If, on September 11, the New York Times had been located where the Wall Street Journal was, instead of safely ensconced in Times Square, the world would be a safer place today. If some of those editors had been downtown with us, wondering where the Air Force was, fearing that tons of falling steel would catch a gust of wind and crush us, or sloshing through four inches of what we thought was gray slush, then maybe they wouldn’t be so timid about avenging those who perished, nor as worried as we are about the future of civilization.
Don’t for a minute think that the terrible stock market we’re having is a reflection of war fears. Just the opposite. Wall Street wants to know when our nation will take firm action against our enemies, and until it happens, we want to be sellers, not buyers, because we fear the appeasers may give terror the edge. We take the government at face value, we think that there will be another attack, and we want action before it occurs. They have struck down here twice already, in 1993 and 2001, and they will be back unless we kill them first.
Perhaps it is unfair to single out the Times – its coverage of 9/11 was extraordinary – but the paper now seems so September 10, 2001, so unconverted to the cause. And I fear that somehow the Times’ pacifism is representative of a wider strain of thought that I just don’t understand anymore. It’s the view that the world just isn’t nearly as dangerous as it seems to those of us who witnessed the carnage or were trapped in nearby buildings waiting for the all-clear. I still remember the confusing reports of a third hijacked jet coming to take out the stock exchange, and I still think that that’s what we’re fighting to prevent … the next jet.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand the position of those who seek more debate, who think the president hasn’t effectively argued the case against Iraq, or who fear for our civil liberties. I always believed in a strong Bill of Rights, along with a smaller military. I argued that the enemies of the United States would be won over by capitalism, not ICBMs. Negotiations could solve all problems, whether they were in Ireland or Israel. Safety meant seat belts, no smoking, four trips to the treadmill a week, and a low-fat diet. Security meant alarm systems and lights on when you went away. Peace meant Canyon Ranch, preferably without the kids.
s??njÂ¬ changed all that, right? It did for me. The Bill of Rights? I’m starting to think that Madison’s 200-year-old gem has become Osama’s plaything now, allowing foreign terrorists free run of our country. Negotiations? With whom? Even Auschwitz guards didn’t dance in the street and celebrate every time more Jews were killed. Safety now means killing them before they kill us. And as for peace – well, not to be too Orwellian, but in this case peace does mean war, or the successful pursuit of it.
But what I find most amazing isn’t my one-day conversion, my morphing from dove to hawk. It’s that more New Yorkers don’t think just like me. Where I am, downtown, or in Summit, New Jersey, also devastated by 9/11, we seem to be speaking a different language, one that didn’t exist on September 10 – at least, not in my liberal-Democratic haunts. It’s like Wall Street and Summit became two little Red states overnight. Now we speak proudly of our military and wish we could still join up. Forget the Ivy League – we want our kids to go to the military academies. (Thank heavens they’re bringing ROTC back to Harvard!) We are confident that if we don’t strike Iraq, Saddam will sell weapons of mass destruction to Al Qaeda. And unless we establish a domestic-intelligence organization, an MI-5, and start printing holographic national I.D. cards, I now think those weapons will inevitably find their way here.
Yes, some of us are even starting to think that we may have too much civil liberty, and we should cash a little in for the sake of keeping our children alive. We tell stewardesses we aren’t taking off unless those two Middle Eastern–looking gents get one more frisk, the frisk that was wasted on a couple of grannies with walkers. We welcome the frisking ourselves, why shouldn’t they?
Downtown, we implicitly trust our leaders these days; we like their strength and their determination. We don’t look upon the generals as a bunch of kooky Sterling Haydens shooting up Coke machines in Dr. Strangelove. We think they get the job done. The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines have a rigor and an ethic that puts Wall Street to shame.
Most of all, though, we recognize that the enemy’s goal isn’t to convert us or better their own people or see the caliphate restored: They just want us dead. We don’t get what the Times’ editorial writers are thinking. Did they skip that chapter about Churchill and German rearmament? Did they miss the class titled “Peace in Our Time?” Do they need a sports section to know that the Devil now has a home team, and it’s 1–0?
If we wimp out now against Iraq, you can expect this anemic market to keep trending down. The traders don’t want things to stop with Baghdad. We don’t know why Saudi Arabia is still treated as a friend, or why we don’t just take over the oil fields as punishment for what their people did. With no Soviet Union to back them up, some down here wonder, what the heck we are waiting for?
Do I seem overzealous? If so, it’s because on some level, late converts like me feel a little guilty about the past. We wonder if somehow we’re at fault, that by fighting to defend the privileges and rights of others, by applauding when the CIA was banned from spying on us, by defending people’s rights to say and do anything they wanted, somehow we had a small part in enabling genocide. In Philly, where I grew up, Republican mayor Frank Rizzo always said that a conservative was a liberal who got mugged. So what does that make me? A liberal who’s been terror-bombed?
Perhaps you really did have to walk through that strange gray slush that covered the streets of downtown before it was all cleaned up and the stock exchange gleamed once again. I keep the Rockport wing tips in my closet, encrusted with that dust, to remind me every day about what stuck to those uppers: the ashes of 2,800 Americans, many of them my friends and colleagues. Or, to put it in the simple Street vernacular of the traders who died that day: Enough already, let’s stop the mourning and start the bombing.
James J. Cramer is co-founder of TheStreet.com. He often buys and sells securities that are the subject of his columns and articles, both before and after they are published, and the positions that he takes may change at any time.