In the wake of the 15th anniversary commemorating the September 11 terrorist attacks, a few remaining thoughts:
1. We used to lament the post-September 11 lack of unity. It’s true, shortly after September 11 Americans were more sober, patriotic, and united. It’s hard to pin where and when the wheels came off that cart. A good case can be made it was when Al Gore spoke to the Commonwealth Club in 2002 comparing President Bush’s doctrine of pre-emption to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Perhaps it was solidified when the Democratic party leadership–from Terry McAuliffe to Tom Daschle and beyond–went to and praised a special screening of Michael Moore’s mockumentary, Fahrenheit 9/11. Or when Moore was invited by former President Jimmy Carter to sit in his booth at the Democratic convention in 2004. The potential list is long, but not fully forgotten.
2. That which was never learned, of course, cannot be forgotten. And therein a tragedy of history: High school students and most college students today would not have seen the imagery from September 11. Our schools and culture have done a lousy job of teaching it. But we do know how to teach it, we do know how to teach evil. I have long believed Elie Wiesel was right that “Memory is tragedy’s most indispensable element” and that museums built to remember what Hell on earth looks like are valuable correctives to vanishing frames of reference. Holocaust museums have served such purposes. And now a Victims of Communism museum in Washington, DC is being built. We should be building a victims of terrorism museum, or set of museums, too. It is an irony of both history and contemporary culture that we should even need a museum to remember what is taking place in real time. But here we are. The phrase “Never Again,” first applied to the Holocaust, seems almost absurd as we read about what Radical Islam has done in our lifetimes and is doing as we live and breathe. But here we are.
3. If any notion of the above seems unnecessary, just ask how it is that the American President can wash away contemporary terrorism and the fascist ideology of Radical Islam by his very words–“Jayvee” or akin to the Crusades, “lest we get on our high horse,” are but two examples. Invocation of the Crusades, of course, is the narrative of the fatwahs against the West, it is the language of the terrorists. For most of us, the Crusades are a 900-year-old chapter of history. Today’s Islamists still speak of them as contemporary–and so, too, does the American President. Now look at your child’s text books and check the different treatments of Radical Islam today and the Crusades of yesteryear. What gets more time? What gets more implied or explicit criticism?
4. One year after the 9/11 attacks, Charles Kesler was warning about an already-nascent national amnesia and moral parity about the war that was declared on us: “One of the great themes of liberal postmodernism is that the past has nothing to teach us: that history is all interpretation, and morals and politics are entirely relative.” I give you the present.
5. How, then, to remember? Start with the heroes of 9/11–and why such heroism needed mustering. There are too many heroes to recount here, but a starting point is American-by-choice Rick Rescorla. Then let’s build that museum and remember Elie Wiesel’s definition of confusion: “When good and evil are put on the same moral plane and the wicked receive the sanction of the just.”