On a recent evening as we ambled toward today's date, dinner-party talk turned inevitably to Sept. 11 -last year's and this. Just as inevitably, the requisite voice of self-hatred rose above the din: "We deserved it."
Yes, wine was present, and no one was expecting to be quoted. I don't even remember who said it. Doesn't matter. Plenty of people have said it since the start, notably Noam Chomsky, the prolific author-linguist whose controversial blame-us book, "9-11," nourishes the nascent discontent of the pierced generation.
Once Chomsky, "arguably the most important intellectual alive," according to The New York Times, tagged the United States "a leading terrorist state" and suggested that we were merely reaping what we had sown, many more have felt comfortable sallying forth to speak the unspeakable.
Now it's practically a brand among the oh-so-enlightened who, it's probably safe to say, had no family in the World Trade Center towers last September.
Tis a shame. It isn't unpatriotic to criticize U.S. policies that may contribute to anti-American hatred within the troglodyte faction of radical Islam. American patriotism demands self-scrutiny. But it is mindless to suggest that civilians deserve to be obliterated for showing up at work. It is also not intellectually courageous to reduce a barbarian act to a bumper-sticker slogan of self-important posturing.
Make no mistake. What we deserve is to feel anger -make that outrage -and steely resolve. What we deserve is to get through this day of Performance Mourning as soon as possible and resurrect the song that provided aid and comfort to the World War II generation: "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition."
To those suffering anger deficiency, click over to www.samizdata.net/blog (linked by Instapundit.com) to jump-start your moral outrage. The Web log features a photo -of a man plunging headfirst from one of the towers -that ought to help us remember exactly what no one deserves.
There's another image that sticks in my mind. It is of a woman buried in the ground to her waist, surrounded by a mob of angry men throwing stones until she is a lifeless, bloody pulp. In the background, I hear a baby crying, the one whose birth confirmed that this divorced 30-year-old Nigerian woman, Amina Lawal, had sex out of wedlock, breaking the law.
Even though Nigerian federal law prohibits executions and amputations, regional states can introduce contrary laws. Where Lawal lives -and where the primitive Muslim law prevails -any man or woman can be executed for sex outside of marriage. Lawal is scheduled to be killed when she weans her baby.
Except for the punishment inherent in having knowledge of such brutality, why should we care? What does a Nigerian woman have to do with our day of remembrance? Just this: The kind of primitive mentality that embraces a public stoning in contradiction of constitutional law is the same vicious ignorance that would impose its will on us.
It is the same mentality that cultivates suicide bombers and mass murderers from infancy.
The same mentality that fueled the Taliban in Afghanistan. The same that stokes the fire of al-Qaida and that directed airplanes into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. In other words, vicious ignorance.
The United States can and should refine its foreign policies and work to feed and educate the Third World while generating goodwill. Those are worthy goals, the opposite of which still does not, by the way, justify "we deserved it." But goodwill alone won't thwart the immediate threat to our civilization, a threat that can only be mitigated with a proper channeling of our earned anger and the resolve to do sometimes-unpleasant work.
A year ago while still raw from the attacks, we had no trouble understanding President Bush's promise to pursue terrorism and the states that support terrorism for as long as it takes. Yet a year later, we are equivocal as we wallow in mourning and sorrow and guilt for whatever we did to deserve this.
What Bush also said a year ago was that rooting out terrorism would take time and patience. On this day of remembrance, remember that. And be very, very angry.