The disconnect between last Tuesday's monstrous dose of reality and the self-righteous drivel and
outright deceptions being peddled by public figures and TV commentators is
startling, depressing. The voices licensed to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantilize the
public. Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a "cowardly" attack on "civilization" or "liberty"
or "humanity" or "the free world" but an attack on the world's self-proclaimed
superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of the
ongoing American bombing of Iraq? And if the word "cowardly" is to be
used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of
retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill
others. In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of
Tuesday's slaughter, they were not cowards.
Our leaders are bent on convincing us that everything is O.K. America is not
afraid. Our spirit is unbroken, although this was a day that will live in infamy and America is now at
war. But everything is not O.K. And this was not Pearl Harbor. We have a robotic President who assures us that America
still stands tall. A wide spectrum of public figures, in and out of office, who are strongly opposed to
the policies being pursued abroad by this Administration apparently feel free to say nothing
more than that they stand united behind President Bush. A lot of thinking needs to be done, and
perhaps is being done in Washington and elsewhere, about the ineptitude of American intelligence and
counter-intelligence, about options available to American foreign policy, particularly in the Middle
East, and about what constitutes a smart program of military defense. But the public is not being
asked to bear much of the burden of reality. The unanimously applauded, self-congratulatory
bromides of a Soviet Party Congress seemed contemptible. The unanimity of the
sanctimonious, reality-concealing rhetoric spouted by American officials and media commentators in recent days
seems, well, unworthy of a mature democracy.
Those in public office have let us know that they consider their task to be a manipulative
one: confidence-building and grief management. Politics, the politics of a
democracy—which entails disagreement, which promotes candor—has been
replaced by psychotherapy. Let's by all means grieve together. But let's not be stupid
together. A few shreds of historical awareness might help us understand what has just
happened, and what may continue to happen. "Our country is strong," we are
told again and again. I for one don't find this entirely consoling. Who doubts that America is
strong? But that's not all America has to be.