“A people unaware of its myths is likely to continue living by them, though the world around that people may change and demand changes in their psychology, their world view, their ethics, and their institutions.” — Richard Slotkin, Regeneration Through Violence
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A couple of days ago I got an advance copy of a book by Susan Faludi titled The Terror Dream, due to be released in October. I’ve gotten only a few pages into it so I cannot say if the book as a whole is good or not. But the premise is spot on.
Faludi explores what September 11 did to our national psyche. In short, Americans as a whole did not respond to September 11 clearly and honestly. Instead, we retreated into a dreamworld of John Wayne cinematic epics and frontier melodrama. In this spectacular we cast ourselves as both the hero and the damsel in distress. The villain role has been filled by a rotating cast — Osama bin Laden, of course, but also Saddam Hussein, France, the United Nations, liberals, various straw man characters allegedly representing liberalism (Ward Churchill, whoever the hell he is, comes to mind), Democrats, the entire Middle East (excluding Israel, of course) and the entire religion of Islam.
As they said in the Wild West — shoot ’em all, and let God sort ’em out.
I don’t blame the American people. We needed responsible leaders to explain to us clearly what had happened and help us rise above fear and a mob’s desire for vengeance to a rational response. Instead, we had the Bush Administration. As Faludi writes on page 3 —
Throughout the fall of 2001, the media attempted to position the assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as a reprise of Pearl Harbor, a new “day of infamy” that would reinvigorate our World War II ethic of national unity and sacrifice, a long-awaited crucible in which self-absorbed Americans would, at long last, be forged into the twenty-first century’s stoic army of the latest Greatest Generation. But the summons to actual sacrifice never came. No draft ensued, no Rosie the Riveters were called to duty, no ration cards issued, no victory gardens planted. Most of all, no official moral leadership emerged to challenge Americans to think constructively about our place in the world, to redefine civic commitment and public responsibility. There was no man in a wheelchair in the White House urging on us a reassessment of American strengths and weakness. What we had was a chest beater in a borrowed flight suit, instructing us to max our our credit cards for the cause.
In case any righties drop by here — they do tend to be rigidly literal — Faludi isn’t saying that President Bush should have reinstated the draft, issued ration cards, and called the nation’s womenfolk to work in factories. She’s saying that Americans needed to do something extraordinary to channel our grief and anger. We looked to our President for instruction. We never got that instruction, beyond “trust me.”
Consider this nationally televised speech that the President gave on November 8, 2001.
I said in my speech to a Joint Session of Congress that we are a nation awakened to danger. We’re also a nation awakened to service, and citizenship, and compassion. None of us would ever wish the evil that has been done to our country, yet we have learned that out of evil can come great good.
During the last two months, we have shown the world America is a great nation. (Applause.) Americans have responded magnificently, with courage and caring. We’ve seen it in our children, who have sent in more than $1 million for the children of Afghanistan. We have seen it in the compassion of Jewish and Christian Americans who have reached out to their Muslim neighbors. We have seen it as Americans have reassessed priorities — parents spending more time with their children, and many people spending more time in prayer and in houses of worship.
Yes, huge amounts of money were donated, because Americans didn’t know what else they could do. It’s like the hundreds, probably thousands, of New Yorkers who stood on line outside hospitals that day to give blood, because they wanted to do something.
We have gained new heroes: Those who ran into burning buildings to save others, our police and our firefighters. (Applause.) Those who battled their own fears to keep children calm and safe — America’s teachers. (Applause.) Those who voluntarily placed themselves in harm’s way to defend our freedom — the men and women of the Armed Forces. (Applause.)
And tonight, we join in thanking a whole new group of public servants who never enlisted to fight a war, but find themselves on the front lines of a battle nonetheless: Those who deliver the mail — America’s postal workers. (Applause.) We also thank those whose quick response provided preventive treatment that has no doubt saved thousands of lives — our health care workers. (Applause.)
We spend time with our children. We go to church. We do our jobs. We did these things before September 11. What more can we do? What extraordinary effort can we make?
We are a different country than we were on September the 10th — sadder and less innocent; stronger and more united; and in the face of ongoing threats, determined and courageous. (Applause.)
Our nation faces a threat to our freedoms, and the stakes could not be higher. We are the target of enemies who boast they want to kill — kill all Americans, kill all Jews, and kill all Christians. We’ve seen that type of hate before — and the only possible response is to confront it, and to defeat it. (Applause.)
This new enemy seeks to destroy our freedom and impose its views. We value life; the terrorists ruthlessly destroy it. We value education; the terrorists do not believe women should be educated or should have health care, or should leave their homes. We value the right to speak our minds; for the terrorists, free expression can be grounds for execution. We respect people of all faiths and welcome the free practice of religion; our enemy wants to dictate how to think and how to worship even to their fellow Muslims.
This enemy tries to hide behind a peaceful faith. But those who celebrate the murder of innocent men, women, and children have no religion, have no conscience, and have no mercy. (Applause.)
We wage a war to save civilization, itself. We did not seek it, but we must fight it — and we will prevail. (Applause.)
Yes, yes. We’re ready. We will give what we can. We will do what we must. Just tell us what is required of us.
I’m proud of the way our health care and postal workers — and the American people — are responding with calm in the face of this deadly new threat. (Applause.) Public health officials have acted quickly to distribute preventive antibiotics to thousands of people who may have been exposed. The government is purchasing and storing medicines and vaccines as a precaution against future attacks. We are cleaning facilities where anthrax has been detected, and purchasing equipment to sanitize the mail. Thousands of law enforcement officials are aggressively investigating this bioterrorism attack — and public health officials are distributing the most accurate, up-to-date information we have to medical professionals and to the public.
To coordinate our efforts we’ve created the new Office of Homeland Security. Its director, my good friend and former Governor, Tom Ridge, reports directly to me — and works with all our federal agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector on a national strategy to strengthen our homeland protections. For example, the Coast Guard has taken on expanded duties to protect our shores and our ports. The National Guard has increased — an increased role in surveillance at our border. We’re imposing new licensing requirements for safer transportation of hazardous material.
We’ve passed a new antiterrorism law which gives our law enforcement officers the necessary tools to track terrorists before they harm Americans. A new terrorism task force is tightening immigration controls to make sure no one enters or stays in our country who would harm us. (Applause.) We are a welcoming country, we will always value freedom — yet we will not allow those who plot against our country to abuse our freedoms and our protections. (Applause.)
That’s fine, Mr. President, but what can we do?
I recently received a letter from a 4th-grade girl that seemed to say it all: “I don’t know how to feel,” she said, “sad, mad, angry. It has been different lately. I know the people in New York are scared because of the World Trade Center and all, but if we’re scared, we are giving the terrorists all the power.” In the face of this great tragedy, Americans are refusing to give terrorists the power. (Applause.) Our people have responded with courage and compassion, calm and reason, resolve and fierce determination. We have refused to live in a state of panic — or a state of denial. There is a difference between being alert and being intimidated — and this great nation will never be intimidated. (Applause.)
People are going about their daily lives, working and shopping and playing, worshiping at churches and synagogues and mosques, going to movies and to baseball games. (Laughter and applause.) Life in America is going forward — and as the 4th-grader who wrote me knew, that is the ultimate repudiation of terrorism. (Applause.)
Whereupon the Bush Administration spent the next six years reminding us to be afraid and stripping away civil liberties in the name of “security.”
We cannot know every turn this battle will take. Yet we know our cause is just and our ultimate victory is assured. We will, no doubt, face new challenges. But we have our marching orders: My fellow Americans, let’s roll.
End of speech. Let’s roll. Sounds grand. Where? How? With what? Bush didn’t say.
The military action against the Taliban and the liberation of Afghani women from their burquas was fine, but we didn’t realize at the time how half-assed the effort was. Osama bin Laden and most of al Qaeda was allowed to slip away, and the Kabul Spring of freedom and democracy withered through lack of follow-up. The Bushies had already turned their attention to Iraq.
In the year after the attacks, many Americans were left in a state of emotional suspension. Their anger and sense of victimization roiled about, unresolved and directionless. The Afghan campaign had faded from the news, Osama bin Laden was still at large, and the challenge of September 11 still seemed unanswered. We were still waiting to be told where to roll. Thus the Bushies easily pulled off the Mother of All Bait and Switch Scams and whipped up a public frenzy against Saddam Hussein. With Darryl Worley’s “Have You Forgotten?” ringing in our ears, Americans were convinced that a war with Iraq was just the thing to get justice for the dead of September 11. Those of us who realized there was no connection — and no threat to the United States from Saddam Hussein — were shoved aside. Anyone who didn’t support the invasion of Iraq, no matter what our reasons, were dismissed as “Saddam lovers.”
And here we are. Stuck in Iraq, lives and resources drained by a war we shouldn’t have fought. Osama bin Laden is still sending us “nyah nyah nyah” videos. There’s still a hole in the ground in Manhattan. The real challenge of September 11 was never met. It was never even made clear to us what that challenge was.
I flipped on the television this morning and saw a bit of live broadcast of today’s September 11 memorial service. The cameras zoomed in on a weeping woman. I flipped the television off. I respect the grief of those who lost loved ones that day, but as a nation we have forfeited the right to grieve. A moment of great opportunity has passed, and it was utterly squandered.
After more than four years bogged down in Iraq, we seem to spend more time arguing about what narrative we’re playing out than what strategy we should be following. Is this World War II? Is it Vietnam? Are we John Wayne on the beaches of Normandy or General Custer at the Little Big Horn? And what about the ending? My dears, we must have victory. We must not leave Iraq without a satisfying climax to the drama, with parades and speeches and a general wallowing in our national glory, never mind the cost. Or the purpose.
At this point it does no good to argue with the war’s bitter-end supporters that Iraq is not, in fact, World War II and that George W. Bush is neither Winston Churchill nor Abraham Lincoln. Anyone who still supports the war is utterly lost in whatever heroic storyline is playing in his head. George Bush can continue to evoke all manner of irrelevant historical references — including September 11 — and it still reverberates in the psyches of many Americans. They are stuck in their dream world and will not wake up.
Update: Little Lulu is still rolling:
But remembrance without resistance to jihad and its enablers is a recipe for another 9/11. This is what fueled my first two books, on immigration enforcement and profiling. This is what fuels much of the work on this blog and at Hot Air. Not every American wears a military uniform. But every American has a role to play in protecting our homelandâ€“not just from Muslim terrorists, but from their financiers, their public relations machine, their sharia-pimping activists, the anti-war goons, the civil liberties absolutists, and the academic apologists for our enemies.
So what movie is Lulu playing in her head? And was it directed by Leni Riefenstahl?
Update 2: Comments on Lulu at Balloon Juice.
Update 3: See also No More Mr. Nice Blog.