We are approaching the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 atrocity. There's going to be a deluge of commentary on it, almost all of which I plan to avoid, on the theory that just about everything that's sensible to say has already been said, and that the torrent of non-sensble things, including a great deal of pure mush -- and not a little national self-flagellation -- is best left ignored.
It's not that I want to be unfeeling about it. I lost a friend, Barbara Olson (wife of former Solicitor General Ted Olson) on the plane that slammed into the Pentagon. I had known Barbara for years. She was an AUSA in DC when I was an AUSA across the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia, and we spoke often. She was a total live wire, dedicated, determined and beautiful. Not for nothing did she later become a frequent guest on TV shows all over the place, including, more than once, Larry King. There was no better spokesman for the values that guide C&C.
It would be one thing if the coming remembrances would honor fighters like Barbara and the things she believed in. It would be one thing if they honored the soldiers who have spent a decade in a just and necessary war to destroy our enemies.
But you know full well that's not what's coming up.
What we're going to get instead is described in all its sorry detail in this New York Times piece. As its author, Edward Rothstein, observes, the commemoration is going to be stuffed to the gills with things
...like the "9/11 Peace Story Quilt," now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with children's drawings and words emphasizing the need for multicultural sensitivity. Or a book paying tribute to "Dog Heroes of September 11th". Would we have predicted that the performance artist Karen Finley would impersonate Liza Minnelli at the West Bank Cafe for the occasion, supposedly to champion her spunky spirit (though Ms. Finley will probably be far more mischievous)?
Of course that won't be the worst of it. As Mr. Rothstein notes, this stuff is going to be interminable and almost inescapable, a wall-to-wall, "compulsive variety show":
The sheer quantity of cultural events is overwhelming; so is their scattered miscellany, a potpourri of sentiment and argument, memorialization and self-criticism, reflection and political polemic. It seems as if every cultural institution, television network and book publisher feels duty-bound to produce some sort of Sept. 11 commemoration. Is there a precedent for this almost compulsive variety show about an attack on a nation's people?
But it's a variety show with a purpose -- actually many purposes, one prominent one of which will be to advance the "Why Do They Hate Us?" theory:
That impulse of self-blame still runs through many cultural commemorations. Indeed, because little during the past decade was an unmitigated triumph, the impulse has even grown stronger. A poll from the Pew Charitable Trust this week shows that while in September 2001, 33 percent of those asked thought United States wrongdoing might have motivated the attacks, now 43 percent hold that belief. Many of the Sept. 11 books now being published are sentimental recollections of loved ones; another hefty segment is about criticism of American policy before and after Sept. 11.
This means that memorialization, rather than simply recalling the dead, or strengthening the resolve to pursue an enemy, becomes an opportunity to push these arguments further. Disaster becomes ambiguously commemorated. Any victory is also ambiguously celebrated because it is seen as scarred by sin (though surely no victory is ever unmarred). The delays in the reconstruction at ground zero are as much a result of these tensions as anything else.
So I think I have good reason to avoid the coming extravaganza of intentionally unfocused sentiment and its half-hidden sidekick, the blame-America-first crowd. I am no more interested in why they hate us than the Poles had reason to be interested 72 years ago this month in why the Nazis hated them.
The answer to barbarism is not to wonder about its psychology. The answer is to wipe it out. On the anniversary of 9/11, that, above all else, is what we ought to remember.