dead are everywhere. Except that their families, still hopeful,
label them merely as "missing." On shop windows, lampposts,
subway entrances, telephone boxes, any empty space of wall, there
are posted white sheets of paper showing a grainy photograph of
the missing person, his name, address, telephone number, sometimes
the name of the company for which he was working a week ago, and
usually a simple message: "We love him and miss him very much."
Avenue armory, where families went last week for news when the police
and hospitals know nothing of their loved one's fate, has its four
walls festooned with such appeals. A gay video store in the west
Village advertises a fund it has joined in establishing for the
families of five missing local firefighters. A taxi driver has a
"missing" appeal pinned next to his laminated identity
The dead themselves,
staring or smiling out of the photographs, are of every color, religion,
class, and physical appearance. Death admitted even foreigners that
day people from 32 nations, including about 200 Brits, are
thought to be buried in that mass American grave on southern Manhattan.
But the vast
majority of the dead are of one ethnicity the American ethnicity
which has taken Koreans, Irishmen, Blacks, Cubans, WASPs,
Poles, and Puerto Ricans and given them its own distinctive stamp
of free-spirited optimism. In blue denim work-shirts, in three-piece
suits, in yarmulkes, in wedding tuxedos, in the extravagant costumes
of high-school proms, even especially poignantly in a few
cases in First Communion white, they smile out at us, looking
forward happily to a future that now will never arrive.
Even now as
the city takes up its business and returns to normality, New York
resembles nothing so much as a vast war cemetery. The posters mimic
war graves. And not just the families of the dead mourn.
But the mood
of those eight million mourners is hard to analyze. It is subtle
and shifting. No single word revenge, sorrow, anger
does it justice. Certainly it includes sadness; some passersby weep
as the read the death notices. It is also defiant; no one talks
of making concessions to avert the further wrath of the murderers;
many wear patriotic red, white, and blue ribbons on dress or lapel.
At the same time it is more calm and judicious than a mere desire
for revenge. What New Yorkers seem to want is a measured and accurate
punishment and the prevention of any such barbarism in future
in short, a victory over terrorism that will give meaning to the
sacrifice of the dead.
poet, Captain John Macrae, gave perfect expression to this desire
in his poem, "In Flanders Fields," on the graves of the
First World War in Flanders:
We are the
Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our
quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
For the moment
at least these feelings are shared throughout America and the civilized
that the dead perished solely because they shared their nationality.
That knowledge has permitted the nation to cast aside the confusions
and divisions of "identity politics" and to embrace an
old-fashioned common patriotism as the birthright of all.
have been countless expressions of sympathy and solidarity. The
most dramatic was the sight of the Queen of England, who by tradition
remains silent through all national anthems, singing the "Star-Spangled
Banner" during the memorial service in St Paul's Cathedral
and then silently wiping away a tear. But ordinary Europeans
in their thousands have quietly sympathized with an American tourist
or thanked him for the part played by the U.S. in keeping their
own continent free.
this common solidarity across oceans by describing the attack on
the World Trade Center as an attack by barbarism on civilization.
But that is not the full truth. It was an attack by barbarism on
a particular civilization namely, Western industrialized
capitalist civilization in its self-confident American form. And
that civilization has enemies not only in Iraq, Iran, Sudan, and
Afghanistan, but also in moderate Arab nations, in Europe, and in
America itself among such groups "deep green" environmental
extremists like the Unabomber, left-over anti-American academic
Marxists, the purveyors of ethnic separatism, opponents of economic
liberty, and those curious embittered souls who hate their country
because they hate their parents.
In the immediate
aftermath of the World Trade Center's destruction, those voices
were stilled. But as the mood of outrage at the death of innocent
people gradually fades and even the most justified outrage
must fade over time so the critics now remaining in the shadows
will emerge to explain, excuse, and justify the terrorism directed
against this civilization and to hobble the antiterrorist
measures needed to combat it.
we are starting to hear the first tentative expressions of "moral
equivalence." And worse.
a Labour MP, George Galloway, has argued that in much of the world
"people will consider the U.S. to have had to swallow its own
medicine." (Note the shifty transfer of this odious opinion
from Mr. Galloway's mouth to the mouths of "people" in
much of the world.)
Or the headline
over an article in the (Manchester) Guardian: "They
can't see why they are hated" Americans, that is, not
terrorists and murderers.
Or this moral
reflection contained in an editorial from the leftist New Statesman:
bond traders, you may say, are as innocent and as undeserving
of terror as Vietnamese or Iraqi peasants. Well, yes and no. Yes,
because such large-scale carnage is beyond justification, since
it can never distinguish between the innocent and the guilty.
No, because Americans, unlike Iraqis and many others in poor countries,
at least have the privileges of democracy and freedom that allow
them to vote and speak in favor of a different order. If the United
States often seems a greedy and overweening power, that is partly
because its people have willed it. They preferred George Bush
to Al Gore and both to Ralph Nader.
This was too
much for Michael Moore, the interminable wit of Roger and Me,
who responded indignantly (and ungrammatically):
did this to get back at Bush, then they did so by killing thousands
of people who DID NOT VOTE for him! Boston, New York, DC and the
planes' destination of California these where places that
voted AGAINST Bush!
It's good to
know that if the terrorists ever hijack a Cruise missile and send
it in America's direction, Mr. Moore will be on hand to divert it
from Berkeley or the Upper West Side of Manhattan to less deserving
voters such as the coal miners of West Virginia.
For the moment,
however, such opinions are rare. And when expressed, they have encountered
such scorn and contempt from other and the general public that their
authors have quickly retreated. Mr. Moore, for instance, withdrew
the above remarks from his website when, like Queen Victoria, we
were not amused.
But this period
of moral clarity may be short lived. It coincides, after all, with
the time when we are still digging up the ruins of the World Trade
Center, still hoping to find survivors, still mourning the deaths
of those who were climbing down the smoke-filled stairwells when
the stricken building finally collapsed on top of them.
With the terrible
consequences of terrorist evil in front of their eyes, ordinary
Americans (and ordinary Brits, etc.) cannot easily be convinced
that their own desire to bring the perpetrators to justice is that
same evil seen from a different and less biased vantage point. All
the more reason then for the U.S. and allied governments to use
this extraordinary interlude when ordinary people are willing
to listen because of what they have seen to explain what
is at stake in the long twilight struggle against terror. And to
lay the groundwork for it in the public mind.
never be a better opportunity. The haters of America and Western
civilization are still half-afraid of public anger. And when they
do speak, their arguments are drowned out by the silence of the
Editor's note: This
piece is based on a column that originally ran in the Chicago Sun-Times.