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Friday, June 21, 2002

September 11 and the Ecstasy of the Left

On the way to work on September 12, I bought the local newspapers: the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, and the Sydney Daily Telegraph.

The SMH, especially, and also The Australian, carried letters turgid with schadenfreude. The US deserved the attacks, they said, for its crimes throughout the history of time (as one Australian put it).

I had to put the papers aside for several days. I kept buying them, and peeking into the letters section, then had to put them away again. (I just bought them for the pictures...)

But in my brief readings the one thing I read over and over again was that we didn't understand, we had to be made to understand, etc etc etc. I felt bad. I figured I ought to at least make an effort to understand what it was we didn't understand. So I finally sat down and read through the letters.

The writers each had a specific (and yet rather vague) beef with the US. Some of them thought we had interfered too much. Others thought we interefered too little. Some thought we had foisted our soulless
materialist culture on poor, defenseless countries. Others thought we were uninterested in improving the material lot of poor, defenseless countries.

Taken as a whole, this is what they demanded we do:

That we succor oppressed peoples everywhere---but stay out of the internal affairs of other nations.

That we use our considerable military might to force ancient, implacable enemies to sit down and work for peace---but not if anybody gets hurt.

And when military force is inappropriate, we should use our economic power toward this goal---so long as no one suffers for it.

We must also use this economic power to lift nations up from poverty---but don't go imposing our dirty capitalism.

And we must teach the ignorant of the world---but don't go foisting our sick culture on anyone.

We are expected to have the strength, the will, and the compassion to act ---yet not the hubris that imagines we know how to act.

I've written this essay a dozen times since 9/11. I've ended it on a note that fit my mood at the time---bewildered, frustrated, sarcastic. But after all these months, I've finally settled on one mood:

Bite us.

Collectively and severally.

(By the way, for a---sometimes---more intellectual response to the same stimulus, check out

Blaming Ourselves: September 11 and the Agony of the Left

I confess to not having read the whole thing yet. Blokey Aussie Mate Tim Blair wrote a section of the book, in which he guesses the occupations of the letter writers. It makes everything clear.)