I believe that the defining characteristic of this nation was its unerring sense of moral conviction- that all we did was in the advancement of some great work set into motion by ages past. That every undertaking stemmed from the deepest confidence in the simple rightness of our cause.
This faith led us, countless times, to commit terrible acts that damn the conscious of the nation. Slavery and Wounded Knee. Manzanar and Kandahar. McDonald’s and McCarthy. It’s led to the popular image abroad of Americans as fundamentally arrogant; loudly voicing their opinions without being asked, demanding where they have no right, interfering where they have no business.
And it was this same faith that has pulled this nation back every time. Yosemite and Normandy. Harlem and Harper’s Ferry. John Muir and Eugene Debs. The faith that sent millions to these shores from every corner of the world and the same unabashed confidence that sent American music, art, film, and literature back.
In spite of our divisions and our failings- and they are neither minor nor few- we are united by the common belief that our cause is not merely just but justice itself, and that its triumph needs only ingenuity, passion, and will to be secured.
Since the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday, I encountered several articles that criticize the way the Western world responded to the tragic loss of life in Paris. While each of these articles bemoans the loss of 132 innocent lives, they also highlight similar atrocities that happened before the Paris attack and were almost completely overlooked.
In a lot of ways this event, and its media response, reminded me of the attack on the Twin Towers in 2001. While the media response to this tragedy has been a little more self-aware, our international reaction has been similar to how it was last time this kind of tragedy affected a Western nation. Rather than discuss the way we responded to these attacks, I wanted to examine why we reacted the way we did.
1) It felt close to home
I remember waking up the morning of 9/11, walking into the living room to see my mom crying. My dad turned to me and told me the world had changed overnight. Hearing about the attacks on Paris gave me the same shiver of fear that I felt that day. I don’t think it’s hard to dissect what motivates that feeling. These particular attacks were frightening because they happened to Western nations, and we in the West are very accustomed to feeling in control. We took control over much of the world during an age of imperialism, colonization, and slavery. Today we continue to control much of the world through unfair aid practices and political manipulation. These kind of attacks are terrifying because they make us feel like we don’t have as much control as we think we do.
Today marks the what would have been Christopher Hitchens’ 66th birthday. While the controversial writer lost his long battle with cancer in 2011, nearly half a decade later his legacy continues to remain a puzzle to most. To some, Hitchens was a brilliant iconoclast, fearlessly proclaiming truth and reason in a world crippled by political correctness and blind sentimentality. To others, Hitchens was a traitor who abandoned his radical roots in favor of jack-booted imperialism and militarism. After all this time, the question remains: Who was Hitchens?
Born in Porstmouth, England, Hitchens first began his prolific career as a writer for a number of leftist magazines, eventually joining New Statesman in the early 70s, where he quickly made a name for himself as a fiery critic of the the Vietnam War. Hitchens would go on to become an acclaimed foreign correspondent, frequent contributor to The Nation and Vanity Fair, and unapologetic critic of most of the political establishment. No one- from Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton, from Jerry Falwell to the royal family- escaped Hitchens’ unique blend of unimpeachable logic and acidic invectives. Hitchens made a name for himself in particular by viciously decrying Henry Kissinger, who he argued (not without cause) was a power-worshiping war criminal…
I’m currently living with my in-laws. At our house John and I almost never watch the news, but living with them means that most evenings I take in at least an hour or two of current events. For weeks I’ve been listening to CNN run flight simulations to try and guess where the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 went. I’ve also seen hours of footage from the South Korean ferry accident, including the gut-wrenching clips of the young kids saying goodbye to their parents. Despite all of that it was only recently that I heard the first report of the group of girls kidnapped in Nigeria.
“I wanted the movie to have a mythological feeling. In ancient mythology, mass deaths are used to symbolize disasters. In other countries like Greece and Japan, myths were recounted through the generations, partly to answer unanswerable questions about death and violence. In America, we don’t have that legacy of ancient mythology. Superman (who first appeared in ‘Action Comics’ in 1938) is probably the closest we get. It’s a way of recounting the myth.”
I understand that there are people out there who believe that it’s irreverent and disrespectful to refer to what happened to the World Trade Centre with an abbreviation, but the news has deemed it an acceptable term, so I have no qualms in doing so.
To further preface this post, I am a Canadian. More than that, I spent roughly half my life in Asia, so I don’t have the deep emotional connections to the event that many of you probably do. I watched the replays of the towers fall while in the Philippines, an ocean away.
I was deeply saddened and shocked by what occurred, but didn’t think much about it again until about two years ago, when I heard about what was being done with the remains of the towers. Right now there is a battleship named The USS New York, a Navy assault ship built with steel from the World Trade Centre. As a symbol it certainly holds a different viewpoint when it comes to beating swords into ploughshares.
Much more recently I stumbled upon the infographic on the right. It goes into detail about the new World Trade Centre, and the awe-inspiring ideas behind it.
The new building will be 1,776 feet, the tallest in the US. While the exact height is representative of the years of the country’s independence, I think it represents more than that. The USS New York is the remnants of a tragedy forged into a weapon. The new World Trade Centre may only be 49 feet taller than the former, but the fact that it stands that much taller communicates America’s fearlessness and audacity; if you knock it down we will rebuild it bigger.
There’s quite a bit of news all over the place about memorial services, and servicemen and servicewomen not being able to attend due to “important” people being there, but that’s for other, more well-researched articles. The point I’m trying to make is that ten years ago catastrophe occurred, and since then a nation has been trying to get back on its feet. The whole world is paying close attention to see how exactly America will choose move forward.