"But turn your eyes to the valley; there we shall find
the river of boiling blood in which we are steeped
all who struck down their fellow men."
-Inferno Canto XII II. 46-48
Today, let's step through the looking glass for a moment and imagine what the reaction of the United States to the ongoing crisis in Syria might look like if the regime of Bashar al-Assad were an ally of the United States, rather than an opponent closely linked to our enemy du jour, Iran. Perhaps the media coverage might look something like this:
Like baseball great Yogi Berra, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had his own struggles with the English language, one of his best malapropisms was the coining of the term “unknown unknowns.” Rumsfeld was trying to make a valid point about the uncertain security situation at the time in Iraq – that there were unexpected contingencies that simply could not be prepared for; unfortunately for him (but perhaps fortunately for us), that thought came out as “unknown unknowns.”
This week has left me in a pensive mood. With the constant barrage of remembrance specials and slideshows in the media, even those of us living outside the country are very aware that the tenth anniverary of September 11, 2001 is this weekend. As one who was thankfully not directly affected by this tragedy, such an anniversary does not stand as a time for me to remember lost loved ones. Rather I find myself desiring to step back and take a long look at what our country was before September 11, 2001, and what it has become today. Politically, how have we changed, and what caused this change?
Not far from where I grew up there's a tiny park, at its centerpiece is a misshapen lump of corroding metal. For years I could never decide whether the lump was a modern art installation or just a large piece of refuse that the town simply refused to collect. Years later I learned that it in fact was a piece of the USS Maine, a United States battleship which blew up in the harbor of Havana, Cuba in 1896. The destruction of a US Navy warship in a foreign port was as shocking to the citizens of end-of-the-century America as the terrorist attacks of 9/11 would be just over one hundred years later; the Maine would go on to serve as the causus belli<
As the story of the attacks in Norway unfolded last week, an incredible fiction emerged describing what sort of person could be responsible for such violence. The immediate assumption by many in the West was a link to al-Qaida, and belief that these could only be the actions of an Islamic terrorist. This, of course, turned out to be patently false. This mistake, and even more so the subsequent media frenzy attempting to back-track, justify or lambast each other, has highlighted our ongoing obsession with creating the idea of an "other."
When the news broke on Sunday about the death of Osama bin Laden (after pulling myself out of the black hole that is Twitter in the midst of major world news), I knew it had to be the topic of my blog this week. This event was more than historical, and there was so much to be said. Yet, as morning came, and the videos continued to roll on the television of the Team America-esque partying going on across the country, I wanted to run as far away from this topic as possible.
Soon after President Barack Obama announced the death of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden late Sunday night, a crowd began to gather outside of the White House. At first it was small group of a few dozen people, perhaps the amount you would expect on the streets of Washington DC at midnight on a Sunday. But soon their numbers swelled into the thousands, united in a joyous celebration that the symbol of evil that had haunted the American psyche for a decade was no more. Similar celebrations broke out in New York City - site of the worst portion of Bin Laden’s 9/11 attacks - Los Angeles and other American cities as well.