Against interpretation (of 9/11)
New York we didn’t know what to say about the September 11 atrocities, so we repeated old
patriotic speeches and spent a couple hours reading the names of those who died in a sort of spoken equivalent
of the Viet Nam Memorial. In England they apparently had the same problem, and Spiked
interesting summary: One year on: what the
Why the inability to say anything to the point? Some possibilities:
Posted by Jim Kalb at September 13, 2002 09:12 AM | Send
- The oddness of the event. Men no
one had heard of and not publicly connected to anyone carry out a spectacular act of war for an unannounced
cause. The equivalent of a city is destroyed and it’s a matter of detective work and interpretation why it
happened and who the enemy is.
- Uncertainty as to practical significance. If the Arabs could work together
effectively they wouldn’t be in the fix they’re in. In the 30 years since the murders at the ‘72 Olympics
they’ve done nothing remotely on this scale. Now they’ve done it we’ve retaliated, we’re on the alert, and whatever problems we
have doing things properly their problems are a lot bigger. So is the threat that they will do something of the kind
repeatedly really major enough to define the world we live in? It’s far from clear.
- The point of the current war. It’s officially a “war against terrorism,” but that’s absurd. One might as well
declare war against the sneak attack or the dum-dum bullet. It’s also a war against evil, which is no more
helpful. In fact, it appears to be a war against Islamicist terrorists and those who make them more of a threat
(the Taliban,Iraq), unless it’s someone we don’t want to fight (Saudi Arabia). Not much there to give rise to
eloquence. Saying what we’re fighting for is no easier. It seems it’s not enough to say we’re fighting to
protect our people against a ruthless and aggressive enemy, so the official line is that we’re fighting for
freedom and democracy. Various respected commentators add that we’re fighting for modernism, secularism,
inclusiveness, tolerance, equality, feminism, sexual freedom and gay rights. Some of those things of course are
still divisive issues in the West. More to the point, perhaps, they’re altogether at odds with the popular
response to September 11, which was specifically patriotic and Christian.
- The nature of the society
attacked. Western society has become multicultural and technocratic. In the opinion of those thought most knowledgeable, it does not stand for a common
interpretation of things but for provision of a technically rational framework within which each can make and act on his private interpretation. The Twin Towers and Pentagon represented that framework—inhumanly large,
named for their geometical properties, and symbolizing a universal sytem of rational exchange and administration and the military force protecting it. How can one possibly speak well, from the standpoint of such a system,
about something like the sudden violent death of thousands that inescapably presents us with ultimate human
The final paragraph hits the mark. And who really loves this multicultural, technocratic society? Who wants to risk life for it in battle? If I may invoke language used by Mr. Auster in another context, does it deserve to survive?