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The Best and Worst of 9/11/02

Some of the anniversary writings provoked thought and stiffened spines and others pointed to a burgeoning anti-Americanism.

12:00 AM, Sep 12, 2002 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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IN YESTERDAY'S Washington Times, Jennifer Harper reported that, since December 7, 1941, 200 books have been written about Pearl Harbor. And since September 11, 2001, 400 books have been written about the attacks on that terrible day. I don't know of any study that's been done on media coverage of the two events, but it seems safe to guess that the ratio of news and opinion stories written so far is even more out of balance.

The torrent continued yesterday, and, surprisingly, some of the pieces written were quite thoughtful and bracing:

-In the New York Post, Bob McManus offered the most spine-stiffening lede on this anniversary: "Let there be no buts about today. . . . Such as: 'The attack on America was horrid, but Islam is a religion of peace.'"

-James Lileks crafted a fine letter to his 9/11/01 self, pointing out that, all things considered, we're much, much better off today than we thought we'd be a year ago.

-In Slate, Rebecca Liss told the story of Dave Karnes, a Marine veteran who found and saved two men from the rubble at Ground Zero. On September 11, Karnes was at work in Wilton, Connecticut when he saw the news. He told his co-workers, "We're at war." Then he hopped in his car, got a quick standard-issue buzz cut, put on an old uniform, and drove to New York at 120 mph in his new Porsche. There, he and another volunteer, Charles Sereika, combed the site, even as official rescue workers were being moved off of the dangerous, shifting ruins.

-With friends like we have in Europe, we need the Toronto Sun. Their lead editorial opened: "Today is the first anniversary of the terrorist attack on America and, more significantly, of the day America said 'enough' and decided to fight back. . . . This is not a time for neutrality or fence-sitting--something the Canadian government prefers to action. We at the Sun are with the United States against terrorism. As all Canadians should be."

They close by saying, "America is not perfect--what country is?--but thank God it is our neighbor, and thank God it has the courage to lead and fight back."

-Two extremely intelligent pieces broke through the white noise of grief--John Keegan in the New York Post and Francis Fukuyama in the Washington Post. Expanding on a Charles Krauthammer essay in Time, Keegan explained that Saddam must be stopped now before he has nuclear weapons, because once he has them, we will no longer have the option of intervening in the region with conventional forces. Fukuyama looked into how anti-Americanism is becoming the foreign policy doctrine of choice in much of the world and examined its roots.

IT IS THIS anti-Americanism that informs the worst of the anniversary coverage. Note, please, that by "anti-Americanism," I'm not suggesting that all of these writers are unpatriotic (although, by any objective measure, some of them are). What I mean is that, confronted with a moment when America is under attack from a sinister, outside force, whom they surely detest, rather than turning their attention to this evil, these writers prefer to focus on perceived (and often exaggerated or imagined) American flaws.

-Salon continued its Ahab-like obsession with John Ashcroft, devoting its feature space to a piece by Bruce Shapiro. Instead of being outraged or saddened or troubled by the jihad which Islamofascists have declared against America, Shapiro is outraged, saddened, and troubled by the attorney general. "A year after the Sept. 11 attacks, can anyone say with confidence whether Ashcroft was speaking of a serious threat [with his Sept. 10 warnings], or exploiting the anniversary to restore his credibility?" Almost 2,000 words later, Shapiro repeats a bit of lazy--and now discredited--reporting from the New York Times, saying that "religious conservatives, once Ashcroft's effective claque, now bridle at his plans to let the FBI spy on religious communities and follow their financial trails." "Ashcroft is," Shapiro proclaims, "a man without a country."

This, the day after a piece by Joan Walsh, titled, "It's My Country and I'll Cry If I Want To: OK, we all have anniversary fatigue. But if the administration critics cede 9/11 to the right, Karl Rove wins." It's staggering how provincial some progressives can be.

-The Portland Oregonian ran an op-ed by Sallie Tisdale, who is still fighting against the 2000 election and for the Kyoto accords: "An administration born in a dubious compromise has dismantled nearly every international treaty and accord it could reach, damaging our foreign relations at a critical time. An administration headed by people who have never known unemployment, want, or hunger cuts back on social programs."

Tisdale seems stuck in '68: "How many of us have complained? Now this same administration is planning an unprovoked war, a war that could involve nuclear bombs, and the streets of the country are not filled with protestors. . . . I am most astonished that we are letting them get away with it."

-Out in Berkeley, Rong-Gong Lin II, the editor in chief of the Daily Californian, weighed in on civil liberties, with one of the sillier columns of the day. "It was chilling," he sputters, "how easily intolerance and hate could come from Americans who disagreed with other Americans' opinions. Free speech, the most American of values, was disregarded."

You could point out that most of the hate and intolerance to be found on our shores in the last 12 months has come from Palestinian activists. You could ask where, exactly, free speech has been disregarded. But Lin probably wouldn't care. After all, he calls Berkeley "a beacon of hope."

-In the Seattle Times, Jafar Siddiqui rang the PC bell, lamenting that after September 11, "the president's lieutenants began their war. Their targets were Islam, Muslims and Arabs . . ." Which is a nifty coincidence, since all of the hijackers were Muslim. But never mind; as Siddiqui somberly informs us, "The climate of fear had set in."

"As our administration comes after Arabs and Muslims, they do so with the participation by silence of the people of this free country and by the silence of Congress," he writes. "One thinks of other places where such events have taken place, that we call dictatorships."

His conclusion boggles the mind and strains any assumption of good faith: "It appears that the tragedy of Sept. 11 is being compounded by a silent but greater tragedy, a constitutional tragedy under which the rights and freedoms of every person in these United States may be imperiled for generations to come." [emphasis added]

-The Los Angeles Times featured an essay by Pico Iyer, who says, "I worry that the John Wayne stance [America is] projecting outside its borders is taking it further away from a world that it needs desperately to get closer to."

Of course, Iyer doesn't want to blame the victim, but will say, "if [America] can show the world that it can be humble and ready to change, some good may yet come of all it has suffered. Perhaps the best thing we can learn from older nations--Vietnam, say, or Japan--is that the most useful response to loss is to start looking beyond our wounds and toward how we can avoid hurting others, and getting hurt, again."

-Over in Britain, where the anti-Americanism is born not of stupidity, but belligerence, John Pilger wrote in the Mirror that "the lesson of September 11 ought to be understanding the rampant nature of the dominant power of the world . . ." and that "the far greater threat comes not from the Islamic world, but from the West."

"The difficult truth," Pilger declares, "is that Osama bin Laden and Bush/Blair are two sides of the same coin. That is the lesson of September 11."

-And in the Guardian, noted historian Simon Schama railed against the evils which beset the United States. By which he means, of course, Enron and Halliburton. With a straight face, Schama calls America an "oligarchy" and calls for a grass-roots uprising to wrest power from the hands of the bourgeoisie. "Apparently, the dead are owed another war. But they are not. What they are owed is a good, stand-up, bruising row over the fate of America; just who determines it and for what end?"

Unconcerned with terrorism or Wahhabi extremism, Schama seems to seriously believe that September 11 should be the proximate cause of a glorious revolution: "Starting in New York, starting now, we need to do what the people of this astoundingly irrepressible city do best: stand up and make a hell of a noise."

Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard.