September 5, 2002
Has it been a year already? It seems odd to make a
special fuss about the first anniversary of an event weve been
commemorating, nonstop, since the day it happened. Its time to
stop grieving over 9/11.
You have to be a little
skeptical of all this public mourning, especially when the politicians seem
to be more grief-stricken than anyone else, and at the same time so eager
to convert the emotions of 9/11 into political capital. (Let us show our
outrage over fanatical violence by making war on someone!)
President Bush is
scheduled to deliver a speech to the nation on the anniversary. He will
assume the multiple roles of leader, father, avenger, and grief counselor,
with all the heartfelt emotion his team of speechwriters can muster. They
are taking careful aim at our tear ducts right this minute. If you have
tears, prepare to shed them Wednesday night. Afterward, you may be
I know a woman who
lost her kid brother, a New York fireman, when the Twin Towers fell. She
gave me a little card with his picture on it. She talks of him fondly,
matter-of-factly, without tears. I have no doubt of her deep grief, but she
feels no need to keep showing it. Nor do I pretend to feel her grief; I
sympathize with it, I respect it, but I cant share it, and it would be
affectation and presumption to imply that its mine in the same
way it is hers.
Because I do respect
the real grief of people who lost loved ones, I find it cloying to keep
pretending the rest of us can endlessly feel the loss of 3,000 strangers.
Do we all mourn for the 25,000 Americans who die annually in traffic
Yes, it was a horrible,
shocking event, like nothing else in American history. Pearl Harbor
where my father happened to be when it was hit doesnt
even come close. But though 9/11 was unique for us, it is hardly unique in
Because Europe doesnt share the Bush
administrations eagerness for an
ill-defined war on terrorism, some hawks are accusing
Europeans of anti-Americanism. This is a calumny. Initially,
Europe was deeply sympathetic with us. Have we forgotten that already?
But what is now called
anti-Americanism is really Europes feeling that enough is enough,
its refusal to approve our bottomless self-pity and self-absorption, its
weariness with our feeling that our sufferings surpass all others. Our
European cousins would like us to grow up.
The European countries
know what it is to be attacked and invaded, and 3,000 deaths is nothing
compared with what they remember. The English remember when London
was bombed night after night; the Germans remember when most of their
great cities were devastated by bombs; France, Italy, Russia, and most
other European lands have memories that put 9/11 in the shade and ought,
for us, to put it into perspective. (The Vietnamese have some memories
In 1976 Aldo Moro,
president of Italy, was murdered by terrorists an event roughly as
shocking to Europe as 9/11 was to Americans. Yet the Italians
didnt react with hysteria; they dealt with it as patiently and
methodically as they would with any other crime, and eventually their
terrorist problem abated. That is the way other European countries also
handled terrorism. None of them assumed that their problem or
their suffering was unique.
Europe also knows that
such violence is the price of empire. But the United States, with military
forces stationed in more than a hundred countries, refuses to acknowledge
that it has become an empire. It prefers to think of itself as
democratic, while exercising global
leadership, and is surprised when others see it otherwise. But
deadly weapons yes, weapons of mass destruction
arent leadership. They dont persuade; they
threaten that is, terrorize.
Simone Weil defined
force as that which turns a person into a thing either a corpse or a
slave. The world is ruled by force as never before, and its chiefly
American force, force on a stupendous and unprecedented scale, resting
ultimately on a huge nuclear arsenal.
America has chosen to
live by the sword. Yet Americans prefer not to face this superobvious fact.
They are still shocked when the sword is also drawn against them.