May 11, 2005
Getting Over it

Nope, we're still not over it:

An apparent airspace violation over Washington on Wednesday prompted evacuations of the White House and the U.S. Capitol as military fighter jets scrambled to intercept an unidentified aircraft.
Former CNN anchor Bernard Shaw said he heard two F-16 jets and saw them circle a single-engine airplane and fire warning flares. The jets then seemed to direct the small aircraft away from the downtown Washington area, Shaw said.

Yup, they rushed people out of the Capitol because of a Cessna. It's been nearly five years, and we're still on a hair trigger.

Those of you outside the US who wait for the time we'll "get over it" have got a lot to learn. I can still remember as a child how obsessed this country was over the likelihood of a sneak attack on a harbor or town, and at that point Pearl Harbor was more than three decades in the past. Other countries may be used to people blowing them up for no clear reason, but we're not, and that will never change.

Does that make us better than anyone else? No. We should get over it. It's been nearly four years, al Quaeda is smashed, Saddam is sitting in a prison, Syria is afraid of sneezing too loudly, and Iran is building nukes because they think they're the only thing left proven to make the US behave itself. With democracy dawning and fascism finally setting over the horizon, we should be well and truly done with jumping at shadows.

Will we get over it? Nope. We're Americans. Most of us really do believe we're the inheritors of the power and glory of republican Rome coupled with the temperance and tenacity of imperial Britain. In a very real sense they are our parents, and reinforced from both sides is the subconscious but no less real belief that We Cannot Fail. As a nation we are simply unable to accept it. Not unwilling, unable. Such cultures do not react well when defeat comes calling.

Rome was shamed and humiliated by Carthage and the Romans did not rest until salt had been sewn into the earth of that city's foundations. Britain threw away a century of careful balancing and precipitated apocalypse over her fear of a Germanic Napoleon. Japan paid the price of nuclear eschaton for her successful humiliation of the most powerful Western culture in history.

In a world where entire cities can be incinerated at the touch of a button, such a brittle pride can be a risky asset. But, in spite of the contrary wailing of soft-headed twenty-somethings and their "old hippies never die they just smoke away" socialist mentors, we are not republican Rome. In spite of the fevered delusions of exploitation and socialist utopia the Democratic Underground hold so dear, we are not imperial Britain. The world may fear our power and detest our wealth, to be honest sometimes we do as well, but its people do themselves a disservice if they think we can be deconstructed as someone else's dim reflection. We will not be seen through a glass, and darkly.

We are instead Americans, as unique and unprecedented as any other people in the world. At our best, we cherish success, reward nobility, protect helplessness, and destroy evil. Since we are still human, at our worst we are quite capable of envying success, undercutting nobility, exploiting helplessness, and encouraging evil. If you were to pick any one thing out that makes Americans different, it is perhaps that, for the most part, we do not cede credit to or place blame on anyone else for our extremes, even when perhaps we should.

We will not "get over it" any time soon, not at all. A nation rich, powerful, and almost gloriously naive about the existence of evil in this world experienced the largest single-day loss of life in an attack since Antietam. Not simply killed, and not soldiers at all, but instead regular citizens murdered in spectacular fashion on national television using the very tools and monuments of our power to do the deed.

The rest of the world treated this country very much as a pretty girl who'd been raped, "Yes, it was a terrible thing, and yes, they were evil men, but really dear, look at the way you dress, the way you act. Don't you think you deserved it, just a little bit?" Even worse was the significant number of our own citizens who snuffled a bit, winced at the pain of still-bleeding wounds, and then slowly nodded in agreement.

But most of us, most of us knew the truth. We knew the world should be safe enough that anyone, no matter how beautiful or flamboyant, should be able to walk down a street stark naked and not worry about being raped. The world miscalculated when it thought America would simply walk away from such an egregious wound. That the barbaric perpetrators, fiery old men who have forever attempted to crush liberty and freedom, should do so is unsurprising. That the rest of the world should do so, merely disappointing. This didn't happen to you. It happened to us. What differentiates us from you is we have the power and the will to make sure it doesn't happen to anyone else. If that means we jump every time a Cessna gets lost or reach for a gun whenever some tinpot loon starts blowing off steam, so be it.

Because we will not fail.

Posted by scott at May 11, 2005 02:03 PM

eMail this entry!

Very well said. I have missed your essays!

Posted by: Pat on May 11, 2005 05:32 PM

Very interesting and thought provoking

Posted by: Elizabeth on May 11, 2005 11:17 PM
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