In its Aug. 12th issue, the Chronicle of Higher Education devoted its entire B section to essays from various academics about 9/11. (Regarding why they decided to put these essays into an issue a month ahead of the anniversary of 9/11, I refuse to speculate.) Almost none of them was worth reading. Each author was supposed to deal with one idea associated with the day and write on it, and one can tell the general drift of the issue simply by noting that Todd Gitlin was told to write on patriotism. Victor Davis Hanson wrote a decent essay on courage, and a Muslim, Omid Safi, wrote an essay on tolerance which, even though I had a few problems with it, at least asked a few important questions (like, What type of Islam is at the opposite extreme from Al Qaeda?). The others barely wanted to mention Islam and Muslims, as though somehow to do so would already be racist. One woman talked about Brazil, and since I like Brazil, I enjoyed what she said, but it seemed a little strange to talk about it in an essay devoted to remembering 9/11.
Anyway, there were a couple themes that ran through most of these essays: the culpability of America in the attacks, and the authors’ disappointment that so many Americans refused to accept this culpability. As one author put it, “almost from the start I began to feel myself peeling off from the general tenor of response, the grand consensus.” This author, Lawrence Weschler, mentions how a steamboat burned in the East River a century ago, and how no one remembers, and speculates that in fifty years, almost no one will remember 9/11, which seems ridiculously naive since we still remember Pearl Harbor, even though it took place seventy years ago. And why does he hold this opinion? Because of global warming. Yes, global warming. We will be so overwhelmed by its effects that we will look back on this decade as one in which we failed to act when we could have.
Two writers, Terry Eagleton and Todd Gitlin, are outraged at what happened on 9/11/73, namely the overthrow of the “democratically elected government of Chile” by either the American government (according to the former) or with American connivance (according to the latter). Neither talks about why we did what we did.
Several writers talked about how insular we Americans are, meaning (I take it) how insular are those who refuse to accept our guilt. Of one of these, Martha Nussbaum, I’ve already written that she herself is not willing to look at a single foreign newspaper, in spite of the likelihood that she can read one or more foreign languages (see here).
Along the same lines there is the presumption that the average American is ignorant of foreign affairs. Actually, plenty of Americans have been educating themselves about the Muslim world since 9/11. Michael Totten and various other people have gone to the Muslim world in order to report back on it for those of us who want something other than what the MSM reports.
Then there is the presumption that the average America is ignorant of history. One of the authors, Weschler, approvingly quotes Susan Sontag saying, “A few shreds of historical awareness might help us understand what has just happened.” He quotes nothing from her about which historical events or movements we ought to be aware of, but given the tenor of his essay, one can be sure it will be filled with American atrocities against the Other. It will not include any atrocities against us, nor will it include the fatwa against Salman Rushdie (which I mention because it was my first hint that Muslim terrorists might actually want to impose shari’a on us).
Then there are the statements about the terrorists’ motives, such as “panic is the whole point of terrorism” or that the terrorists want us to turn our whole political culture inside out. These are actually worse than the claims that the terrorists were getting back at us for things we did to them, for it makes the whole business into something done for nihilistic motives, when in fact I think the motives are pretty clear (and pretty clearly not nihilistic).
All in all, the majority of the essay writers seem not to have thought very deeply about anything other than what they read in the New York Times. They show no awareness of having read Mark Steyn or Paul Berman or anyone who is critical of the standard liberal leftist view. It never seems to occur to them that the very things they have been promoting for years – feminism, gay liberation, a secular society – might be under threat, or that their continued criticisms of America might weaken it and lead reactionaries to rush in and take over. For them, the Vietnam War still rages on.
At least none of the essays was written by a truther.