Last week, President Bush was attacked by members of the Democratic Party for using images of 9/11 in a campaign ad, and by the next day there was the normal political and media uproar over this burning question: Should the President be scolded for daring to use such images, or should he be defended?
I do not wish to weigh in on this question because, like many burning questions being asked today, I think it is absurdly irrelevant, like the burning question whether President Bush should have worn a flight jacket while aboard a helicopter. Instead the question I want to ask is how our nation permits such "issues" to become burning questions in the first place. Do we have nothing more urgent to worry about?
The answer to this question should be an easy one. Yes, we do have many more urgent things to worry about; and by far the most urgent is what to do about 9/11.
Here I am not talking about what to do about future 9/11's -- catastrophic terror that may or may not happen in our near or our distant future -- I am referring back to the 9/11 that occurred on a beautiful morning over two and a half years ago. And our most urgent question today is: What should we as a nation do with our collective memory from that day?
Increasingly the answer that is being given to this question by liberal Democrats is simple, Repress it. Push it out of our mind. Pretend that it never happened; or if you absolutely must refer to 9/11, pretend it was something along the lines of an earthquake or a freakish tidal wave -- a natural disaster without the slightest political implications. A tragedy, of course, but something we should all put behind us and move on.
That is why the Democrats and the liberal media became apoplectic at the images of 9/11 that appeared in the Bush campaign ad. It was not Bush's use of the images that was so disturbing to them, but the images themselves. Democrats and liberals do not want to be reminded of 9/11; nor do they wish their country to be reminded of it either. Not because it is perceived as a campaign theme of the opposite party, but because 9/11, if rightly understood, requires a complete rethinking of their own warm and fuzzy vision of multilateral harmony in a conflict free world.
The memory of 9/11 must be repressed because otherwise liberals would have to come to terms with the concept of The Enemy. They would have to face the grim and disturbing truth that there are people out there who relish the thought of pointlessly killing thousands of our fellow citizens, simply because they are our fellow citizens -- not for a political objective, or to achieve a military goal, but just because they see us as their enemy.
A friend of mine recently said that he did not like the concept of the enemy and that, as far as he was concerned, all men were his brothers. But what if the man whom you wish to regard as your brother does not return your fraternal feelings of affection; what if he regards your offer as an insult to his honor? "You dare to call yourself my brother, you dog?" In which case, what do you do then? Do you respect his feelings, and accept him as your enemy? Or do you treat him as an inferior being and wave aside his protestations as if he were a four year old child -- "Now, now, Bobby, you don't really mean to say those bad things about mommy."
To insist that your enemy is not your enemy when he insists on being one is to rob him of his humanity, and to endanger your own existence -- and all for the sake of preserving an unsustainable illusion. To recognize an enemy, and to treat him as one, is not to dehumanize him -- on the contrary, it is to treat him as your equal. It is to take him seriously. It is to meet him on his own terms.
But that is just what liberal Democrats cannot bring themselves to do. They insist on pretending that 9/11 was just a kind of glitch, instead of seeing it as an act of devotion carried out by men who were motivated by the highest ethical purpose that they could comprehend.
This is the terrible truth revealed by 9/11. It was not an act of crazed loonies, unlikely to reoccur; it was the symbolic gesture of an entire culture -- a culture that looked upon those who died in carrying out their mission as heroic martyrs who triumphed over a vastly more powerful enemy. That is why so much of the Arab world celebrated the great victory accordingly, by dancing in the streets and cheering the collapse of the Twin Towers -- another set of images that liberals are forced to repress, since to acknowledge such behavior is to acknowledge the concept of the enemy that is embodied in such wild rejoicing at the annihilation of men and women whom you had never met.
It is almost as if we, as a nation, are entering into what psychologists call denial. Instead of making the necessary adjustments to reality in response to 9/11, we are engaged in a process of denying it, both by outright repression of all public memory of the event and by making it a subject of incomprehensibly stupid political controversy, dividing us as a people into warring factions over absolutely nothing -- and often it would seem for no better reason than to have something to bicker about on radio talk shows.
When I wrote my book, Civilization and Its Enemies, I said that we had not yet comprehended the significance of 9/11. Today we are not any closer to understanding it; and, indeed, as a nation we seem to be drifting farther and farther away from the true issues raised by it.
The Bush administration has announced that its campaign theme will be that we are in Iraq to keep other 9/11's from happening on our soil; but how could anyone who understood the first 9/11 possibly think such a thing? If the first 9/11 was brought to us by Arab nationals living in Hamburg, acting out a fantasy, how could the occupation of Iraq have prevented it then, and how could it prevent another such event in the future?
Here is a genuine issue for the Democrats to criticize. They could point to it and say, "This shows that the Bush administration does not really yet understand the nature of the beast that we are dealing with." And yet, instead of taking on this question, they insist on beating up the President for daring to remind the American people that 9/11 ever occurred.
The Bush campaign can be justly rebuked for trying to argue that anything we can do in Iraq will prevent another 9/11, because of all people they should know better. But what rebuke is appropriate for those who wish to pretend that 9/11 never happened at all?