Let's keep 9/11 'simplistic'

Posted: Aug 21, 2002 12:00 AM
"There are some who say that we have to maintain some respect for the dead by not asking these questions," Kelly Keogh, who teaches international relations at a high school in Normal, Ill., told The New York Times. "But aren't we doing them a better service by not giving simplistic answers?" The simple and simplistic answer to this question should be: "No. Let's keep 9/11 simplistic." Alas, Keogh is just one voice in a chorus of "experts" and professionals who feel that one year after Sept. 11, America's youth need more complex answers than the simplistic fare they've gotten so far. According to The New York Times, during the "emotional time" immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, educators felt it would be "impossible" to be anything but simplistic. Fortunately, the anniversary of 9/11 will "afford students and teachers opportunities to explore subjects like Islam and terrorism and to debate the merits of the United States' actions around the world before and after Sept. 11." Translation: "It's `simplistic' to say Americans are the good guys. Sophisticated people understand America needs to share the blame." Remember, this has been the argument from huge chunks of the smart set all along. The 9/11 attacks had to have been blowback from some American policy or another, they said. There's no need to repeat the litany of embarrassing remarks from such fossilized icons as Barbara Kingsolver, Susan Sontag, Norman Mailer and Bill Moyers or the countless wannabes who marched to the same drummer. Whether it was the election of George W. Bush, his withdrawal from the Kyoto global climate treaty, or America's support for Israel, the cognoscenti just couldn't imagine the bloodshed in New York might not be our fault. My favorite bit of blame-Americanism came when Bill Clinton gave a speech at Georgetown University where he lamented, "Those of us who come from various European lineages are not blameless." He explained, "In the First Crusade, when the Christian soldiers took Jerusalem, they first burned a synagogue with 300 Jews in it, and proceeded to kill every woman and child who was Muslim on the Temple mount. … I can tell you that that story is still being told today in the Middle East and we are still paying for it." The First Crusade took place in 1095, just shy of 1,000 years ago. As my idol Mark Steyn wrote in National Review at the time, "If America is really `paying for' events that occurred seven centuries before the Republic's founding, then that's the Muslim world's problem, not ours." But it wasn't just a matter of our ex-president and a few adversarial academics, the entire journalistic establishment groaned at the burden of covering a story simplistically. The word "terrorist" proved too onerous for many outlets that reported round-the-clock on "the war on terror" but blanched at suggestion they identify actual terrorists. The president of ABC News grew tongue-tied over whether the Pentagon was a "legitimate target" saying he had no opinion on the matter. The news networks, which broadcast edited sequences of Rodney King being beaten ad nauseum, couldn't be bothered to show a single 9/11 corpse after the first 24 hours after the attacks. After using one clip of a man leaping to his death from the World Trade Center, NBC decided never to use it again. "It's stunning photography, I understand that," an NBC executive explained to The New York Times, "but we felt the image was disturbing." Disturbing, that is, because it was too "simplistic" for a media culture that has a hard time portraying America as the aggrieved party. Sadly, it's not shocking that this steady drip of acid among America-bashers and inaction by the fourth estate would eventually trickle down and eat through the "simplistic" and "emotional" response to 9/11. So it's no surprise that, according to The Washington Times, the National Education Association has prepared a lesson plan titled "Remember September 11" that will encourage educators to "discuss historical instances of American intolerance," in the hope that America prevents "repeating terrible mistakes." Internment of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor and the backlash against Arab Americans during the Gulf War are obvious examples," according to the plan. Obvious to whom? Not to me. Look: There's nothing wrong with teaching Americans to reject bigotry and intolerance. But, if you haven't noticed, our schools, TV networks and public officials do that on virtually every one of the other 364 days in the year. Let's have one day of the year where we recognize that we are the good guys. This is supposed to be the point of special days; it would shock most people that Columbus Day, for example, is now a commemoration of "genocide" rather than a celebration of discovery. The lesson of 9/11 isn't to be found in past instances of American intolerance or in trying to find fault in our actions around the world. The lessons of Sept. 11 are simple enough and don't need complicating. A good and just nation was attacked by evil people, and we responded with heroism, charity and nobility. If that's too simplistic for you, fine. We can argue about it on Sept. 12.