Monday, September 11, 2006


September 11 will always ring in the ears of anyone alive and old enough to be consciouss of what happened that day in 2001.

Let us be clear about one thing: what happened that day was not a tragedy. It was an outrage. The question that arose in so many Americans that day- "Why do they hate us?"- and the myriad answers given, from the studied and reflective to the asinine and ridiculous- speak volumes about the character of this nation. It would be, to almost any other nation, even empire, at any other point in history, hardly given a second thought as the fire of hatred and lust for revenge welled up inside. No Roman openly wished for "a million Cannae's" the way one particularly lame-brained academic wished for a million Mogedishu's. But we cared that someone hated us enough to hurt us in such a brutal and senseless way. We wondered why.

The answer is complex, and still to some degree banal, and I have neither the expertise nor the inclination to answer. I will not deny that the foreign policy of this country has left in its wake many enemies, many who are rightfully resentful and disenchanted.

But we did not "deserve it". The World Trade Center was not full of 'little Eichmanns", working away to enslave and destroy. I'll save my pro-capitalist rant for another day, and confine my remarks to these: whatever grievance, whatever complaint, whatever legitimate issue any group has with the government and people of the United States, killing nearly 3000 of her citizens is not the way to see them redressed. It is an unabashed act of war, and should be met as such.

The first casualties died in an instant, or over a few hours. The most tragic death, that of our restraint and civility, has taken much longer.

This is a fight that we would rather not be part of, 9/11 notwithstanding. The enemy we fight will not rest until we are dead or under his thumb, our erudite and civilized conceits be damned, leaving us with no options but to engage and defeat them. With jihadis, this means killing them, destroying their assets, and making their side so sick to death of the fight that they abandon it. It means doing things that we want to believe we have outgrown.

Whether current policy addresses this or not is not my point; the dogs of war have not yet been let slip to the extent that they will be to settle this. We are fiddling, probing perhaps, maybe squandering global good will, and possibly making things worse.

But still I fear that the real fight is still yet to come, and at most, only one side will be standing at the end. Some day, not too far away, 9/11 will be dwarfed by the carnage that was first released on that day. Someday, soon, we will spit when some lawyer suggests our enemies should not be put to the knife or tortured or firebombed. Someday, soon, we will regain peace by means so horrible that a generation will not speak of it, like the the survivors of D-day kept silent as they came home to peace that they won by invading Europe, a euphemism for horrors best left at Normandy.

As much as 9/11, we also don't deserve this. Our creative spirit and enterprising energy will be turned from work and production to darkness and destruction. We will trample out the vintage from grapes of wrath. We will produce a General Sherman, we will leave a Hiroshima or Dresden smoldering somewhere in the middle east, we will napalm and clusterbomb and lay waste, we will become death, the destroyer of worlds. We look soft to our enemies, because we pursue things they consider decadent and immoral.

We are formidable, and dominate everything we turn our minds toward. We are energetic at making money, at working and playing and pursuing trivialities. How much better for our enemies if they had left us to that, rather than having us gird for war. The mujahadeen fancy us weak, and squeamish. They have yet to find out how misguided they are. We still care what the world thinks. We still have rules of engagement. When these conceits fall away, they will see what they have unleashed. Unfortunately, so will we.

You need not be a flag-flying patriot to see this coming, nor do you have to think that our country is always right. To a very real extent, once the existential threat is perceived, moral calculations will give way to something more grim.

Our enemies will appeal to our better instincts, and they will find none. They still walk because we are decent people. That will end, and they will rue the fact that they had many chances to stop the march to oblivion, just as we rue the fact that we did not stop 9/11 beforehand.

As I mourn the deaths of 3000, I mourn also the rebirth of the demons of war. If it be possible, let this cup pass us. If not, God help us all.


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