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Our New War Culture


The producers of the $300 million Lord of the Rings film trilogy were undoubtedly putting their money down on the coattails of George Lucas's Star Wars. (Lucas had been inspired by Tolkien.) This cinematic giantism seemed a little risky -- until September 11. Suddenly the movie, which opens around Christmas, makes perfect sense: a struggle in unfamiliar lands against implacable forces of evil. Whenever it makes us uncomfortable, we can remind ourselves: These are Hobbits, not people. (The orphan, magical Harry Potter is another big winner -- as if he needed it.) When was the last time Tolkien was this popular? Try Vietnam.

If wealth is defined by possessing the most of the least available commodity, feeling secure has become the consummate luxury. The First World rich are adopting Third World measures, bypassing airport security by securing their own aircraft. Bodyguards, who have presumably received training in spotting renegade jets, are getting $800 for a twelve-hour shift. When Jennifer Lopez married Cris Judd at the end of last month, guests were checkpointed through a metal detector before getting an additional pat-down with a security wand. It's somehow fitting that a war that seems to have started in part over the ubiquitous global display of Britney Spears's navel would beget a security detail for J.Lo's booty.

The assault was of such epic dimensions, Roger Angell and others have suggested, that America has finally been annealed into a single generation. But teenagers and young adults, raised in their own version of The Truman Show, don't seem eager yet for a peek outside the bubble. Once the piece of tape was viewed enough, it became (TV people actually use this term) video wallpaper -- it looked no more or less produced than everything else that lives on TV. As a result, young people didn't exactly take a Greatest Generation approach. Days after the incident, the question that popped up on the welcome window for AOL was not "Where can I sign up?" but "Will I be drafted?" Gallup found that 77 percent of Americans favored military action even if the draft was reinstated, but fewer than half of the college-age respondents to a survey conducted by said they would serve if conscripted. "I know this sounds terrible," says one 19-year-old New Yorker, "but we pay people to do this kind of thing."

Additional reporting by Jada Yuan.


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