Screwing for Virginity

Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11: In Memoriam

Prior to the commencement of his presidency, George W. Bush’s campaign slogan was “Bringing America Together”. Apparently, according to the Republican Party in general, and Bush in particular, the grand old U.S. of A. was experiencing crises of national identity. Whether there was an internal conflict of Us/Them in the United States or not, Bush’s dreams were answered at the precise moment that two planes crashed into the national monument known as the World Trade Center, five years ago. The “crises of national identity found its provisional resolution by displacing the internal conflict of Us/Them on an external screen.” (Richard Kearney) The body politic known as the United States was (re)united on September 11, 2001, just like the separatist Puritans and the non-religious adventurers were united under the Mayflower Compact or like how frontiersmen put there differences aside while expanding America’s borders westward. This time, however, “we” were not arriving to the New World on the Mayflower or pushing the frontier further west in stagecoaches or covered wagons and uniting against the savage “Indians”, instead, “they” were the savages arriving on airplanes, crashing into buildings, nevertheless, again we united against “them”. Our crises of national identity, our differences were put behind us; America had been brought together against “them”; against savage terrorists. We were once again the United States of America.
However, it was indeed a “provisional resolution”. Between the attack upon the World Trade Center and today, five years later, we have seen the Bush administration declare preemptive war on Iraq, declare an endless “war on terrorism”, curtail civil rights, defy laws, resort to overwhelming force, and other actions, like these, that are “ready products of fear and hasty thought.” (Wendell Berry) Again we are experiencing crises of national identity; Americans are no longer united over the issues of war in Iraq (how is this connected to 9/11 again?), war in Afghanistan, or war on terrorism. Words like “freedom” are evoked to reunite the body politic, because who is against “freedom”? Terrorists. This administration is fighting for “freedom” against those who are against “freedom”, so if you are against this administrations actions, you are against “freedom” (you are no better than a terrorist) because this administration is fighting for “freedom”. This logic disintegrates public dialogue into ad hominem arguments, words like “freedom” disintegrate into rhetoric of self-righteousness and self-justification, and critical self-appraisal is thrown out with the bathwater. We are implored to remember the victims aboard the planes and in the towers who died on this fateful day, but these are just disguised calls to revenge and resentment, to increase military funding (recall Eisenhower’s warning against the military-industrial complex), to give our endless support to the thriving bureaucracy, in order to stamp out these “embittered few”, these “thousands of trained terrorists” so “innocents” who died on 9/11 and others will not have died in vain (The National Security Strategy). But will retaliating in immature and dangerous ways, will the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of “innocents” in Iraq and Afghanistan, will the deaths of thousands of American, Canadian, English, Iraq, and Afghan soldiers, will the severed head of Osama bin-Laden, save the victims deaths from banality? It doesn’t look like America’s typical unoriginal and uncreative response of war and violence will save or is saving the victims death from be(com)ing trivial. Perhaps it is now, five years out, to start thinking of different ways to handle the crises that 9/11 has placed in our laps. When should we start forgiving? When is it right to remember and when is it right to forget? How much should we remember and how much should we forget? Is this a time and place (like Northern Ireland, Bosnia, or Rwanda) where we should take note of Nietzsche’s call to “actively forget the past” in order to surmount revenge and resentment? To rework Adorno’s question about Auschwitz (which he later retracted), “Is poetry possible after 9/11?” Or is this a time and place (like Auschwitz) in which “it is essential to remember the past in order to honour our ‘debt to the dead’ and try to insure that it never happens again” (Kearney)? If we are to remember the past, if we are to narrate the events of half a decade ago, how do we do so without “losing the unique character of unspeakable horror” (Kearney)? Let’s not follow the easy path of many Christians, both conservative and liberal, and create or subscribe to some Master Narrative that attempts to explain it away. 9/11 did not happen because God called down destruction on America because of homosexuals, or gay marriage, or whatever. We must avoid “banalising” it “by reducing it to voyeuristic spectacle or kitsh” (Kearney) or a commodity of the culture industry (a real and present danger with the appearance of numerous emotive 9/11 films).
Either way, we must take seriously both the September 11th attack on the Twin Towers and the dissent of the populace concerning the subsequent actions taken by the Bush administration in order to make occasion for strenuous self-appraisal. First, what has the United States done to stimulate such an attack? Could it be that we are trespassers in the Islamic holy land, not just Mecca, but the whole Saudi Arabian peninsula? Could it be because of the untrammeled spread of the global market leaving the Islamic people maimed in its path? Second, why are citizens dissenting? Obviously, some people aren’t pleased with the way this administration is handling things. Instead of hijacking, raping, and using religious vocabulary to justify your actions and arrogantly proclaiming the superiority of your stance while ignoring the critique, why not actually engage the critique and confront the disagreement? How could there possibly be a quandary if your stance and actions are divinely sanctioned? Displacing internal conflict onto an external screen is only a temporary cover-up for crises of national identity, attention cannot be diverted ad infinitum from the internal conflicts (though an endless war on terror was a creative attempt), eventually these crises will have to be dealt with.
If America is to be brought together, let it be brought together not by identifying outside enemies like America did in the 20th century with communists, fascists, Cubans, Iraqis, Vietcong, or North Koreans nor by trivializing the deaths of victims by using their deaths as a method to continually fuel the military-industrial machine to satiate our perceived need for revenge. Perhaps, it is time to think of new ways to “bring America together”. But first it is time to think of new descriptions as to what is meant by “America”, both ideally and in actual performance, or whether or not America should be “brought together” at all.