January 27, 2008

One more

I am reading Susan Faludi's new book on the post 9-11 period, (The Terror Dream). I have read her previous books and think that some of the issues raised by DT and the Fighting Preacher are explained (at least partially) in her last book, Stiffed, where she explores the issue of masculinity in the post-World War II America and how many men have found their role and status diminished.

I am curious how she addresses the post 9-11 world (here is an op-ed with some clues), and have really just started the book. But her introduction included a paragraph on the immediate aftermath of 9-11 that was too good.

It starts with the observation that immediately after, everyone wanted to compare the event to Pearl Harbor and hoped, I think, that this event would bring us all together in some ethic of shared sacrifice. I think most of us thought that. We too thought this might be
"... a long awaited crucible in which self-absorbed Americans would, at long last, be forged into the twenty-first century's stoic army of the latest Greatest Generation. But the summons to actual sacrifice never came. No draft ensued, no Rosie the Riveters were called to duty, no ration cards issued, no victory gardens planted. Most of all, no official moral leadership emerged to challenge Americans to think constructively about our place in the world, to redefine civic commitment and public responsibility. There was no man in a wheelchair in the White House urging on us a reassessment of American strength and weakness. What we had was a chest beater in a borrowed flight suit, instructing us to max out our credit cards for the cause."

I would echo the lack of moral leadership and would further suggest that not only were we not called to think constructively about our place in the world, but were explicitly told not to. Well, unless we were a fat stupid televangelist. Otherwise, any self-reflection on America's role in the world was met with the charge of "blame America firsters" or some such nonsense. Any introspection was bad. There was nothing to learn from how we interacted with the Taliban before, or our role in the developing world. Nothing. Bush instead gave us vapid observations about terrorists hating us for "our freedom," all the while urging his administration to reduce our said freedoms.

It is perhaps the saddest of opportunities lost. A world once united behind us now sees us as one led by a dumb cowboy preacher. Worse, a dumb cowboy preacher who likes to invade countries while swaggering. History will not be kind to this President.


Bitebark said...

I can't really slam Faludi for being disingenuous, but based on that paragraph alone . . . well, I think she's right in her immediate perception -- that we all wanted to coalesce strongly around a cause -- but I wonder what cause we could've coalesced around.

9-11 was the antithesis of WWII in in every way that matters. The act itself, because we all watched it happen, and because it was so immediate and graphic and all-consuming, seemed as straightforward and as galvanizing as Pearl Harbor was. But it wasn't. WWII -- as an historical catalyst -- had the rare benefit of being almost completely without antecendent. We were one day at peace, and the next day at war. We didn't provoke the attack at Pearl, and so were handed a mission whose moral clarity was completely untouched. We could fight nations, with allies, in an all out, straight-ahead war and be completely in the right about it.

9-11 was completely the opposite. How do you fight a disparate group of nonstate actors? How do you fight certain cabals within certain of our "allies?" How do we protect ourselves from a dispersed threat? How do we retool our direct-threat military to deal with asymmetrical threats? And worse: to what extent have our own policies bred this tragedy?

None of these are easy questions, and none of them have any sort of satisfying through-line, like "we were attacked by the Imperial Air Force of Japan in a suprise attack. We must mobilize for war."

All I'm really saying is, I can see what Bush was up against, and it was monumental. Truly, a once-in-a- generation challenge. He was a deficient president from the git-go, almost everyone (including his backers) knew that; if you'd voted for him, it was likely you did so because he was the guy you most wanted to have a beer with. I can guarantee you that no one ever thought he would have to face down the defining challenge of the 21st century.

Streak said...

BiteBark, I don't think Faludi suggested the WWII analogy herself. She contended that that is how Americans wanted to initially explain 9-11. She later suggests that when Pearl Harbor failed to work as an explanation, we found more clarity in the Cold War.

I think she would agree that 9-11 and Pearl only share the common ground of having an attack on our soil. Beyond that, they are completely different events and contexts.

And to be fair to Bush, he wasn't the only one making decisions during that time. REpublican leaders could have led more on a call for shared sacrifice, but they didn't believe that either.