Thursday, October 27, 2005

Never think it couldn't happen here

Mark Steyn is serious:

I had lunch the other day with someone who'd just bought a photograph of Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural. "There they all are," he said. "Look." And he pointed to a vaguely familiar figure in the crowd just a few feet from the president: John Wilkes Booth.

And then his finger zipped over the photo picking out the other conspirators standing around Lincoln and already well advanced in what was then a plot merely to kidnap him. March 4, 1865, a rainy Saturday in Washington, and the chief of state is giving his speech unaware that he's in the last six weeks of his life and that he's surrounded by the group of men who will end it.

Proximity is all. If they can't get to you, they can't get you. Most of us locate our fears on the far horizon - like the old maps where the known world dribbles away and the cartographer scrawls "Here be dragons". Sometimes, as Lincoln discovered, the problem's right there standing next to you.


What's the bigger threat? A globalisation that exports cheeseburgers and pop songs or a globalisation that exports the fiercest and unhealthiest aspects of its culture? Far too many American conservatives still think the dragons are at the far fringes of the map - that, in the 21st century, America can be a 19th-century republic untroubled by the world's pathogens because of its sheer distance from them.

But, in an age of globalised proximity, all of us in the modern multicultural West are like Lincoln on the steps of the Capitol that Saturday morning: the world is in the room with us.
After Sept. 11, George W. Bush gets this. Too bad he can't explain it worth a damn.

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