Another response to Terrorism: "Good" vs. "Evil":
Wednesday, September 12, 2001
We'll Go Forward from This Moment
By Leonard Pitts Jr.
It's my job to have something to say.
They pay me to provide words that help make sense of that which troubles the American soul. But in this moment of airless shock when hot tears sting disbelieving eyes, the only thing I can find to say, the only words that seem to fit, must be addressed to the unknown author of this suffering.
You monster. You beast. You unspeakable bastard.
What lesson did you hope to teach us by your coward's attack on our World Trade Center, our Pentagon, us? What was it you hoped we would learn? Whatever it was, please know that you failed.
Did you want us to respect your cause? You just damned your cause.
Did you want to make us fear? You just steeled our resolve.
Did you want to tear us apart? You just brought us together.
Let me tell you about my people. We are a vast and quarrelsome family, a family rent by racial, social, political and class division, but a family nonetheless. We're frivolous, yes, capable of expending tremendous emotional energy on pop cultural minutiae — a singer's revealing dress, a ball team's misfortune, a cartoon mouse. We're wealthy, too, spoiled by the ready availability of trinkets and material goods, and maybe because of that, we walk through life with a certain sense of blithe entitlement. We are fundamentally decent, though — peace-loving and compassionate. We struggle to know the right thing and to do it. And we are, the overwhelming majority of us, people of faith, believers in a just and loving God.
Some people — you, perhaps — think that any or all of this makes us weak. You're mistaken. We are not weak. Indeed, we are strong in ways that cannot be measured by arsenals.
Yes, we're in pain now. We are in mourning and we are in shock. We're still grappling with the unreality of the awful thing you did, still working to make ourselves understand that this isn't a special effect from some Hollywood blockbuster, isn't the plot development from a Tom Clancy novel. Both in terms of the awful scope of their ambition and the probable final death toll, your attacks are likely to go down as the worst acts of terrorism in the history of the United States and, probably, the history of the world. You've bloodied us as we have never been bloodied before. But there's a gulf of difference between making us bloody and making us fall. This is the lesson Japan was taught to its bitter sorrow the last time anyone hit us this hard, the last time anyone brought us such abrupt and monumental pain. When roused, we are righteous in our outrage, terrible in our force. When provoked by this level of barbarism, we will bear any suffering, pay any cost, go to any length, in the pursuit of justice.
I tell you this without fear of contradiction. I know my people, as you, I think, do not. What I know reassures me. It also causes me to tremble with dread of the future.
In the days to come, there will be recrimination and accusation, fingers pointing to determine whose failure allowed this to happen and what can be done to prevent it from happening again. There will be heightened security, misguided talk of revoking basic freedoms. We'll go forward from this moment sobered, chastened, sad. But determined, too. Unimaginably determined.
You see, the steel in us is not always readily apparent. That aspect of our character is seldom understood by people who don't know us well. On this day, the family's bickering is put on hold.
As Americans we will weep, as Americans we will mourn, and as Americans, we will rise in defense of all that we cherish.
So I ask again: What was it you hoped to teach us?
It occurs to me that maybe you just wanted us to know the depths of your hatred. If that's the case, consider the message received. And take this message in exchange: You don't know my people. You don't know what we're capable of. You don't know what you just started.
But you're about to learn.
>> You monster. You beast. You unspeakable bastard. <<
Name-calling! That'll teach our enemy a lesson!
>> What was it you hoped we would learn? Whatever it was, please know that you failed. <<
They hoped you'd learn you're barbaric enough to say, "You monster. You beast. You unspeakable bastard." Thus proving America is the self-righteous arbiter of right and wrong the rest of the world thinks it is. Whether you realize what you said or not, they made you say it. Ha ha.
>> Did you want us to respect your cause? You just damned your cause. <<
The whole point of suicide killings is that they've given up hope that anyone will acknowledge their cause. Least of all the US. When you give up hope, that's when you commit suicide—not before.
>> Did you want to make us fear? You just steeled our resolve.
Did you want to tear us apart? You just brought us together. <<
Neither of these were serious problems before. And judging by my criticism of you, we're not all on the same page yet. If you'd like to join me on my page, you're welcome to do so.
>> We are fundamentally decent, though — peace-loving and compassionate. <<
Tell it to Bosnia, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, etc., etc.—not to mention our Native Americans and other minorities. I read somewhere that the US has gone to war—launched strikes against other countries—more than any other nation in the last 20 years. No one's about to give us a Nobel prize for loving peace.
>> And we are, the overwhelming majority of us, people of faith, believers in a just and loving God. <<
Ironically, so are Muslim fundamentalists. And what of our many agnostics and atheists? They're just as patriotic as anyone else, if not more so.
>> We are not weak. Indeed, we are strong in ways that cannot be measured by arsenals. <<
Right. We talk a hell of game also. We're tough, we're macho, we're No. 1. If words could kill, the terrorists would be dead.
>> But there's a gulf of difference between making us bloody and making us fall. <<
"They" didn't intend to make us "fall," so this argument is specious. They intended to make us bloody, so they succeeded in their quest.
Lessons from WW II...and Vietnam
>> This is the lesson Japan was taught to its bitter sorrow the last time anyone hit us this hard, the last time anyone brought us such abrupt and monumental pain. <<
And what did the Vietnamese teach us when we tried to hit them hard? To quit while we're behind?
>> When provoked by this level of barbarism, we will bear any suffering, pay any cost, go to any length, in the pursuit of justice. <<
Justice, yes. Revenge, no.
I, for one, won't pay any cost. Feel free to pay my share for me.
Pitts's use of the word "barbarism" is ironic considering who are the greatest killers in history? Barbarians? Nope. Try the most civilized countries in history: the United States, Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Russia, China, and Japan. Oddly, these are the same countries that lead the world politically and economically today. I guess being "barbaric"—killing and enslaving your enemies while building an empire—pays off.
Pitts's whole comment is hysterical considering the reality of the situation. Bush hasn't called on Americans to make a single sacrifice. In fact, he thinks we should go back to normal and spend, spend, spend (if that isn't redundant) as we fight terrorism. That's "tough love" on order of pabulum from Ronald Reagan or a televangelist (if that isn't redundant), who promises us we can have everything without pain.
The notion that we'll pay any cost is especially comical considering how many stock traders cashed in on America's tragedy and how many business executives have begged for handouts. These moral midgets won't pay one cent to help America if it comes out of their profits. What they believe in is No. 1, again—which makes them typically American.
>> I know my people, as you, I think, do not. What I know reassures me. <<
Did you know I'd criticize the hell out of your column when you wrote it?
>> We'll go forward from this moment sobered, chastened, sad. But determined, too. Unimaginably determined. <<
That'll last six months or a year, tops, before we revert to normal.
>> On this day, the family's bickering is put on hold. <<
I'm not bickering with you. I'm telling you you're talking like an ignorant pro wrestler. I hope you don't mind.
>> So I ask again: What was it you hoped to teach us?
It occurs to me that maybe you just wanted us to know the depths of your hatred. <<
That's probably a better guess than your first guess. Give yourself a brownie point for not being a total moron.
Knowing one's enemy
>> You don't know my people. You don't know what we're capable of. You don't know what you just started. <<
What's to know? We've already killed 500,000 children in Iraq. Will the terrorists be surprised if we kill a few thousand more innocents in Afghanistan? Since our first massacre of Indians, we Americans have made our values clear: We'll kill large numbers to support our self-righteous superiority complex.
When an enemy is self-evident and a war is just, we'll actually fight the way Pitts imagines. But in this case, I think the terrorists know us all too well. We'll give up long before we've eliminated them from the face of the earth. Because eliminating terrorism is as impossible as eliminating war or crime. And because killing people won't eliminate the root causes of terrorism.
>> But you're about to learn. <<
Ho-hum. Another column full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. More empty posturing.
Addendum: As of Thanksgiving 2001, we hadn't captured or killed Osama Bin Laden and had killed only one Al Qaeda terrorist. So what have the terrorists learned, exactly? That the US can easily overthrow a weak government in plain sight, but can't do much to eliminate an invisible terrorist network? That a US bombing campaign is a great recruiting tool because it creates more terrorists than it destroys? That every pundit who predicted we couldn't eradicate terrorism has been right so far?
Wow, those are some lessons. The terrorists must be laughing their heads off over these lessons in their safe houses around the world—in Saudi Arabia, Germany, and the US.
. . .
All material © copyright its original owners, except where noted.
Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.
Copyrighted material is posted under the Fair Use provision of the Copyright Act,
which allows copying for nonprofit educational uses including criticism and commentary.
Comments sent to the publisher become the property of Blue Corn Comics
and may be used in other postings without permission.