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Milestones
 
Michael Ubaldi, August 29, 2003.
 

Here's a little perspective to the supposed "chaos" in four-month-old, postwar Iraq. Japan had crime, iniquity and yes, sectarian and ethnic violence. This comes from the masterful accounting of postwar Japan, Inventing Japan, by former Washington Post Tokyo Bureau Chief William Chapman:

Tokyo endured [the] winter [of 1945-1946] on the workings of an illegal economy. The black market encompassed thousands of sellers and millions of buyers dealing in every commodity of daily life. It was also a vast jungle of lawlessness that began with thefts and led to gang killings, turf wars, and casual murders, becoming at last a criminal demimonde of immense proportions. It embraced all classes and kinds of people. When the war ended, sake, bread, clothing, shoes, sugar and blankets had disappeared from military depots all over the country, pilfered wholesale by officers and enlisted men alike. Small thefts were the routine of daily existence. A bicycle snatched at Ueno's railway station turned up repainted and for sale two hours later at the station in Shimbashi. Koreans and Chinese, forced-labor immigrants during the war, prospered with goods smuggled from Hong Kong and Taiwan, and by the Occupation's ruling, they could not be arrested by Japanese police.

It was the beginning for many mobster organizations, some of whose descendants still operate today. In Tokyo there were eight major syndicates, each with its own piece of turf around the major train stations...They fought amongst themselves and against other gangs, the Japanese mobs battling constantly for territory against the Koreans and Chinese. Guns were plentiful, another result of looted army depots. Unable or unwilling to intervene, police let gangs have at one another, and the shootouts continued for several years into the Occupation. One day in April 1948, two gangs - one Japanese, one Korean - fought it out with pistols in the Hamamatsu district. The next day, about one hundred Japanese returned to the attack on the Koreans' black market there and killed or wounded more than 15 men.


This was in a country unthreatened by organized mobs of terrorists or desperate figures from the militarist regime.

I'm beginning to take the European preference for August vacations seriously: there's a temporary fatigue I've come under, and it seems to be a combination of sultry weather capping three months of hot summer days and relative quiet in the world. Critical decisions are still being made daily, often shaped by significant events, but the world isn't charging ahead at the breakneck pace of the first four months of this year. Not every development is worth a cable news alert, radio bulletin or newspaper headline. The result, unfortunately, is that the same questions are being repeatedly thrown against circumstances that can't possibly change in the time frame to which we've become accustomed. Iraq is going to require years to stabilize - let alone rebuild, heal and [be given] its place among civilized nations. Consider the fact that it and the Near East are inextricably linked - Iraq surrounded by hostile, terrorist dictatorships will continually be harassed and attacked - and it's plain that the region, left under Islamofascism, will slow or even stunt Iraqi reconstruction.

Today everyone repeats the phrase "This will take years" just as they silently agreed with the administration's warning that "we have difficult work to do in Iraq." You'd think that would alter the perspective through which opinions, political and journalistic, are being made. Not a chance. It hasn't at all stopped the flurry of SERIOUS QUESTIONS and DIRE PROGNOSTICATIONS that crop up at two or three a week, even now. Why not, some would say - they fit in well with the war's rhythm. Given that the substantial military defeat of Saddam Hussein took four weeks, a pundit could get away with describing a day's delay as, technically, a significant setback - about a month or two in equivalent time to Allied victory against Nazi Europe. Couldn't that news-cycle-friendly magic be carried over into post-Saddam time? The prevailing assumption is that technology will similarly speed rejuvenation, be it politically, industrially, economically, religiously or militarily.

Technology has already averted major food and water shortages; it has aided the capture of most lead Ba'athists and mitigated the damage of many attacks; it has provided an unprecedented ability to communicate, the world to Iraq and Iraq to the world. But it cannot overturn immutable laws of construction or societal restoration, nor can it erase the time and sacrifices necessary for further prosecuting the wider war. In March and April, "Are we there yet?" was annoying. Now it's unbearable and destructive. Stories are being beaten to death; predictions are made out of focus. The obsession with quick results makes for bad journalism, repetitive [negative] blogging, unrealistic public expectations, and poor strategic decisions. Mark Steyn tears the phony United Nations panacea to shreds, although it's simpler than that: what's not happening after four months under occupation that realistically and historically should be? Four months? Nothing. Saddam's out and the country is slowly rebounding where it isn't completely deficient, no thanks to the Ba'athists. Our boys are supposed to, say, flick the lights back on when Saddam's electrical grid was specifically designed for subordination? Rule: any laundry list of CPA failures must include "moving mountains" and "altering space and time."

The people of Afghanistan were lucky enough to lose the spotlight immediately after their liberation from the Taliban. Progress occurs over there on a daily basis - but the fact that Afghans have been "forgotten," as some skeptics put it, actually means that no one is gauging the marathon against doubt, fatigue and terrorists by the footfall. Obstacles and setbacks are not magnified into global-scale tragedies. Iraq may not be upstaged in the near future; nor should it have to be. It's our responsibility to gain a sense of patience - not rely on the benefits of a short attention span or a near-complete ignorance of the trials faced in the most instructive occupations, those for Germany and Japan.

News stories can continue. Critical op-eds can, too. But not every weekend. Or weekday. Or hour. Hide the panic button. Skip the doom and gloom. Vigilance, not trainspotting.