America Learned Nothing
For the first time in my life I am thankful that, when 9/11 happened, I was young enough and dumb enough to cheer when Bush said we would make no distinction between the terrorists and the countries that harbored them. I am thankful that I so thoroughly supported a war of vengeance and that I trusted my President to decide what people and countries deserved it. It was a horrible feeling, but it was a good feeling too: that hot hate, that rage given expression on television as the bombs dropped. I remember — is this real? — a reporter for Iraqi state TV at the Baghdad airport, who pretended everything was fine even as US troops took it over. I remember everybody laughing at him. Me too.
Ettingermentum, the best Substack on Substack, makes a very good case that the Tet Offensive, not 9/11, is the proper historical metaphor for the Hamas attack on Israel last week. I think he’s absolutely right when it comes to the purpose of the attack and the message it sends to the Israeli public about the feasibility of their Gaza strategy of containment. Like everything else he’s ever written, the article is well worth your time.
When it comes to America’s reaction, however, we can only see one thing: our apocalypse, our tragedy, our unhealed narcissistic wound. When my country says it stands with Israel, that’s not entirely true: we project ourselves into Israel. And, just as we were justified in starting a war that indirectly killed 3.8 million people, so too are the Israelis justified in destroying Gaza with bombs and a ground invasion.
Let’s be real clear. Just as 9/11 was an atrocity — just as it killed thousands of civilians with thoughts and feelings and hopes and dreams and families and friends — so too are these attacks by Hamas. Children died in those attacks. People at a music festival. People living their lives. It is a war crime.
But one war crime can never justify another.
I vividly recall seeing the below diagram in the Denver Post in the days after the 9/11 attacks. It appeared in a lot of newspapers at the time. I remember pouring over it, reveling in terror and sick excitement: