Blind to Evil
September 17, 2002
by Ronald Radosh
September 11 came and went without incident. People prayed, sang, spoke, and marched. It was a day for remembrance. Most people noted that they are privileged to be citizens in this extraordinary land and some think September 11 is a day to reflect on national flaws and colonial ambitions.
For most, this day was commemorative and for others a day like any other day. Surely September 11 forced Americans to grieve and to engage in introspection. Aren’t we lucky to be here? Or, for the guilt-ridden, weren’t there valid reasons for the attack?
I love this nation, but I sometimes wonder, despite proclamations of determination, if it has the resolve to unite behind any cause, even one as fundamental as survival. America is rent by two cultures, both compromised by the debasement of principle.
On the one side are traditionalists who are losing ground every day. They are largely content with rearguard action realizing that they do not comprehend the idioms of the moment and they have lost any influence over the cultural institutions that affect John and Mary Q. Public. Every once in a while they win a victory, but most of the time they lament the age, feeling the gravitational pull of entropy and the confusion resulting from anarchic behavior. They are lost and cannot possibly find their way. How can you retrace steps when the terrain has changed? They don’t speak the language of the new age and they don’t know the cues. Each day that passes launches them farther from the places they once knew.
On the other side of the divide are self-described progressives steeped in existential depravity. They are people with a memory eviscerated over time. For them rap is music and manners are arbitrary rules. Having lived only in a debased culture, they do not have standards on which to rely except the popular dogma of environmentalism, and the avoidance of discrimination. Since they believe knowledge is only a mouse click away, no one memorizes poems or sonnets, capitals or formulas. Modernism is in a minuet with ignorance.
September 11 has awakened passion stored in the recesses of equanimity. There is the inevitable return to normalcy; the sun will surely rise tomorrow. The expression of this transitory passion is superficial. Flags are hung; tears are shed and talking heads somberly address us.
Yet no one asks for sacrifice. You don’t have to give up television viewing. The steak in the freezer will soon be defrosted. Most dads aren’t leaving home for far away places. Will it take a few years or a few decades before September 11 is a distant memory, a Pearl Harbor in the corridor of history?
I am not a cynic, but I do know that the culture does not offer lessons in determination and steely confidence. A barren field stands before innocents who are asked to think critically. How do you think critically when you have little to think about and virtually nothing to guide the process? The mind boggles at exercises in schools across the country that demand inquiry and reflection. What can the products of debased culture ask?
Yet there is a justifiable sadness, an intuitive understanding that those killed on September 11 might well foreshadow other attacks. The world is imploding on us and, despite the defenses and the counterintelligence, the projection of force and preemptive strikes, we are vulnerable. Oceans no longer protect Americans from attack; we are in the global community.
The end of the Cold War moved inexorably to the beginning of a shadowy war, one in which the enemy hasn’t a defined residence or clear-cut goals. He is merely resentful and contemptuous. If his cowardice and backwardness has any positive effect it is in testing our national mettle.
Do we have what it takes? Can skateboarders convert insouciance into war-fighting ability? Will Americans sacrifice if called on to do so? Have the cultural depredations of the recent past so damaged the national psyche that mobilization isn’t possible? There are so many questions.
For many Americans September 11 is the beginning of a new school year; it is also coincidentally the time of a Jewish new year. But the real issue is whether September 11 represents a new era, one more valiant than what we have known, one that can overcome despair and reach for exceptionalism. Like Diogenes I carry my lantern searching for a wise man who can offer insight into these questions. Thus far, my search has been in vain. But I care too much about my country to stop now.
Ronald Radosh is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute; Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York, and the author of many books, including "The Rosenberg File;" "Divided They Fell: The Demise of the Democratic Party, 1964-1996," and most recently, "Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left."