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Oddly Ashamed

Sep 26, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 02 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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Paul Krugman, of Princeton and the New York Times, was up early last Sunday morning, reflecting, as many of his fellow Americans were, on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. He chose to share his thoughts on the meaning of the day. Here’s his contribution in its entirety, posted at 8:41 a.m., five minutes before the first moment of silence was to begin at Ground Zero:

The Years of Shame

Is it just me, or are the 9/11 commemorations oddly subdued?

Actually, I don’t think it’s me, and it’s not really that odd.

What happened after 9/11​—​and I think even people on the right know this, whether they admit it or not​—​was deeply shameful. The atrocity should have been a unifying event, but instead it became a wedge issue. Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror. And then the attack was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons.

A lot of other people behaved badly. How many of our professional pundits​—​people who should have understood very well what was happening​—​took the easy way out, turning a blind eye to the corruption and lending their support to the hijacking of the atrocity?

The memory of 9/11 has been irrevocably poisoned; it has become an occasion for shame. And in its heart, the nation knows it.

I’m not going to allow comments on this post, for obvious reasons.

Krugman pretends to be struck that the 9/11 commemorations have been “oddly subdued.” He rather oddly offered this judgment before the major commemorations in New York and at the Pentagon took place. No matter. He was presumably able to base his evaluation on the ceremony Saturday in Shanksville commemorating the heroism of the passengers on Flight 93, or on other events from the preceding week.

Of course, he’s right that the 9/11 commemorations, both before and after he wrote, were subdued.
But why is that “odd”? Shouldn’t they have been? 9/11 is a day of mourning, of solemn remembrance and rededication. What did Krugman expect but subdued commemoration? Loud and raucous gatherings? Celebratory and chest-thumping declamations?

Perhaps that is what he anticipated. Krugman’s contempt for his fellow Americans is so bottomless that it might have led him to assume that they would commemorate 9/11 in a thoroughly inappropriate way.

But the key to understanding Krugman’s odd declamation is not what he expected. It’s what he wanted. He wanted an acknowledgment of shame. For him, 9/11 “has become an occasion for shame.” And he wanted America to acknowledge its shame because, he claimed, “in its heart, the nation knows it.”

Really? Paul Krugman is not stupid. Surely he knows Americans don’t agree with him that the memory of 9/11 has become an occasion for shame​—​that’s probably one of the reasons he didn’t allow comments on his post. But he doesn’t have the courage to acknowledge that. He’d rather ascribe his own sense of shame to the American people, who manifestly don’t share that sentiment.

The next day, after a barrage of criticism, Krugman wrote a follow-up. After defending himself, he did acknowledge one error of omission: “Now, I should have said that the American people behaved remarkably well in the weeks and months after 9/11: There was very little panic, and much more tolerance than one might have feared. Muslims weren’t lynched, and neither were dissenters, and that was something of which we can all be proud.”

This qualification is perhaps just as revealing as Krugman’s original post. In Paul Krugman’s America, one expects panic and lynchings of Muslims and dissenters. So “we” should be “proud” to have avoided this natural inclination of ours.

To which one might respond: What do you mean “we,” professor? Krugman posted his original declaration on the morning of September 11. In the moral universe of most Americans, if one were to choose to declaim on the meaning of 9/11 on its tenth anniversary, even if one wanted to criticize subsequent policies of the American government, one would first pay tribute to the sacrifice and heroism of that day. But on September 11, and again on September 12, Krugman has nothing to say of the people killed in New York and Washington, of the passengers on Flight 93, the firefighters and rescue workers in New York City, the civilians and military at the Pentagon, or those who after 9/11 volunteered to serve their country in uniform or otherwise. He finds nothing to be proud of there.

Paul Krugman is ashamed of America. We trust Americans, to the degree they notice him, will wear his scorn as a badge of honor.

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