by Austin Bay
Sep 11, 2002
"How long will the image of the burning World Trade Centermotivate Americans?" the reporter asked.
It's not simply an image, it's a fact, I replied. The murders,the destruction, the hole that was the World Trade Center, they're facts.They're verifiable. They're in your face.
Credit the reporter for getting at what remains this war'spivotal issue, America's "collective will" to pursue the fight. When ademocratic nation wages war, the collective will to sustain the conflict isthe strategic key to victory. A failure in will leads to defeat. After 9-11,America's national challenge was to forge the will to sustain the effortrequired to defeat the terror syndicates despite the inevitable mistakes,setbacks and lost lives.
A year ago, Al Qaeda bet that America was a sitcom nation, acreature of Hollywood, with an attention span that had shrunk to the lengthof an MTV video. That was Al Qaeda's image of America: couch potatoes andappeaseniks. Al Qaeda's "image of America" was superficial and ultimatelywrong.
Which is one reason the reporter's question struck me asvideo-kid and superficial. It suggested couch potato culture, where pancakemake-up and glitz trump substance.
The slaughter of innocents, the sacrifice of New York police andfiremen, the terrorists' driving fanaticism, the monstrous evil of it -- thevery human and cosmic substances of the tragedy cannot be fully captured inany mere image. I don't discount the possibility some future Picasso maypaint a 9-11 "Guernica," but a horse with a spike in its throat won't cut itthis time. For many, the truly horrifying pictures are not burningskyscrapers, but those of the men and women who chose to leap 90 floors totheir deaths rather than perish by fire. Paint me that horror.
In one way, my reaction to the reporter was unfair. The man wastasked with the tough job of producing a broad "9-11" story for one ofAmerica's largest dailies. Experienced reporters know the Friday night crimebeat's hard enough when it's only Al shooting Hal. Shrinking 9-11'smega-event into mere column inches requires art as well as heart.
Still, the tag of "image" suggested a heinous disconnection oreven denial of the tragedy, a sad reduction of the tragedies to advertising,or worse, advertising's malign political cousin, propaganda.
The horror of an image -- an image alone -- may motivate, but itwill not sustain.
What does sustain motivation is the recognition of the terroristacts' pernicious evil and the continuing threat presented by the evildoers.
All but the most looney-toon appeaseniks at least pay lipservice to 9-11's evil. A few don't, such as the French hard left conspiracytheorist who wrote a bestseller accusing the U.S. military attacking its ownPentagon. This bouffant of balderdash says a Pentagon parking lot TV clipproves a missile struck the building, not a hijacked airplane.
But lip-service nods at evil are about as far as the appeasenikswill go. Somewhere in the hearts of these Neville Chamberlains lurks thenotion that America somehow did deserve to be attacked. They've built entireacademic and political careers on the premise of American globalmalevolence.
The responsible among us, however, must consider the motive willof a man who spends five years preparing himself and his terror cell tohijack an airliner and smash it into a skyscraper. That motivating will isenormous. Harnessed to a destructive enterprise, his hatred for modernity --as expressed in Western culture, global trade and liberal democracy --becomes a powerful propulsive force.
The responsible among us know the answer to the question, "Wouldmen who smash airliners into skyscrapers and believe murdering thousandsassures them eternity in Paradise flinch from using nuclear bombs or nervegas on Peoria, San Antonio, Miami or yes, New York, if they could acquiresuch weapons?"
The answer is, "They'd use a nuke in a New York minute."
We can't forget the imagery of smashed skyscrapers, and weshouldn't. It is common sense, however -- the recognition of the need toprotect our families lives and the good that is America -- that motivatesAmerica's pursuit of the War on Terror.