Breaking The Tyranny of Evil Men; 9/11/09

I sat down to write about 9/11 and this is what happened.

It’s the eighth anniversary of 9/11, and it’s my fervent wish that when I open my laptop tomorrow I’m spared the rhetoric of it as “the tragedy of 9/11″.

To be sure, our stories about 9/11 are tragedies, in the Aristotelian sense:

Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions.

(Poetics, Part 6)

But in today’s vernacular, a tragedy is something different. It’s impersonal; free of malice. It is a hurricane, an earthquake, a massive landslide that buries a school and kills hundreds of children.

Our 9/11 was not one of those things. The buildings did not fall because of designer’s error or nature’s caprice. Human malice brought them down and murdered the people who died that day.

And that’s the striking thing about 9/11. To me (to many, I believe) Pearl Harbor or the Blitz are more understandable. The movement from international contention to conflict seems a part of our history that makes sense, and we can look at the actors today – at a Von Braun or a Yamamoto – with the emotion of the moment faded away – and see in them something we understand and maybe even admire. After the war, we could have a drink. At Christmas, we could call a truce and play soccer. They were injurious, but not malevolent. And yes, I know about the racist propaganda and actions at the time – I’m talking about looking back; I cannot imagine a world in which a Clint Eastwood makes a respectful film about the torture chambers of Fallujah.

And to a large extent, that was the world of 9/10, a world in which many of us felt that people’s actions were injurious, but not malevolent.

But there is something about 9/11 that reeks to me still of malice and evil. There’s something Mansonesque about it, something that reminds us that we live in a world where some snarks are boojums. That some people kill because it just somehow makes sense of their lives and it plain feels good.

I think that’s the division in my friends here in America today; between those who see the world as one where malice can crush you to your component atoms in one unspeakably terrifying moment, and one where motivations are understandable, rationalizable, ultimately negotiatible.

I think that my friends to the right of me on this issue see the world in terms of vast malevolence; I think my friends on the left refuse to see it as anything significant.

I sometimes do both, which I deeply believe is accurate – it reflects how the world really is. And yet I do envy the clarity of my friends on both sides.

Why do lions eat zebras? Stephen Pastis, in his comic “Pearls before Swine” has the zebras write an aggrieved note to the lions, asking them the root of their hostility. The lions replied “…because you taste good.

And then I think about my man Jules Winfield, Samuel Jackson in ‘Pulp Fiction’ who leaves the film saying “But that shit ain’t the truth. The truth is you’re the weak. And I’m the tyranny of evil men. But I’m tryin’, Ringo. I’m tryin’ real hard to be a shepherd.

…and I somehow have hope that we can all become shepherds. That we spend today thinking about how hard it is to do so, and how worthwhile.
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14 thoughts on “Breaking The Tyranny of Evil Men; 9/11/09”

  1. Here’s the whole scene.

    A better portrait of moral clarity is hard to find.

    Yes, directive 1 is “be the shepard”.

    But if you want to get to directive 1, you need to pass directive 0.

    Directive 0 is “do not be the weak”.

  2. I hope you post something on this every year to come, because this shouldn’t be forgotten even though we have no consensus on what “this” is.

    Armed Liberal:

    “And yes, I know about the racist propaganda and actions at the time – I’m talking about looking back; I cannot imagine a world in which a Clint Eastwood makes a respectful film about the torture chambers of Fallujah.”

    Did you miss the movie Three Kings (1999) (link), with the torture scene where the Iraqi torture starts to work on the American soldier, and has the moral argument on Western exploitation, oil and war all his own way?

  3. There’s something Mansonesque about it …

    It occurred to me the other day, while reading about Susan Atkins’ failed parole bid, that the families of the Manson victims are models of remembrance. For 40 years they’ve been in the faces of parole boards, keeping the memory of the people they loved alive. If not for that, the killers would probably have gone free long ago.

    I don’t find them vindictive, but more real and humane than people who think themselves noble because they “forgive” someone else’s pain.

  4. Philosopher Andre Glucksman described the difference between legitimate freedom fighters/military and genocidal ideology-based terrorists. He said:

    Man is human: therefore, he can be civilised, even if he can’t read or write, because he can master this hubris. Wherever you go, this belligerent hubris is considered lethal. In the huts of the Amazon, young men are taught to conquer this capacity for excessive violence. You can fight together, but you cannot fight in any way that comes to hand, and you don’t set out to fight just anyone. The same idea occurs in the teachings of the Greeks, the paidera. All European education is based on the same principle.

    Indeed, all civilisations have two essential taboos in common: the taboo on ‘total sexuality’, the incest taboo, different in individual cases, but ubiquitous, and the taboo on violence. You are not allowed to succumb to ‘absolute violence’. You have to master that hubris in one way or another. In every civilisation you can find the mastering of these two absolute, destructive impulses. And the nature of modernity means that these fundamental taboos are vanishing...

    what do extremist ideologies like the communism or Nazism of yesteryear and the Islamism of today have in common? After all, they support ostensibly very different ideals – the superior race, mankind united in socialism, the community of Muslim believers (the Umma). Tomorrow, it could be altogether different ideals: some theological, some scientific, others racist. But the common characteristic is nihilism.

    The root element is the attitude that anything goes, particularly when with regard to ordinary people: I can do whatever I want, without scruples. Goehring put it like this: my consciousness is Adolf Hitler. Bolsheviks said: man is made of iron. And the Islamists whom I visited in Algeria said that you have the right to kill little Muslim children, in order to save them.

    History is full of monsters, terrorists and generally evil people who succumb to ‘belligerent hubris” – the Chinese, Malays and the Koreans still hate the Japanese for the horrific war crimes they committed during WWII. Stalin and Mao’s genocidal crimes were motivated by the ‘freedom’ that the communist ideology seemed to give them.

    And we defeated all of these truly dangerous enemies. But then we went to sleep, and it’s not clear that anyone has woken up. The terrorists and the states that supported 9/11 are, in comparison to the genocidal Nazis, Japanese and communist, totally weak tea. They are more comparable to Charles Manson or random nutters in an LA diner, because they are just that lame.

    If al Qaeda had attacked the America of 1941, war would have been declared on AQ and the states that support them and the entire lot would have been hash within a matter of weeks. Americans in those days didn’t put up with sh*t. But now, we put up with it, tons of it. We ally with the people who paid for 9/11. We rely on them to bring peace to the middle east.

    During the ’90’s, we thought we were untouchable. We’d defeated the soviets, we had nukes and the most powerful army in the world, so there was nothing to worry about. We kind of lost our instincts for dealing with predators. Like the zebra, we don’t really understand a relatively simple situation.

  5. Dogpile remembers respectfully, Google doesn’t (link).

    Therefore, I’m making Dogpile (link) my homepage and my default starting point for all searches, and I would recommend to anyone else to do the same, or use some other search engine or meta-search engine that remembers.

    We’ve got to remember, even in little ways. This is no more stupid than putting up yellow ribbons.

    If you feel you need a ‘google’ search: Scroogle: (link).

  6. And that’s the striking thing about 9/11. To me (to many, I believe) Pearl Harbor or the Blitz are more understandable. The movement from international contention to conflict seems a part of our history that makes sense, and we can look at the actors today – at a Von Braun or a Yamamoto – with the emotion of the moment faded away – and see in them something we understand and maybe even admire.

    The recent financial collapse has proven that the American financial services sector was globally malevolent. In 2001 several Islamists gave their lives to fight this menace, which was sucking the lifeblood out of the entire world. Incidentally, they also struck out the political and military forces making the exploitation possible.

    I don’t subscribe to this view, but it’s easy (for me) to see how someone could.

  7. “Why do lions eat zebras? Stephen Pastis, in his comic “Pearls before Swine” has the zebras write an aggrieved note to the lions, asking them the root of their hostility. The lions replied “…because you taste good.”

    The cartoon, of course, works because of it’s play on human values. But reality is more like the Heaven of the Animals in the “James Dickey poem”:http://www.poetryoutloud.org/poems/poem.html?id=171425

    “For some of these,
    It could not be the place
    It is, without blood.
    These hunt, as they have done,
    But with claws and teeth grown perfect”

    Timothy Treadwell, the excentric lover of bears documented in his own footage assembled by Werner Herzog in “Grizzly Man,” was brutally mauled and killed together with his girlfriend by a lone bear, late in the season. The bear was a social outcast, apparently ill. He was more dangerous, more deadly. Was the bear evil? We listen to the awful footage and can’t help but respond.

    We watch that awful footage of those planes, and we can’t help but respond. But I think of Mohammad Atta like I think of that bear. They are ill and dangerous social outcasts. We do what we can to keep them away from our camp, we stay out of their way. We don’t need to hunt them down.

  8. _”They are ill and dangerous social outcasts. We do what we can to keep them away from our camp, we stay out of their way. We don’t need to hunt them down.”_

    Having just seen Inglorious Basterds sheds an ironic light on that statement. I’ll respectfully disagree.

    Beyond that I’m not sure how you ‘stay out of the way’ of men who work hard to blend in and conceal their knife cutters. There are too many book depositories in the world to police them all, even assuming the nut jobs can’t get ahold of a police uniform.

  9. Re: #8.

    Havent’ seen IGB, so I’m not sure how it sheds the mentally ill grizzly bear analogy in an ironic light. However, I’m pretty certain that Tarantino is not the right place to look for wise insight in how to respond to an event like 9/11.

    Filters with which we view the world do matter. If we take the Tarantino “you’re the weak; and I’m the tyranny of evil men” image seriously as a prescription for informing action (and I understand IGB is a revenge fantasy along the same lines), we are apt to charge off in wrong directions.

    How to stay out of the way of dangerous terrorists? That’s the question we are facing in Iraq and Afghanistan, isn’t it? We are there to keep them out of our campsite. If we confuse this task with “bringing tyranny to evil men” we are apt to stay too long, spend too much, and not achieve our goals.

  10. How to stay out of the way of dangerous terrorists? That’s the question we are facing in Iraq and Afghanistan, isn’t it? We are there to keep them out of our campsite. If we confuse this task with “bringing tyranny to evil men” we are apt to stay too long, spend too much, and not achieve our goals.

    Terrorism and the political/religious mob that supports it is a billion dollar industry. On the Sunni side, petrodollars and drug money are laundered by Islamic banking outlets and through many offshore accounts which are managed by the Muslim Brotherhood. They then distribute this money to ‘nonviolent’ Muslim Brotherhood public relations groups like CAIR, Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the Muslim student Association.

    These funds are also sent to terrorist groups like al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Abu Sayyaf Group in the Phillipines, Jemaah Islamiya in Pakistan, and others around the world. The majority of these groups are funded by Saudis, trained by Pakistani intelligence and/or Libya and staffed mostly by Saudis.

    On the Shi’ite side, petrodollars, drug and cigarette smuggling profits are funneled through Hezbollah. Hezbollah is probably the strongest Islamist army around. They are stronger than the official Lebanese army, and they’re stronger than Iran’s official military force. This part of the Islamist/terrorist group is not allied with us, but they are allied with Russia and Pakistan.

    This is an army and a criminal organization with branches, financial outlets and government representatives worldwide. Their members fund/bribe our government officials, our universities and our NGOs. But they only have the money, power and legitimacy we give them. Since we call the Pakistani government and the Saudi government ‘allies’, they know they’re basically untouchable. But, since we work with them closely and since we could eliminate them fairly easily if we decided to, they tend to do things in as clandestine a manner as possible.

    They’re only as dangerous as we allow them to be, and right now, they’re a lot more dangerous than they should be. There is no good reason why we should tolerate their violence, and there’s no reason why we should continue to watch people in any country die by their hands.

  11. I’m absolutely sure a “mentally ill grizzly bear analogy” isn’t the right place to look for insight into the texts, the model of conduct, the key beliefs, the attitudes and methods and bloody history of Islam.

    Reading Robert Spencer’s books is a good starting point.

    Wishful fantasies about how militant Muslims are only mentally ill social outcasts are a bad starting point.

  12. The interesting thing about the Grizzly Man is precisely that he _did_ hunt them down, though: far from trying to ‘keep them from his camp,’ he sought out the bears. There can be a thousand such bears in the woods, and they mean little to a man who camps with precautions: chiefly, a fire at night, “five heartbeats” (to include horses and dogs in your party), and a rifle as a last resort.

    Atta sought us out. He and his, they pursued advanced learning in Western technologies and in Western schools with an eye to breaking Western power and murdering Western people. They came hunting.

    With the usual dissent from my friend Mr. Blue, and speaking as someone who could name some Iraqis he is ready to consider plain allies; still, Atta is not the same kind of creature as the bear. It is not enough to make precautions; even with the best precautions, you must be prepared to fight.

    To fight how? You could have fought him as they did on Flight 93. It doesn’t take so much; but it does take an individual decision to “be always ready, with your armor on.”:http://www.troop924.org/THE%20KNIGHTS'%20CODE%20OF%20HONOR.pdf

    Many will say: ‘That’s an old Boy Scout thing, though; Baden-Powell, and campfires, and all that.’ Yes, it is, just such a thing as was taught to me when I was a boy. Don’t forget, though, that he was “Sir Robert”:http://www.pinetreeweb.com/bp-honours.htm Baden-Powell, whose honors are not easily recounted: the old ways were not lost in him, and nor was their value lost on him.

  13. It’s always a pleasure to hear from you, Grim.

    I wouldn’t doubt the goodness of your friends and allies at all.

    Reading Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II (link) with keen attention to the hero, John Rabe, is a great cure for the tendency to put people in a moral box based on your opinion of the system they are part of.

  14. My initial reaction to 9/11 is best epitomized by “Jon Stewart”:http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-september-11-2001/september-11–2001, here on 9/20/01. The best part starts near 5 minutes.

    bq. All this talk about these guys being criminal masterminds… it’s all a lie. Any fool can blow things up, any fool can destroy. But to see these people in the streets, these firefighters literally with buckets… rebuilding. That’s extraordinary. That’s why we already won. They can’t shut that down.

    bq. They live in chaos. And chaos cannot sustain itself. It’s too easy, and it’s too unsatisfying. The view from my apartment was the world trade center. Now it’s gone, and they attacked this symbol of american ingenuity and strong. And it is gone. But you know what the view is now? The Statue of Liberty.

    What I remember most from the end of 2001 is the comedy. We have been blessed with a very peaceful century (at least on the homeland). AL like’s to say that our nation is different, (and it is) but I think we mistook that for immunity.

    You can look at the american reaction to 9/11 through the grieving of our lost innocence. There’s clearly stages of shock, denial, anger and depression still circulating throughout the country.

    Someday, I would like us to reach acceptance: a calmness, that the world will always contain some evil. We cannot stamp out evil, any more than we can kill the devil himself. Unfortunately, terror is inevitable. We can only do so much to the Middle East, and they can only do so much to us. It’s worth keeping in mind that we are not in the end days.

    I would love to believe we can win the war on tyranny, but at what cost? Do we need to rule the middle east, to become a tyranny ourselves, in order to prevent tyrannies? Do we need to be immoral to prevent the immoral? Should we drop the bomb to prevent the bomb? We have asked this question numerous times, in numerous ways, and have yet to find a dividing line to agree on. And yet, choosing poorly could result in devastating repercussions.

    These are important questions to ask as we move into the future. I’m talking 10 years from now. 50 years. What is our plan for the ‘long war’, and how will it be implemented? How do we ensure that our future quests for peace and justice do not end in tyranny?

    This is what I think about the anniversary to 9/11. And I have no answer, but I think the question is important.

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