[Reader-list] Susan Sontag on September 11

Shuddhabrata Sengupta shuddha at sarai.net
Thu Sep 20 13:51:48 IST 2001

Susan Sontag on September 11 (forwarded from Nettime)

The disconnect between last Tuesday's monstrous  dose of reality and the 
self-righteous drivel and  outright deceptions being peddled by public 
figures  and TV commentators is startling, depressing. The  voices licensed 
to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantilize 
the public. Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a "cowardly" attack 
on "civilization" or "liberty" or "humanity" or "the free world" but an 
attack on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence 
of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of 
the ongoing American bombing of Iraq? And if the word cowardly" is to be 
used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range 
of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in 
order to kill others. In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): 
whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday's slaughter, they were 
not cowards.

Our leaders are bent on convincing us that everything  is O.K. America is not 
afraid. Our spirit is unbroken,  although this was a day that will live in 
infamy and America is now at war. But everything is not O.K. And this was not 
Pearl Harbor. We have a robotic President who assures us that America still 
stands tall. A wide spectrum of public figures, in and out of office, who are 
strongly opposed to the policies being pursued abroad  by this Administration 
apparently feel free to say nothing more than that they stand united behind  
President Bush. 

A lot of thinking needs to be done, and perhaps is being done in Washington 
and elsewhere, about the ineptitude of American intelligence and 
ounter-intelligence, about options  available to American foreign policy, 
particularly in  the Middle East, and about what constitutes a smart program 
of military defense. But the public is not being asked to bear much of the 
burden of reality. The nanimously applauded, self-congratulatory bromides of 
a Soviet Party Congress seemed contemptible. The unanimity of the 
sanctimonious, reality-concealing rhetoric spouted by American officials and 
mediacommentators in recent days seems, well, unworthy of a mature democracy. 

Those in public office have let us know that they consider their task to be a 
manipulative one: confidence-building and grief management.Politics,the 
politics of a democracy—which entails disagreement, which promotes candor—has 
been replaced by psychotherapy. Let's by all means grieve together. But let's 
not be stupid together. A few shreds of historical awareness might help us 
understand what has just happened, and what may continue to happen. "Our 
country is strong," we are told again and again. I for one don't find this 
entirely consoling. Who doubts that America is strong? But that's not all 
America has to be.


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