Emotional orgies

Thomas Sowell
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Posted: Sep 13, 2002 12:00 AM

Someone once asked why television was called a medium. The answer was that it was seldom well done. TV's wall-to-wall coverage of the September 11th anniversary -- on virtually all channels and around the clock -- was a painful example of the fact that nothing exceeds like excess.

Jennifer Harper of The Washington Times performed a real public service this September 11th by pointing out that there was nothing like today's mass emotional orgy on the first anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The extraordinary heroism of the policemen and firemen who went into the burning World Trade Center a year ago to save thousands of lives there, and the extraordinary heroism of those airline passengers who stopped the fourth hijacked plane from committing a similar outrage in Washington, are all things well deserving of commemoration. But what we saw on television -- all day and all night -- went far beyond those heroes and far beyond reason. Moreover, it was not just the amount of the response, but the very nature of the response.

Moreover, this was not the only recent event to evoke emotional orgies on TV. The untimely death of Princess Diana was another. So were the kidnappings and killings of little girls earlier this year.

All of these shocking events of course produced emotions, as did the shattering sneak attack on Pearl Harbor back in 1941. The difference is that an earlier generation -- "the greatest generation" that saved our country and our world -- did not succumb to simply wallowing in emotions. They had a job to do and they did it. That is why we are still a free nation and why some of us are still alive.

Today's generation seems far less focussed on the future and far more self-indulgent and, as Jennifer Harper put, "mawkish" about the past and present. Well before the September 11th attacks, the little girls who were murdered were celebrated in the media, whose focus seemed to be on the emotional expressions of their families, neighbors, classmates and others. That those who knew these children should feel their deaths deeply and painfully was of course understandable. But that the television tube should make their grief not only public but pervasive around the clock is something else.

For those of us who did not know these children, our outrage should be directed to some purpose, such as seeing that those who committed these atrocities should be dealt with and that others like them should be put on notice that they will pay dearly for such crimes. In other words, we have a job to do -- and it is a more important job than venting our emotions. It is one of the sad signs of our times that relatives of victims are brought into court to testify to the devastation wrought in their lives by the murder of their loved ones, while the jury is deliberating the penalty to be imposed.

Why is there a law against murder in the first place, if we don't already know what an abomination it is, not only to the victim, but to all who cared about that victim? For something of historic proportions like the war that international terrorists have launched against us, and that we must wage against them in self-defense, surely the public venting of our feelings is not a top priority. Such boundless emotional exhibitionism only serves the terrorists' purposes of gaining maximum importance from their efforts.

What is truly obscene, in the midst of these emotional orgies, is having people worrying about the supposed "rights" of these terrorists' cutthroat comrades who have fallen into our custody. Civilians have rights and soldiers in uniform have rights under the Geneva Convention. But those who infiltrate in wartime in civilian clothes, or wearing someone else's uniform, have been summarily shot for centuries. The very fact that these cutthroats are still alive shows that they already have had better treatment than they are entitled to under international law.

Maybe we need to take some time out from our emoting to do some thinking.