Sep 11 2006
I watched a Bob Scheiffer special on the History Channel (which was sort of ho-hum) and was totally struck by the ending. Scheiffer lamented that we ‘could never get back to normal’, meaning we would never go back to pre 9-11. He was not addressing the tragedy of 9-11, he was sad we could not pretend Islamo-Fascists did not exist in great numbers and was a serious threat. It struck me as one of the most pathetic things I have ever heard. I cannot go back to my childhood innocence either, but that doesn’t make my life now terrible or unbearable.
I would rather know danger is lurking out there and have the opportunity to defend my family than get blindsided. At least I have a chance with some foreknowledge. And I think this ‘lost innocence’ is what bothers me the most about many who comment on 9-11. It seems Christopher Hitchens is having a similar response:
Never mind where I was standing or what I was doing this time five years ago. (Because really, what could be less pertinent?) Except that I do remember wondering, with apparent irrelevance, how soon I would be hearing one familiar clichÃ©. And that I do remember hearing, with annoyance, one other observation that I believe started the whole post-9/11 epoch on the wrong foot.
The clichÃ©, from which we have been generally but not completely spared, was the one about American “loss of innocence.” Nobody, or nobody serious, thought that this store-bought phrase would quite rise to the occasion of the incineration of downtown Manhattan and 3,000 of its workers. It might have done for the Kennedy assassination or Watergate, but partly for that very reason it was redundant or pathetic by mid-day on September 11, 2001. Indeed, I believe that the expression, with its concomitant naÃ¯ve self-regard, may have become superseded for all time. If so, good. The beginning of wisdom is to recognize that the United States was assaulted for what it really is, and what it understands as the center of modernity, and not for its unworldliness.
I wish the world was not as evil as it turned out to be. But it is clear from all we have learned since 9-11 that our ignorance was not bliss – it was dangerous. Our blinders allowed us to create a convenient fantasy. And when that fantasy was impinged by initial attacks we fought back – against the attack on our little Nirvana. We pretended Islamo Fascism was something to be dealt with by law enforcement. We minimized the threat in our minds, so we could pretend a little longer the world was not devolving once again into darkness. We missed the warning signs from WTC 1 onward. And our leaders let us miss them to some degree. The problem is strife is not good for politics – it causes angst. So we deluded ourselves to the point we allowed 19 men to kill 3000 of us.
I have no desire to go back into that terrible ignorance. Just read Hitchens’ list of Islam Fascist attacks on the West to realize instead of going back, we still have a lot yet to grasp. We are in WW III. The goosesteppers are on the march again.
Addendum: I also want to echo another point Hitchens makes which has also bothered me this week. The death toll from 9-11 includes all those who have died fighting back, just like the death toll from WW II is more than those who perished at Pearl Harbor. The brave who sacrificed include the firefighter and police and rescue personal on that fateful day, and every man and woman who has sacrificed their lives since on the battlefields across the globe. Hitchens is right to point out this war is raging on large and small fronts, from massive bombings to a single person with a car or gun. We are still in the middle of this war, no matter what the NY Times thinks.