“That is what we honor on days of national commemoration—those aspects of the American experience that are enduring. . . . It will be said of us that we kept that faith; that we took a painful blow, and emerged stronger. ‘Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.’”
So said our President in his speech commemorating the attacks of September 11. But one wonders how accurate any of that is—whether we have emerged stronger, whether our weeping is over and our joy will come.
Integrated with the first week of the NFL season, we witnessed what appeared to be almost a celebration of our national victimhood ten years on, a patriotic outburst previously reserved for war victories or electing new presidents but now administered as a patriotic salve for national humiliation.
In the aftermath of these attacks, we lashed out at a country without involvement in them, while also sinking our troops for a decade into a land that has for centuries been a graveyard of empires. Out of fealty to multiculturalism, nothing has been done to curb immigration from nations in which Islamic militancy and anti-American sentiment find their most fertile soil, though not a multicultural eye is blinked at the launching of Predator drones into Islamic homes and villages. Every dollar of the September 11 wars has been purchased at the price of a trillion dollars in IOUs to the political lineage of Mao Tse-tung. We have run trillions of dollars in trade deficits that by the end of the decade will leave us behind China as the world’s largest economy. Our national debt has tripled, and the loss of the value of our currency, our credit rating, and our rank among the world’s economic powers looms before us.
No one doubts the merit of the New York Fire Department memorializing its fallen brothers or of families recalling lost loved ones, but why did no one question the need for a nationwide commemoration? Why the parades, the football-field sized flags, the Air Force flyovers, the Beach Boys giving concerts in Denver? Did cities organize ballets to commemorate the burning of the White House or import Scottish choir ensembles to remind us of the sinking of the Lusitania? Did the ancients hold celebrations for the sacking of Rome?
If anything, this commemoration should have demanded national soul-searching and a humble beseeching of the mercy of the Divine, but, from the first days after September 11, any reference to a deeper meaning for our public and private affairs was immediately shouted down by a chorus of secularism from the left and American exceptionalism from the right, silencing a strong American tradition of seeing Divine Providence in our successes and Divine Judgment in our failures. When Mayor Bloomberg banned all clergy from his city’s official events on the tenth anniversary, it was as if in this commemoration we were permitted the weeping but denied the promise of joy.
I do feel sympathy for the Americans for whom the commemorations carried great meaning, for it is apparent that the celebrations were partly the consequence of a culture that has accepted prima facie the argument that America’s successes have been the result of a particularly long list of national sins and omissions. Human beings are hardwired for patriotism, which turns the routine into tradition and transforms the familiar into the beloved. Deprived of its simple stories and heroes, instructed that every source of patriotic pride is really fool’s gold that tarnishes on contact, we discovered that here, finally, in this moment of failure alone, were we allowed to celebrate. Here, unmolested, they would allow us to stand. The home is a sanctuary where we can be who we are and say what we think. Perhaps, for a moment, as on September 11, 2001, our country finally felt like a home again.
Fifty years ago, the ten-year anniversary of Pearl Harbor met the bottom corner of the newspaper. This year, we chose to retreat into our moment of national pain and weakness. The last ten years have been a decade of national failure, and a sense of impotence and insolvency lay just beneath September 11, 2011’s shiny veneer, a veneer of solemnity summoning eternal emptiness in the absence of faith, a veneer of strength drowning in the deep waters of national decline. Countries should devote this kind of energy to celebrating successes, and this devotion to our failures signals that our national preeminence is not long for this world.