Hooked on trivia, obliv­i­ous to real world dan­gers

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - VIC­TOR DAVIS HAN­SON

Amer­i­cans for weeks woke up and went to bed to news up­dates about Anna Ni­cole Smith’s death and the fate of her daugh­ter. Then, we seemed to go into near na­tional paral­y­sis over Don Imus’ “hos” slur — yes, in­clud­ing this writer, who wrote half a col­umn on his ar­ro­gance.

Then ac­tor Alec Bald­win came to the res­cue scream­ing, at his poor, 11-year-old daugh­ter — and, of course, ac­cept­ing Dr. Phil’s tele­vised of­fer of in­ter­ven­tion.

The me­dia run with this trivia be­cause they know it will hook view­ers. But why do we care about this tran­sient fluff? It’s not as if there were no real news this spring.

To re­cap just some of what’s been go­ing on while we waste our time fol­low­ing spats be­tween Rosie O’Don­nell and Don­ald Trump:

We are reach­ing the 11th hour in Iraq, as Gen. David Pe­traeus surges troops to se­cure Bagh­dad and sta­bi­lize a frag­ile democ­racy be­fore the Democrats cut off funds for the war ef­fort. Al Qaeda in Iraq tries to pull off as many spec­tac­u­lar at­tacks as pos­si­ble to de­mor­al­ize Amer­i­cans. The fu­ture of much of the Mid­dle East hangs in the bal­ance. Two weeks ago, ji­hadists who planned to blow up an oil field in Saudi Ara­bia were ar­rested. And ac­cord­ing to a leaked memo from Bri­tish intelligence, oth­ers


plot new ma­jor at­tacks.

Our erst­while ally Europe is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the best and worst of times. A strong euro can­not hide static eco­nomic growth, high un­em­ploy­ment, unas­sim­i­lated mi­nori­ties and lit­tle de­fense ca­pa­bil­ity. Euro­peans have lit­tle con­fi­dence in ei­ther their spir­i­tual or ma­te­rial de­fenses to pro­tect against an un­pre­dictable Rus­sia, a nu­clear Iran or al Qaeda’s next-gen­er­a­tion plans for mass de­struc­tion.

Speak­ing of Rus­sia, it is sud­denly rich be­yond be­lief. It may soon pump 10 mil­lion bar­rels of oil per day — much of it sold on the world mar­ket at sky-high prices. Rus­sia al­ready sup­plies half of Europe’s daily nat­u­ral gas needs.

And as the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment be­comes more re­pres­sive at home, it show­cases its new en­ergy clout abroad. A bul­ly­ing Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin threat­ens for­mer Soviet re­publics with gas cut­offs and Es­to­nia with diplo­matic iso­la­tion. He warns NATO coun­tries not to par­tic­i­pate in Amer­i­can-led mis­sile de­fense. Rus­sian dis­si­dents mys­te­ri­ously are mur­dered at home and abroad. Why re­form its pol­i­tics or the econ­omy when Mother Rus­sia can grow rich hawk­ing oil?

Iran is even more dan­ger­ous, vow­ing both to be­come a nu­clear power and wipe out Is­rael. Un­til then, it is busy sup­ply­ing Hezbol­lah and Ha­mas ter­ror­ists, kid­nap­ping sailors, and fab­ri­cat­ing bombs to kill Amer­i­cans in Iraq.

Mean­while, the United States keeps bor­row­ing to meet its enor­mous con­sumer and oil ap­petites. The Ja­panese and Chi­nese have, com­bined, stock­piled more than a tril­lion dol­lars from in­debted Amer­i­cans. One or both na­tions will in­evitably adopt an as­sertive for­eign pol­icy to re­flect their fi­nan­cial lever­age over the U.S.

De­spite politi­cians’ rhetoric about en­ergy in­de­pen­dence, Amer­i­cans have made no progress in curb­ing our enor­mous oil ap­petite, 25 per­cent of the world’s daily use.

We in­cur debt to pay for im­ported pe­tro­leum, while en­sur­ing as­tro­nom­i­cal world oil prices. That hurts poor na­tions and trans­lates into bil­lions of dol­lars pour­ing into the most un­sta­ble and hos­tile gov­ern­ments of the Mid­dle East — and even­tu­ally to ter­ror­ists them­selves.

There are more than 11 mil­lion il­le­gal im­mi­grants in the United States. Thou­sands took to the streets on May Day to de­mand new rights. While we squab­ble over border de­fense, in­creased se­cu­rity, guest work­ers, ver­i­fi­able IDs, amnesty and earned cit­i­zen­ship, hun­dreds of thou­sands more aliens en­ter the U.S. il­le­gally ev­ery year.

The pub­lic and its lead­ers know th­ese prob­lems can­not con­tinue un­ad­dressed — and yet we fear the bit­ter medicine to come far more than suf­fer­ing with the present chronic ill­ness.

But what if al Qaeda lets off a dirty bomb or blows up an oil field, or if Amer­i­cans flee Iraq, or if Rus­sia de­cides to cut off nat­u­ral gas to Europe or re­ab­sorbs one of its both­er­some for­mer re­publics? We try to hear and see no evil, but it’s not far-fetched to sug­gest fu­ture world events could quickly change the lives of mil­lions.

So why then fix­ate on Anna Ni­cole, Rosie, Don Imus and Alec Bald­win?

Sim­ple. They are the mod­ern equiv­a­lents of grotesque car­ni­val freak shows that once pro­vided a per­verse sense of es­capism from what peo­ple dare not face. Yet as our de­pen­dency on such dis­trac­tion grows, so, too, do the real dan­gers we ig­nore.

The ghost of Anna Ni­cole, foul­mouthed Rosie and trash-talk­ing Don Imus turn out to be the best friends Ay­man al-Zawahri, Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad and Mr. Putin have.

Vic­tor Davis Han­son is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist, a clas­si­cist and a his­to­rian at Stan­ford Univer­sity’s Hoover In­sti­tu­tion and au­thor, most re­cently, of “A War Like No Other: How the Athe­ni­ans and Spar­tans Fought the Pelo­pon­nesian War.”

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