I had a brief moment of near agreement with George Will when he pointed out that the 10th anniversary of September 11 was observed much more intensely than the 10th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.
The most interesting question is not how America in 2011 is unlike America in 2001 but how it is unlike what it was in 1951. The intensity of todayâ€™s focus on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 testifies to more than the multiplication of media ravenous for content, and to more than todayâ€™s unhistorical and self-dramatizing tendency to think that eruptions of evil are violations of a natural entitlement to happiness. It also represents the search for refuge from a decade defined by unsatisfactory responses to Sept. 11.
Aside from Will’s curdled snip at “a natural entitlement to happiness” — a right to the pursuit of happiness wasn’t invented last week, George — I do like the line about a search for refuge from a decade of unsatisfactory responses to 9/11. Of course, Will’s ideas of what would have made a “satisfactory” response are different from mine, and the rest of Will’s column is his usual overwrought verbiage dump.
It might be that the September 11 remembrance was more a media event than a heartfelt national observance. I went to a multi-faith memorial last night held in a community in which several of the 9/11 dead had lived, and attendance was so-so. Maybe people preferred to stay home and watch 9/11
porn retrospsectives on TV.
One of the more interesting retrospective articles from the Washington Post was a pundit score card. It looks back at what the gasbags were saying ten years ago to judge who got it right and who got it wrong.
Some of the “wrongs” surprised me. This pro-torture op ed from November 2001 was allegedly written by the usually level-headed Jonathan Alter, although I see his name is not on it now. And Michael Moore exhibited a bad case of American exceptionalist myopia by declaring the terrorist attack was a reaction to the result of the 2000 presidential election.
Some of the most interesting, or at least significant, reactions are from October 2001.
Max Boot’s October 2001 declaration that the world was hungering for an American Empire is not, unfortunately, in a class by itself. Someday historians may decide that, in some ways, Iraq was to America what Russia was to Napoleon. We are a much diminished nation now, although some people have yet to realize that.
In another October 2001 column by Fawaz Gerges, now a professor at the London School of Economics, wrote that “many Muslims suspected the Bush administration of hoping to exploit this tragedy to settle old scores and assert American hegemony in the world.” Professor Gerges saw this before I did.
One October 2001 observation not mentioned in the Washington Post was by Buddhist scholar David Loy, quoted in a talk by Zen teacher Taigen Leighton.
Loy says, ” President Bush declared that the United States has been called to a new worldwide mission to rid the world of evil.” Bush said, “The government is determined to rid the world of evil-doers. Our land of freedom now has a responsibility to extirpate the world of its evil. We may no longer have an evil empire to defeat but we have found a more sinister evil that will require a long-term, all-out war to destroy.”
Loy writes, “When Bush says he wants to rid the world of evil, alarm bells go off in my mind, because that is what Hitler and Stalin also wanted to do. I’m not defending either of those evil-doers, just explaining what they were trying to do. What was the problem with Jews that required a final solution? The earth could be made pure for the Aryan race only by exterminating the Jews, the impure vermin who contaminated it. Stalin needed to exterminate well-to-do Russian peasants to establish his ideal society of collective farmers. Both were trying to perfect this world by eliminating its impurities. The world could be made good only by destroying its evil elements. Paradoxically, then, one of the main causes of evil in this world has been human attempts to eradicate evil.”
Loy continues, “What is the difference between Bin Laden’s view and Bush’s? They are mirror opposites. What Bin Laden sees as good, an Islamic jihad against an impious and materialistic imperialism, Bush sees as evil. What Bush sees as good, America the defender of freedom, Bin Laden sees as evil. They are two different versions of the same holy war between good and evil.”
I take it that Loy caught some heat from other theologians for writing that in October 2001. But it stands up pretty well now.