Monday, September 11, 2006

And 9-11 Thoughts From The Lonely libertarian

I meant to respond to Prof. Long last week, but was a little late to the party. Nonetheless, there were several points I wanted to weigh in on.

1- For our generation, the question of whether 9-11 was a "stubbed toe" or "hacked off foot" is not as important as the personal nature of the attacks. Countless numbers of us were worried that day for friends or family in New York, and regardless of who we knew, we all sat glued to the news for several days. It was a shared national experience, a shared national trauma. The numbers aren't important because at the time it happened, we were all scared and we all feared the worst. Analyzing our national response to 9-11 with numbers, or even through a political lens ignores the importance of the emotional impact.

2- Regardless of one's political persuasions, one cannot argue the fact the 9-11 altered political debate in this country, and drastically altered the course of American foreign policy. For better or for worse, and regardless of the numbers of 9-11, these are changes we will deal with for decades to come.

3- Both of the above discussions are reasons why 9-11 will remain all-important, while events like the Oklahoma City bombing fade into the dust bin of history.

4- Personally, I do get a bit tired of all the hero talk, not because the heroes of 9-11 don't deserve praise, but because I think that when we (as a society) focus so much on one instance, we lose sight of countless other equally worthy incidents of heroism. Yes the firefighters and first responders of 9-11 are heroes, but so are those who risked their lives as first responders in far less newsworthy tragedies.

5- As to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki comparisons, 9-11 has had a far greater impact on the United States than either of those two bombings. To the Japanese, Nagasaki and Hiroshima represented a failure of war and marked their transformation into a pacifist nation. In the United States, the bombings ushered in the Cold War, but the emotional impact was far less drastic. To go back to my earlier point, we are selective about our tragedies, and it's not always numbers that make the most difference in determining just what we care about. Truth be told, we didn't know about the devastating effects of the atomic bomb when we dropped it on Japan, and I'm not sure if a war-torn America really would have cared if they knew the whole story at the time.

Additionally, 9-11 was of course an unprovoked attack, while Hiroshima and Nagasaki occurred in the theater of war. Some historians have estimated that the lives lost to the A- bombs were less than the lives that would have been lost if the United States had continued with conventional warfare. While this is debatable, the point is, every notion of tragedy is itself up for debate. Tragedy is written by those who experience it, and once again, it all goes back to emotion, and you can't fake a collective emotional experience.

6- In the larger historical sense, 9-11 tends to stand on its own, whereas any World War II era tragedy tends to be lost within the larger context of the war. I've read that as many as 60 million people lost their lives in World War II, which is a number so big that it begins to lose context- After all, we recognize the Holocaust as one of the great tragedies of history, yet the estimated 6 million Jews who were killed is only 1/10 of the estimated 60 million who lost their lives in the rest of the war. Once again, numbers begin to fail us.

7- Prof. Long is right to raise the questions he raises- Just because we're at the 5 year anniversary does not mean we should silence our discussion and debate. I've made the point, time and time again, that when it comes to "the war on terrorism" (which regardless of your political views seems to be the overarching theme of the response to 9-11), we have not had the national debate we need to have. What we've had is the Bush response, and criticism to that response. The problem with this is that intellectually, we haven't had a real discussion about fighting terrorism- And this is something to talk about 5 years after 9-11.


Blogger A Fan For All Seasons said...

I agree with most of the things you said here, and they are very well put. I do disagree with your sentiments on the hero aspect of 9/11.

I don't think 9/11 takes away from the everyday acts of heroism, but instead, I believe Americans have become more appreciative of fire fighters and other rescue workers. When news outlets decide to emphasize the heroes, we get a glimpse into the rescuers real life. It gives people a sense of realism and we can relate to faceless firemen that are so heroic, not only during national crisis, but everyday. Also, I believe it's very important that we try and take some good from such a terrible day. Talk of Flight 93 and other heroes show positve qualities in humans.

Think about World War II movies, for example. We look at the young soldiers who sacrificed so much. When a movie looks at the Holocaust, it's not just about death. We look at men like Oscar Schindler, we have a movie like "Life Is Beautiful", where a character tries so hard to help his son through the turmoil. We are compelled by the good in people, and we choose, and need to believe there is good in people.

12:50 AM  

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