18 December 2001
The Offer That Cannot Be Refused
Because time elapses between the date I write my column and the time you receive the issue in which it appears, this is my first column since the World Trade Center (WTC) attack.
I have some thoughts on the subject that have to do with opinion research. I come to this subject with a different orientation than that of a journalistnamely, that of a management consultant whose specialty is in market analysis and planning. I applaud our country's war effort, but I think I can add something and I'd like to share it with Motion Control's thousands of readers. I've been watching television shows where various "experts" are telling us that America is universally unpopular. I'm sure that this isn't true, and I think we shouldn't be obsessive about making everybody like us.
Some of this dates from the Vietnam War. At that time, a book entitled The Lost Revolution won a special award from an association of U.S. foreign correspondents that had given prizes for best articles of the year but didn't normally honor books. Feeling perplexed by the Vietnam situation, as many were at that time, I thought this would be an illuminating volume. Who better to judge the value of foreign correspondence than the foreign correspondents themselves?
What emerged was a picture of Vietnamese society that was very different from the pictures we were getting from the competing factions that were disagreeing in America at the time. The U.S. government believed we could win the war by "winning the hearts and minds" of the South Vietnamese, by supplying them with food and support to convince them that we were good guys. The antiwar people pictured the North Vietnamese as the good guys and called us imperialist monsters. The Lost Revolution revealed that neither side knew what it was talking about.
The reason we couldn't hope to win the hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese was that the Viet Cong, of North Vietnam, were systematically murdering whomever they found cooperating with the American-backed South Vietnamese government. However much secret approval American assistance and ideas might have received, we could offer nothing to match what the Godfather would call "an offer they can't refuse."
Author Robert Shaplen discussed in detail the various machinations of the Vietnamese governments and the mistakes the U.S. made along the way, but presented no suggestions as to what we ought to do in 1965. He spent only a few pages on the hopelessness of the situation. "By 1958, the Vietminh had fully resumed its campaign of terror in the countryside . . . engaging in widespread terrorism, including assassination of hamlet and village chiefs, teachers, local security heads, and other government officials."
There are clear similarities to the present war.
We talk of winning the hearts and minds of the Islamic world. As in the Vietnam War era, we have single-minded foes that win the attention of their opponents by terror and murder.
Do you remember, for instance, the three people killed in the first day of anti-American demonstrations in Pakistan to celebrate the destruction of the WTC in New York? The Pakistan government shot two, but rioters lynched the third. He had failed to close his shop to celebrate the victory over America. . . . Or that, in the last figures from the Intifada, 59 Palestinians were murdered for "collaborating" with Israel?
I remember an in-depth survey of Egyptians, at the time of the Gulf War, which showed that although the university students were vocal in demonstrating against America, most ordinary Egyptians supported the U.S. and Kuwait. It doesn't appear from the available data that there's been any significant change in public sentiment that can't be accounted for by the increased threat to the average Egyptian from the same sort of terrorists who brought down the WTC.
I've heard on several television shows the statement that 80% of the population in various Arab countries supports the terrorists, and only those countries' corrupt governments are sympathetic to the American victims. None gave a source for this statistic. I see no sign that anyone has performed a survey. I believe it has to do with the volume of noise the radical students of these countries make. Market research is my racket. I know you can't get meaningful figures by measuring the noise level of protesters.
A former U.S. ambassador, interviewed on New Hampshire public television, averred that President Mubarak, Egypt's moderate leader, was very popular with his people; the abusive interviewer (I don't know his name) was outraged. He insisted that 80% of the Egyptians hated Mubarak and the Americans who gave him support, and he urged that America take away his aid package. He wanted the anti-American radical faction (the alleged 80%) to take over the country. His theory was that the supporters of terrorism, once in power, would stop hating us. Presumably, that would be good for America because once we've given the terrorists all they want, they'll stop hitting us!
Isolationists peddled this appeasement nonsense before World War II.
The ambassador, who was on the TV show because he was in a position to know something, said that Mubarak would win a fair election in a landslide. He indicated that most Egyptians fear and hate the radical terrorists. His statement was treated with snarling disbelief. I discerned no reason or logic behind the interviewer's disagreement with the ambassador. Perhaps it's just a knee-jerk reaction from an anti-Vietnam War activist.
We're not going to see pro-American demonstrations in many Arab countries. The terrorists kill those who disagree with them. We don't. The radicals can make their people the offer they cannot refuse. And the Egyptians don't have an ocean to protect them.
On the other hand, America is a free country. That means you're apt to find unpopular thoughts displayed publicly. If you went by what appears in our media, you might think there's substantial pro-Taliban sentiment here. The antiwar people are out in force, even burning American flags at a patriotic rally of students in Amherst, Mass., to the horror of other participants. (The flag burners weren't recognized; they weren't students.)
I was appalled when I turned on my car radio and heard a panel (of experts?) on public radio station WBUR (Boston University Radio). They agreed that the hatred that caused the WTC event was fully justified because of the "arrogance" of Americans in "believing that the American version of freedom" is better than the "version of freedom" defined by the terrorists. It was also agreed that the proof of America's guilt was shown by the hatred against the U.S. throughout the world. Those on the program enthusiastically endorsed this circular reasoning. No one said anything about the virtually unanimous postattack support from Europe and elsewhere. Does WBUR really think it would be a good thing for Islam if Americans were to believe that all Muslims hate America?
When I returned home, I found a request that I renew or increase my contribution to WBUR. I wrote to them that if I wanted to help the Taliban, it'd be more efficient for me to send my check directly to bin Laden.
If I were a consultant to the Taliban, I wouldn't advise them to take too much comfort from WBUR's support. I'm sure it represents a very small proportion of the people in Massachusetts. There are miles of houses displaying American flags. The support is real; no one has been killed or beaten for not displaying an American flag.
Although there are similarities to the Vietnam War, there's a fundamental difference. That, of course, is the assault on our homeland by a hideous foe, which knows no mercy and can be expected to eventually bomb us with atomic weapons if it isn't stopped.
When we fight a limited war and the other side goes all out, we lose. I hope the U.S. is willing to settle for no less than what it insisted on throughout WW II or the Civil War: unconditional surrender. As I just heard Secretary Rumsfeld say about accidental casualties to enemy civilians, "That's what happens in a war!" And General William T. Sherman said, "War is hell."
Vince Lombardi is supposed to have said, "Winning isn't the main thing; it's the only thing!" I heard him interviewed about this, and he said, "I don't remember saying that. If I did, I must have been kidding because I certainly don't believe it."
But in a war, winning is certainly the main thing. We must send them an offer they can't refuse! MC
Edward A. Ross is president of Ross Associates in Needham, Mass., and author of The Ross Guide to the Motion Control Industry. Contact Ed at (781) 449-5123; fax: (781) 449-2942.
Return to Previous Page