Just about everyone I know here in the City wants to “move forward,” which is a slightly euphemistic way of saying “not spend time thinking about 9-11 and what it meant.” I was living abroad at the time and don’t know what it was like to be here, seeing the ash cloud and the absence where the towers used to be without the mediation of the camera. Not reliving a personal trauma you can do nothing to alter is a sensible way of dealing with it, and we Americans have moving forward in our blood. Our ancestors were the ones who didn’t just sit still and accept the trouble they’d been born into; they moved and left it behind.
That’s a good way to be, right up to the point at which you’re conveniently ditching the lessons of the past in addition to its grudges. I’m not happy with everything we did in response to 9-11, but I think we were right in the main. The spy capers and cops-and-robbers action many people were suggesting toward the end of 2001 sound nice, but they require more coordination to pull off than our super-bureaucracies have shown themselves capable of. (Naturally, we had to add one [Homeland Security] and inflate the power of another [the TSA] so that it’s now body-searching American air passengers with an avidity normally associated with the more disreputable South African diamond mines, but my libertarian ire at those developments is a topic for another day.) I’ve supported the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions since when they were announced, and I still think they were the best serious plan anyone had proposed. I don’t like the idea of America as the world police, but I do like the idea of showing terrorist groups and the regimes that support them that they had better not try that again. I’ll be overjoyed if the result is an efflorescence of democracy in the Middle East, but the most we can make a priority is leaving behind functional societies that know the US is not to be trifled with.
9-11 and what came after have seen the best in many Americans: acts of bravery both by ordinary citizens thrust into extraordinary circumstances and by our trained defenders who put themselves in harms way to keep the rest of us safe. There’s nothing morbid or solipsistic about failing to “move on” with such alacrity that we don’t take time to honor them, or to reflect on the eternal truth that barbarism is always looking for ways to bring down civilization. Our way works, and we’re right to hit back, hard, when it’s attacked.
Added: Sarah has a post up in which she says the following:
We can stop looking like the patsies of the world. We can stop being so easy to hate. That starts one on one, and person on person. You do not let foreign friends, in fact or online, talk about the US as being responsible for their plight. You just don’t. You man up; you woman up; you adult-it up. You educate yourself and you come back with facts. You tell them the truth and shame the devil.
It never ceases to amaze me how many people will accuse you of “politicizing” a discussion on a social occasion if you respond to some casual America-sucks/the-West-is-oppressive-and-awful remark of theirs with an actual, like, dissenting response. It can be immensely satisfying, if still wearisome, to maintain an amiable tone of voice while asking exactly what is political about saying, “I think President Bush has done an admirable job of staying restrained under trying circumstances, considering what most global military powers through history would have done immediately after an unannounced attack on their people,” and not about saying, “Cowboy! Quagmire! Root causes! Disproportionate force!”
It’s especially odd to hear this stuff in Japan, the very model of a country that took its competitive impulses into the sphere of the market after our grandparents bombed them into recognizing that it was pointless to keep them in that of the military. The Japanese archipelago has few mineral resources, and its arable land would fit into my parents’ backyard in Pennsylvania, but Japan focused on the resources (dogged human effort and learning) it had and figured out how to make them into prosperity and an orderly society. What exactly is America doing to prevent other countries from doing the same? Colonialism had a lot of bad effects, and our history classes in the US rightly point them out. But the burden of proof is on post-colonial-studies types to explain why countries that are now independent are supposed to be full of people who can only chafe resentfully at oppression.