational ethics; a partisan attack on a president loathed by transnationlists, who deep down wanted to see the president fail. But why be cynical?