9/11/2015: Americans don't get it any more than in 2002
I'd like to rerun a slightly revised version of a post I did three years ago (it has a new postscript). The original is here.
I started looking for a column by Deborah Sontag in the New York Times in the aftermath of September 11. Sontag had just returned from a stint as the Times' bureau chief in Jerusalem during the intifadeh, during which she was less than understanding of Israeli actions. I discovered that I excerpted the article in last year's post on 9/11. And so, I decided to run it again:
One of the immediate reactions to 9/11 here in Israel - crass though it might have been - was "now the Americans will finally understand what we've been going through." In the year leading up to 9/11, Israel had suffered dozens of terror attacks. Parents looked to avoid putting their children on public buses (in fact, we have raised a generation where many of the kids no longer know how to use the buses before they are in high school). And yet, we were pushed by Clinton and by Tenet and even by Bush for the first few months, to make more concessions to the 'Palestinians' every time they murdered a few Jews.
For me, one of the most memorable pieces to come out of 9/11 was this one by Deborah Sontag. Sontag was the New York Times' bureau chief here from 1998-2001, and was a constant nemesis. She returned to New York shortly before 9/11. Here's some of what she wrote in the Sunday Times Magazine ten days after the attack.
That terrible Tuesday was the first day of American school for Emma, who was entering third grade, and Adam, who was starting kindergarten. It was a glorious morning as they skipped through downtown Brooklyn. They wore new sneakers (Stride Rite won out) and backpacks that were essentially empty but nonetheless an essential part of the American school uniform. I left Emma designing a name tag to hang above her cubby. In Adam's class, where he was seated at a table designated ''Femur'' in anticipation of a unit on the human body, I patted his blond head and inadvertently said aloud what I was thinking, ''You'll be safe here.''Although ordinary Americans began to appreciate our plight on 9/11, except for the period between June 2002 (when Bush called for a new 'Palestinian' leadership) and Arafat's death just after the 2004 election, American leadership has largely not recognized that we and you are fighting the same battle. The first indications that would be the case came within a few days of 9/11, and the point was driven home strongly by President Bush's reaction to then-Prime Minister Sharon's Czechoslovakia speech on October 4, 2001.
Then a parent barged into the room and told a few of us that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. We walked, because there really was no other choice, straight to the Brooklyn promenade on the East River overlooking Lower Manhattan. The second airplane had just crashed into the twin towers, and flames were devouring the tops of the buildings. It was a perfect view of the horror, and there was nothing we could do but stare.
This was terrorism of a different magnitude. In Israel, such attacks were chillingly intimate. Within hours, everyone in the country knew who had been killed and knew someone connected to the victims. Bombings were also anticipated and routine. With grim efficiency, daily life was restored to the bombed area. But this was so vast that it could not be personalized or swept up. We were struck by the fact that no victims were named on the news that first day. We were breathing the acrid, dusty air that wafted across the river. The attack was palpable. Yet, it was beyond our grasp.
Adam was clueless when we picked him up at the kindergarten annex. In the school's main high-rise building, Emma's class waited in the overheated basement where the elementary students had been herded to stop them from watching the whole thing from their classroom windows. We pushed through the thronged halls to get outside. Passersby were wearing paper masks. ''Aliens!'' Adam said. A woman snapped at us, ''Cover your children's mouths!'' Emma burst into tears. ''My first day of school wasn't fun at all,'' she said. ''You promised. You promised it would be better here.''
In Israel, we could keep our children, who were foreigners, in a relatively secure cocoon, although that meant greatly limiting their universe. We could even isolate them from much of the news. But here, waiting for our apartment to be ready, we were staying in a hotel that was designated an emergency relief center. People were streaming over the Brooklyn Bridge covered in ash and seeking first aid in the Brooklyn Marriott. Security was tight. School for the next day was canceled. A father of one of Emma's classmates was missing. We had to start explaining. At first, I used a silly, gingerly phrase, telling Adam that a plane had ''bumped into'' the twin towers. ''By accident?'' he asked. There was no avoiding the ugly truth.
We turned on the television news. ''It looks like Israel,'' Adam said. He asked if we were going to start seeing soldiers in Brooklyn. I told him no, but then we descended to the lobby and happened on several National Guardsmen in their camouflage uniforms and army boots. We stepped outside. Sirens wailed. We were home?
The discovery of the Karine A weapons ship in January 2002 started to turn the tide with Bush in our favor, and we enjoyed two brief romances with him that have colored perceptions of his Presidency here: From June 2002 until November 2004 and during the final months of his term. Between late 2004 and early 2008, the people who pushed Bush to be more pro-Israel (the neo-cons - Rumsfeld, Cheney, Feith et al) had left the White House and those who came in their place (people like Robert Gates and Condoleeza Rice) were far less favorable to Israel.
Ten years ago today, it looked like the American leadership would understand why you cannot make peace with terrorism. Unfortunately, they no longer do. And the fact that America elected Obama three years ago has to make you wonder how many of the American people get it now either.
Postscript: The last three paragraphs of this postscript are what I wrote in 2012. Perhaps, I should have changed 'terrorism' to 'Islamic terrorism' even then, but given what is going on in the Middle East, it would certainly be appropriate to do so today.
It is perhaps fitting that the sellout to a nuclear-armed Iran by a partisan cloture vote in the Senate was completed on September 10. For several years after 9/11, 'September 10' was code for the naive way of thinking about Islamic terrorism before 9/11. The fact that a lame duck President was able to hold party loyalty enough to force that vote through the Senate shows how partisan the United States has become. It's hard to say that the Americans are even more clueless now about Islam and terrorism than they were 14 years ago, but I believe that's definitely true. Mark Steyn got it right on Hugh Hewitt's Thursday show.
The fact that the United States went on to elect and re-elect a President whose answer to everything was to blame America, abandon its allies and give comfort to its enemies speaks volumes about how much Americans don't get it. No, they still don't get it. They don't understand that left to its own devices, Islam will come after them. It's not just Israel that Iran wishes to destroy with its nuclear weapons - we're just the warm-up act, the appetizer. It's the United States they're really after.I think the problem is that we defined what we were up against in the fall of 2001, 2002 too narrowly - and I think you can see that actually at the time of the first anniversary in 2002. We are in an ideological struggle... And we've seen that that ideology is very seductive to people who hold the passports of Western nations. We are a hole, we are a vacuum - and something fills the vacuum, which is what we see in Europe and to a lesser extent over here. And you can't fight this war even with the most brilliant military in the world because it's as I said in America Alone all those years ago - it's not my line, it's from Basil Liddell Hart, the great military strategist – it's not about blowing up their tanks and it's not about shooting their planes out of the sky – and nobody can beat Western militaries for doing that - but if you don't understand that you're up against this ideology and you don't target that ideology, then you can never win. And that's why I find this anniversary about as dispiriting as any of the fourteen since that Tuesday morning all those years ago.I don't know why I said that this ideological faintheartedness was evident even at the time of the first anniversary in 2002. So, after the show, I turned to The Face of the Tiger, my account of the first year of the new war. Back then 9/11 was "the day everything changed". With hindsight, very little changed, with the exception of Muslim immigration, which accelerated. So, as I said to Hugh, I find these anniversaries more dispiriting with each passing year. Here's what I had to say on September 11th 2002, all of which applies to 2015, only more so:
WE ARE BACK to September 10th 2001, at least if the National Education Association is anything to go by. Their attractive series of classroom lessons and projects for September 11th, sponsored by Johnson & Johnson, begins with a little light non-judgmentalism: the NEA advises teachers not to "suggest any group is responsible" for the, ah, "tragic events". Just because Osama bin Laden and al-Qa'eda boasted they did it is no reason to jump to conclusions:
Blaming is especially difficult in terrorist situations because someone is at fault. In this country, we still believe that all people are innocent until solid, reliable evidence from our legal authorities proves otherwise.So instead the NEA thinks children should:
Explore the problems inherent in assigning blame to populations or nations of people by looking at contemporary examples of ethnic conflict, discrimination, and stereotyping at home and abroad."And by that you mean...?
Internment of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor and the backlash against Arab Americans during the Gulf War are obvious examples.Not that obvious: for one thing, the "backlash against Arab Americans during the Gulf War" is entirely mythical. But you get the gist. Don't blame anyone. But, if you have to, blame America...
While I think you should read the whole thing, this paragraph is particularly ominous, albeit not yet for the United States.
I believe western culture – rule of law, universal suffrage, etc – is preferable to Arab culture: that's why there are millions of Muslims in Scandinavia, and four Scandinavians in Syria. Follow the traffic. I support immigration, but with assimilation. Without it, like a Hindu widow, the west is slowly climbing on the funeral pyre of its lost empires. You see it in European foreign policy already: they're scared of their mysterious, swelling, unstoppable Muslim populations... The Islamists are militarily weak but ideologically secure. A year on, the west is just the opposite. There's more than one way to lose a war.And now for my 2012 postscript: If Obama is reelected in November - and the fact that it is possible that he will be - it will show that Americans really have forgotten 9/11 (the next post will show just how much the meaning of 9/11 has faded). Unfortunately, the next 9/11-like event in the US could be worse. A lot worse.
Every time I travel to the US, I shudder at the lack of security in malls, theaters, ballparks etc. Yes, you have to go through 'security' at Fenway Park (I was there two weeks ago), but they seem much more concerned with bottles and cans than with guns and plastic explosives. You can walk into and out of the most crowded shopping malls without anyone seeing you or checking your bags. Even airport security is a joke, with the backscatter machine taking the place of human intelligence. The big news on that front is that if you're over 75-years old, you no longer have to take your shoes off!
We're in a war against terrorism. And the saddest thing is that most of the West doesn't even realize it.
Back to today - I feel no more secure in the United States than I did three years ago. Nothing has happened there on the security front. Nothing at all.