September 12, 2001

Sam Smith, September 12, 2001 – Throughout the day came contrasting images of Americans. The indefatigably courageous rescue workers – turned gray and white by pulverized matter. The innocent survivors resourcefully joining hands to follow the one flashlight out of a building or using a cell phone to locate themselves under the rubble. The Washington officials noisily locking the barn door too late and creating a new crisis (of the sort they could understand): a massive traffic jam. The glamorous anchors and TV correspondents, children of Pleasantville II, suddenly discovering that news can be real.

And too often during the day there were the incompetent, mendacious, and terminally hubristic voices of an American elite that had helped create a country so hated that some would kill themselves to define their antipathy. There was Madeleine Albright who five years ago said that killing a half million Iraqi children as a result of the sanctions was worth the price. There was Charlie Rose, listening even more intently than usual to his roundtable of failed, fatuous experts. There was talk of instant revenge, of instant action, talk that echoed that of our generals in Vietnam. We have only failed in quantity and not in quality, they repeatedly told us then.

The Washington Post, as during Vietnam, helped lead the macho masochists. It even published a column by Robert Kaman which declared, “Congress, in fact, should immediately declare war. It does not have to name a country.” The rest of the media was not far behind.

Notably absent from the airwaves were Muslim Americans and those who favored resolution rather than retribution. Instead, there was a steady procession of figures who had supported or helped form a foreign policy that has made us the earth’s most despised nation, who had insisted that the way to a better world was to arm Israel and anathematize Arabs, who had claimed that the civil liberties we have surrendered over the past two decades would make us safer, and who have told us we must choose between security and freedom and in the end have denied us both. In the face of such overwhelming evidence of their failure, if they did not have the grace to resign, they should at least shut up.

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