Skip to comments.Why September 11th Won't Go Away
Posted on 09/11/2002 5:06:14 PM PDT by Noumenon
From An Autumn of War, Victor Davis Hanson
Introduction: Why September 11th Won't Go Away
The United States was attacked at a time of peace on September 11, 2001. Islamic fundamentalists - sponsored by the al-Qaeda organization, with the implicit support of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, to the applause of thousands in the Middle East, and with the silence of millions more - destroyed the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, severely damaged the Pentagon in Washington, crashed four jumbo jet liners in suicidal fury, and murdered nearly three thousand unsuspecting Americans. We shall never know the full extent of the planned attack, but it might have been far worse. Brave passengers on a Washington-bound jet seem to have overpowered the hijackers before the could destroy either the Capitol building or the White House. And the immediate arrest of hundreds of terrorist suspects in the days after September 11 probably prevented other subsequent operations.
On the afternoon of the attack, I began to compose several essays for a variety of newspapers and magazines - and thereafter wrote each day until the cessation of general hostilities in Afghanistan, the formation of a new government in Afghanistan, and the final extinction of the smoldering fires at Ground Zero in New York in late December. By the time the Taliban regime was thoroughly destroyed, the al-Qaeda terrorists had been either killed, captured, or scattered, and the United States was pondering its next season of war in its global counterattack against terrorism.
At the very outset, I was convinced that September 11 was a landmark in American history, if not the most calamitous day in our nation's 225 years. Not only did it represent the most grievous single-day foreign attack on the shores of he United States, but the bombing marked a far more climactic and devastating strike than all of the prior precursors to American wars - greater in severity than Lexington and Concord, Fort Sumter, Havana Harbor, the sinking of the Lusitaina, Pearl Harbor and the Tonkin Gulf. The dead were for the most part civilians - slaughtered completely unaware at work or in transit. Their murderers were almost immediately canonized by many in the Middle East, and the architect of such evil was within hours greeted as a hero on the streets of the Islamic world. Four general consequences from the events of September 11 characterize these essays and provide themes for the book at large.
September 11 was not merely an act of terrorism per se - isolated and disgruntled individuals of a small clique mad at the state of the world, and so taking out their frustrations against innocents in the United States. Rather, if al-Qaeda did not exist, it would have to have been invented to assuage the psychological wounds of hundreds of millions of Muslims who are without much consensual government, freedom, and material security. Bin Laden is the ultimate representation of Islam's failure to come to grips with the dizzying and sometimes terrifying pace of globalization and the spread of popular Western culture. In that context September 11 must be seen as toe opportunistic response of fundamentalists to funnel collective frustration against the United States, which for most of he world represents the epitome of Westernism and modernism all in one.
The terrorists acted against America because of who we are, not what we did - despite various claims that pour troops were modern "Crusaders" and rumors that Jewish American women were walking in Muslim countries in suggestive attire. Rampant capitalism, radical equality between the sexes, secular rationalism, and unbridled freedom are not merely antithetical to Islam but appeal to the senses, appetites and aspirations of millions of Muslims far more than Islamic traditionalism can repress them. It is difficult to suggest that the words of the Koran alone can withstand the hideous and foul West when thousands of Muslims voluntarily eat at Western fast-food franchises in Cairo, the Star Wars saga is popular in Amman, and millions want to be in lecture halls in Europe and America. The frustrated terrorists themselves were not poor and ignorant, but rather, upscale and educated. Their fury towards the West was incited, not tempered by their own affinity for and familiarity with us.
Our response to September 11 also reveled another fault line in American thinking: the great divide between a tragic appreciation of the universe and a confidence that all humanity's problems of the age are solvable through the proper therapeutic and enlightened response.
The former view reminds us that as mere humans we cannot rid the universe of all its pathologies in a mere lifetime, and that sometimes we may resemble devils when we try to be omnipotent avenging angels; the latter offers us the god Reason as a worldly religion that can eradicate everything from disease to illiteracy to car exhaust, handguns, cigarettes, and unkind words. As a student of classical literature, I was deeply influenced by the epics of Homer, the plays of Sophocles, Thucydides' history, and the dialogues of Plato, which all seem to offer time-honored alternatives to modern behaviorism, Freudianism, Marxism and social construction. In the Hellenic view, the wrong questions to ask in this present conflict are, "Why is there war?" "Why do they hate us?" or "What did we do to them?"
The Greeks would instead answer that war is terrible but innate to civilization - and not always unjust or amoral if it is waged for good causes to destroy evil and save the innocent. By the same token, we must return to the idea that terrorists and their sponsoring states are mot simply driven to conflict, rationallyy seeking redress from real exploitation, poverty, or inequality. Rather, bellicose theocratic and autocratic nations can be like people - immature, rash and mercurial - and so rush to battle out of classical motive like Thucydidean fear, envy, and self-interest that in turn are fueled by a desire for power, fame and respect. Although war is often fought rationally, the causes for its outbreak are seldom rational.
The glum ancients would expect, rather than be shocked by, September 11, realizing that human nature is unchanging and thus predictable throughout the ages - its essence being raw, savage, and self-serving just beneath the veneer of civilization. In the arena of conflicting and sometimes malevolent powers, national weakness invites attack more often than thanks and appreciation of past self-restraint. Even our magnanimity in sending food to the Taliban was as frequentlyy interpreted as irresolution as it was seen as charity. And military restraint in not responding to prior bombings can be dismissed as timidity rather than praised as sobriety.
Similarly, we need to be reminded of the tragic limitations of the human condition - and how rare Western culture is in its efforts to ameliorate the savagery innate to all peoples at all times. Kabul was not Paris or San Francisco when we arrived, and it will not be so when we leave. We wish peace and some sort of human order in Afghanistan, but we accept that without a Madison or Lincoln or the Federalist Papers there well may be unclean water, harsh police and only one radio station for some time to come. Our mission in this war is not to right wrongs that cannot be righted given the limits of our wisdom and power, but rather to leave millions in Afghanistan and elsewhere better off than when we arrived, offering hope to other states that their towers will not be toppled and their citizens vaporized should a fanatical enclave decide to target their culture.
Acceptance of this dark vision of human nature need not be pessimistic if one understands that a transcendent morality - the desire to protect the unsuspecting, aid the attacked, and leave behind for others more than one has received - is the foundation for such an unsparing worldview. Thus we accept the tragedy of the human condition in order to ensure that we do not allow evil people to act out what they desire and sometimes are surely capable of accomplishing.
Such a realistic acceptance of war seemed to me far more humane (not to mention safe) than believing that we can reinvent he nature of man each generation through state planning, psychoanalysis, counseling, or any other of the social and behavioral sciences that seek to alter - often through coercion - the very way we humans think and act on some universal scale. Mr. bin Laden killed thousands of Americans because he was depraved and thought it more likely that he could gain fame and power than court death and destruction. We were Britain to his Hitler, a power not in any way culpable for past transgressions, but an obstacle nonetheless by virtue of our democracy and liberality to his mad dreams of grandeur. He envisioned a medieval Caliphate under his sway. And he was convinced by the past restraint of he United States that the world's sole superpower either could not or would not retaliate against him, despite his long history of murdering.
I also tried to make sense of our own subsequent response to September 11 from an equally different view of class and status. I am a classicist, but also a farmer, who was born, lives and works on a family farm in California's Central Valley. From that agrarian vantage point, itself handed down from some five previous generations who lived on our small 120 acres, I have had doubts about what passes for intellectual life in America today - particularly as manifested in the contemporary university. Physical work, close acquaintance with the poor, and affinity for the innate dangers that confront millions of Americans are all a complete mystery to many of he most vocal critics of America in this current conflict; those who do not disk the south forty, hammer nails, or pump out cesspools, it seemed to me, had a greater propensity (not to mention more time) to ponder the legal ramifications of trying John Walker Lindh - and were more likely to see him as a confused idealist from Marin County that an abject traitor.
So I felt much of what the university had to say about September 11 would reflect its general isolation from the material conditions facing most Americans - and I was not disappointed. Almost all the working-class people I know - farmers, mechanics, union electricians, and students at California State University, Fresno - were solidly behind the United States' response. In contrast, nearly all of he opposition to our conduct in this war was expressed by professors and those in law, the media, government and entertainment, who as a general rule lead lives rather different from those of most Americans.
Many critics, of course, were well-meaning pacifists and principled opponents of the use of force in response to violence. I am not interested so much in refuting such positions as in explaining how frequently they seem to be held by the most comfortable and secure members of American society - whether in the corporation, law firm, or university. Those who were tenured, highly paid, or leisured, both Republican and Democrat, I think have forgotten how hard it is to survive and raise a family - how often daily life is muscular and dangerous, and how frequently evil people can and must be stopped only through physical strength from hurting those who are helpless. Rarely do our professional classes meet or live by those who have few lifelines and therefore understand this brutality and the slim margin of error that sometimes separates survival from catastrophe. Many enlightened and well-educated Americans - often among the most influential of our society - simply cannot believe that awful men abound in the world who cannot be cajoled, bought off, counseled, reasoned with, or reported to the authorities, but rather must be hit and knocked hard to cease their evildoing if the blameless and the vulnerable are to survive.
Yet the vast majority of Americans accept this pragmatic creed - 90 percent of hem supported bombing the Taliban and al-Qaeda according to may polls taken throughout the autumn of 2001. Too many of our more educated and upscale did not. The felt that we should have done very little militarily, but quite a lot in consultation with the United Nations, our allies, and moderate states to convince al-Qaeda to stop. Class as an indicator to America's different political responses to September 11 was rarely remarked upon by social critics. So this war has reminded citizens that a great many progressives are more likely to be privileged than sweaty, eager to craft bromides from the suburb rather than the farm or coal mine, and quite ready to embrace abstract cure-alls as penance for the vast distance they have put between themselves and their objects of of empathy. Domestically, such hypocrisy and naiveté are problematic, but in a war with adversaries like al-Qaeda and their supporters, utopianism is near suicidal.
These essays reflect a deep belief that September 11 has reminded us how Western civilization and its more radical manifestation of liberty and capitalism in the United States are very different from other cultures past and present. Multiculturalism taught us that all peoples are more or less equal, one society not qualitatively better or worse than any other. Cultural relativism added that it is wrong to judge a people on its habits and practices - there being no real objective standards of good or evil behavior, since both concepts are not absolute, but simple "constructions" or "fictions" of he day, created by those in power to maintain their control and privilege.
Or so we were told in our schools, books, and universities. September 11 suggested otherwise. There is not - and never has been - a single true democracy in the Islamic world other than a sometimes constitutional, secular, and Westernized Turkey. There may be four or five words for various types of female veils in the languages of he Middle East - burqa, chador, niqab, hyab, and others - but no indigenous vocabulary for constitutional and consensual government. That fact alone makes a real difference in the lives of a billion people. Freedom to worship, the rule of law, the right to inquire apart from religion and government, the existence of a voting middle class, the opportunity to own property and pursue profit - all these are mostly Western ideas and, to the degree they are followed anywhere, permit a people prosperity and happiness. If such values are thwarted by either religion, tribalism, statism or sheer anarchy, far too frequently and unnecessarily men and women get sick, kill each other, die early and live in squalor.
Consequently, many of the following chapters deny that the misery of the Middle East is a result of colonialism, racism, or American hegemony - much less attributable to the bogeyman Israel - rather than the predicable result of widespread failure to adopt free institutions, democracy, open markets, and civilian audit. In that sense, realpolitik alone will not see America through the war against the terrorists. Instead, in the tumult to follow September 11, overwhelming military force must be coupled with humane considerations and straight talk. All people born onto the planet seek freedom and security, and since the Western paradigm alone provides man a chance to realize these innate aspirations, it is the duty of Americans to be neither cynical nor insensitive in their approach to the Islamic world, but rather in confidence and without apology to support popular governments and democratic revolutionaries wherever possible. The more the present repressive regimes now hate America, the more their freed peoples will later admire us. Now is the time for promoting consensual government in he Middle East and cessation of our support for autocrats; later we can worry about the arrogance or naiveté of embracing Western nation-building.
Finally, the three millennia story of Western civilization on the battlefield has proved to be one of abject terror for its enemies. Europe and its cultural offspring have across time and space fashioned a deadly form of warfare that transfers ideas of freedom, rationalism, consensual government, and egalitarianism to lethally trained civic militaries - highly disciplined, well led, technologically advanced, and superbly armed. Much of what I wrote in the military context was intended to remind Americans that they had little to fear from the Taliban and the terrorists. If we stayed true to our deals of freedom and democracy, and were not afraid to incur the sacrifice in lives and capital in the use of our forces, then history teaches us that the ultimate victory was never in doubt.
Our kids are growing up with a better idea than most of the nature of the world around them - and what their role in that world could be. We are fortunate enough to have a local public school where the sins of text books employed to teach history and social science are largely those of omission. My wife ( Candace the Fierce) and I do yeoman work in the course of filling in those gaps. I'd have to say that, by and large, we're pretty successful. The kids stand up well to the nonsense peddled by their biological father and his wife - both soulless, wishy-washy Seattle liberals - on the occasions of their obligatory visits. The twins' disdain for their father's and their stepmother's intellectual poverty and moral bankruptcy is a source of quiet pride for me and their real Mom.
As the anniversary of this foul deed grew closer, it was hard to get a read on the approach that the school planned to take with respect to commemorating the Day. Most of the readers on this forum are doubtless aware of the so-called 'lesson plan' advocated and distributed by the NEA - a litany of don't-blame-the-evildoers-but-blame-America for-everything. Despite their best efforts, the NEA couldn't spin their way out of that one. While it wasn't likely that this sick, politically correct worldview of endless victimization and contempt for the very culture and principles that gave rise to real freedom would surface at their school, the reinforcement of Hanson's well-written introduction provides ample ammunition against that sort of moral and philosophical fraud.
For me, at least, the most important point that Hanson touched in his introduction was that of the existence and the nature of the irreconcilable differences and unbridgeable gap separating those of us with the wisdom, humility and courage to understand and accept the tragic view of humanity and those of us who, in the name of some sick utopian fantasy of power and control, would literally remake human nature to suit their dreams - with everything that implies, and in the face of the monstrous failures that history has so clearly shown. If history and even a modicum of understanding human nature teaches us anything at all, it is that the real struggle is as old as humanity itself; that is, the struggle between those who claim the right to dictate the terms of existence to everyone else, and those of us who recognize that no such 'right' exists. It's a freedom thing, you see.
The West's current conflict with the cruel and intolerant culture of Islam has served to highlight the ongoing struggle within our own culture. It is chilling to realize that the proximate goals of the Islamic world and the utopian, Gramscian Left are essentially the same: the destruction of Western culture along with a sizeable portion of its population, and its replacement with an authoritarian regime and the subjugation of the remaining populace. If this scenario seems, well, a little extreme to you, take a moment to consider the rise of totalitarian regimes in the last century, and the oceans of blood and mountains of corpses they left in the wake of their cruel trajectory through history. But, as Huntington has so recently reminded us, the conflict between those with the tragic view of the universe and those with utopian dreams is the struggle of this time. And the front line of that struggle is no farther from you than the nearest public school. This is where the Founders' original notion of egalitarianism - that of equal and unfettered opportunity to make of oneself what one will according to one's desires and abilities, and equality before the law - has been replaced with a an egalitarianism that seeks to equalize resources and the human condition. Where free will, government by consent of the governed and the rights of the individual were paramount in the Founders' aims, coercion, suppression of dissent, lies and the hatred of the competent are the stock and trade of today's liberal socialist egalitarian. Differences of opinion and varying interests are seen as evidence of deviance from the current orthodoxy that must be stamped out by the authorities. A culture in which individual choice is respected has no place in the Orwellian ambitions of the Left - rather, an enlightened elite will reconstruct our values and beliefs according to the current politically correct standards. These egalitarians - well-meaning or otherwise - aren't merely interested in ameliorating existing wrongs - they seek to transform human beings as we know them. What they seek is not a just a matter of economic adjustment, but also the transformation - and subjugation - of the inner self to their ideals. Having abandoned any semblance of spiritual values, these re-makers of Man worship in the church of their own perfectionist faith. Demons dance on their empty altars. Never, never forget that the prime tenet of their faith is that Western culture in general and our society in particular must be destroyed before it can be 'reformed' in their image and ideal. Elitism and arbitrary power - unaccountable and always above the law - are the natural climate and the consequences of such a worldview.
Now, if that seems extreme to you, you have only to consider the Stalinist cast of the political correctness that dominates our higher institutions of learning, or the shouting down of invited speakers whose views differ from the ruling Marxist multicultural orthodoxy in those same institutions. Turn around and take a look at the wholesale revision of history that has taken place in our children's textbooks - the Seattle public school system uses Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States as their standard text book - a litany of America's sins real and imagined coupled with a complete and utter disregard for the miracle of human freedom that the founding and history of this nation truly represents. Understand that the Koran is compulsory reading in the same schools in which any mention of Christianity is ruthlessly suppressed and punished.
Finally, the immediate lesson learned from recent events is that our enemies despise us not for anything in particular that we might have done - they hate us and seek our subjugation (and failing that, our destruction) simply because of who we are and what our civilization represents. Our children have learned the most important of the three 'Rs':
Recognize the intolerant views and lies of the Left
Reject those same values and lies
Resist those who promulgate them with every means at their disposal
Hanson's works, while of high intellectual order, are models of clarity and his straight talk is a refreshing antidote to the politicallyy correct orthodoxy that rules our academia. His ideas and his presentation are not beyond the grasp of a reasonably well-educated teenager. As the line from the song says, "Teach your children well"
No one else will.
Physical work, close acquaintance with the poor, and affinity for the innate dangers that confront millions of Americans are all a complete mystery to many of he most vocal critics of America in this current conflict; those who do not disk the south forty, hammer nails, or pump out cesspools, it seemed to me, had a greater propensity (not to mention more time) to ponder the legal ramifications of trying John Walker Lindh
I've done everything from manual labor to skilled labor to running small businesses- the last thing I did was drive a wrecker, where if you don't always watch the road, and think ahead very carefully, you can get real dead real quick.
I have the utmost regard for the people who do the "real" work of America- load & drive the trucks, harvest the fields, wait the tables. They are what holds the country together.
On the opposite side, people who mostly "sit and think" or "sit and run their mouths," while often very nice people, if you swept them off the face of the Earth-- it wouldn't make much difference to everyday life.
You can almost judge the worth of his work by the number of outraged liberals and leftists responding in the review section. The ad-hominems fly thick and fast, a sure indicator that Hanson is dead on.
Plato, Aristotle, the Bible, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Thucydides, Livy, Homer, Virgil, Augustine, are all dangerous books. No matter how much you spin and twist them, they have a way of speaking for themselves and making you think. So let's substitute a bunch of multicultural trash and lightweight novels instead.
I wasn't around after Pearl Harbor, but I can't imagine half (or more) of the populace siding with the Japanese a year later (even in the silence of their own thoughts). That's precisely what we have today, and it's not silent; it's loud and clear, and in your face. The numbers and the audacity of the anti-Americans here at home almost guarantees that more and more future attacks will occur on US soil. We've had presidents with lower favorability ratings that the jihadists, were one to believe the mainstream media and the folks in academia.
I believe most of these people won't even skip a beat when the sleepers start their stuff.
In this regard, the left and Islam are indistinguishable.
Fox is just about the only place you'l lsee an ycoverage at all. After all, a popular revolt against a corrupt Communist and Castro butt-boy like Chavez is hardly worth the lamestream media's notice is it? Can't have our darlings on the Left looking bad now, can we?
Drop by if you get a chance.
....And unfortunately to the applause of plenty Islamists and ultra-leftists right here in the U.S.A.
As you, I've had the experience of manual labor and running my own business. Plus, I've been on corporate payrolls and worked free lance as one of those people paid to "sit and think".
But one of the most illuminating lessons I ever had while consulting some people (pro-enviro post-modern Clinton loving liberals) on marketing a for-profit zoo. The zoo was in the process of being constructed -- buildings built, containments erected, streams and ponds dug and lined, trees being taken out, others planted. We were on a very tight timetable for what was a rather elaborate project.
The success of making the timetable hinged on the work of the contractor and his construction laborers. And, yet, the ownership treated the laborers with the greatest disdain. They had no appreciation for the work of the tradesman or the equipment operator, much less the manual laborer.
It was striking how they looked down on these construction people, as somehow ignorant and base, unskilled and without real worth. Yet, it was work that the owners themselves could (not would) not have undertaken. A backhoe was a mystery to them. Constructing and erecting a simple directional sign was beyond their carpentry and erection ability. And not one of them had the gumption to have dug his own ditch.
In short, the owners had no respect for the people they employed, nor the value of the work they did.
The liberal elite, however, will always contend that they "stand up for the working man". Even as they secretly despise him...
That was a job I was happy to conclude. And I share your appreciation for "the people who make America work." Indeed, I'd like to think I'm one of 'em...
Is "democracy" big enough to accept both these points of view? Is there a way to incorporate a "Taliban" mindset into the planet and let them live in their caves peacefully?
But they come out of their caves to attack us. The dumb bastards. Which is easier? To kill them all or to aim for the heart?
I don't think the general citizenry understands the distinctions you've made (thanks in large part to publik education), and as a result, it has unwittingly used "democracy" to the point of provocation. Furthermore, FWIW, a good many of our own have absolutley no concept of the "tragic view of humanity."
Amazing what you can discern from a mere handshake. Shovels, wire, posthole diggers, etc. leave their unmistakeble imprints. My impression of the most learn-ned was that they too often lacked common sense- something gained through much trial and error which is synonymous with physical labor (not to mention, these guys hands are very soft).
Going one step further than the author, I'd say that Iraq should be easy pickins this time around since westernization has advanced throughout the ME and the days of the autocrat are seriously numbered. Their biggest downfall will be the vast wealth that rests beneath the sand with which they feather their palacial nests, rather than building a sustainable economy, thereby bettering the fortunes of their people. Fortunately for us, our vast wealth was continental wide as opposed to a bubbling vat under a couple of states.
Lacking a concept of 'rights' unalienable to men, these oil-rich countries will ultimately fall under the weight of extravegance, greed and unenlightenment.
The lengthy timetable preperations in the 'inevitable' war with Iraq may serve more than what appears obvious, that being- something other than smartbombs may be what 'breaks the camel's back'. And wouldn't that be nice?
One of the things my Dad drilled into my head ( he started literally dirt-poor, and ended with about 630 men working for him... ) was that all honest work was honorable.
It didn't matter to him whether you were the man who designed the site, or the guy cutting trenches to install the wiring & piping the designer specified-- everyone had a place, and no one place was better than another, because without each man doing his job competently, the job did not get done.
I really wish every person who thinks they are a member of some kind of elite group
( all the chattering heads on TV come to mind... and politicians as well. )
could spend a few weeks working with a work crew at a construction site and see for themselves the comeradre', humor, and general decency of the average American.
They'd learn more from that- about human nature- than from a year of schooling...
Our dads thought alike...
God bless 'em.
"They'd learn more from [a week with a construction crew]- about human nature- than from a year of schooling..."
They'll spend an hour on a grate with a homeless person, to prove how "good" they are. But don't ask them to associate with working people...
Yeah. It was the beginning of the end of liberalism. It will take a while, but the trend is right. September 10, 2001 was the craziest day in the history of our country.