Archive for the ‘Post 9/11 Generation’ Category

In Response To Those Disturbed By Celebrating on the Death of Bin Laden

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I started seeing this quote popping up in my Facebook feed last night. In response, let me say 2 things:

(1) It’s fake. Martin Luther King, Jr., didn’t say that. It’s loosely based on this quote.

(2) Do you remember your first time watching The Wizard of Oz as a kid? That feeling of elation in the moments after the witch melted and the munchkins and everyone else began to sing, “Ding dong, the witch is dead!”?

Whether rational or not, the figure of Osama Bin Laden — and our inability to find him — has loomed over our consciousness since September 11. His survival despite America’s might directed against him, despite the abhorrence of his crimes, suggested impotence and an inability to control events and affect our own fate. The knowledge that not only did he survive, but he continued to plan to kill and terrorize — that at any moment, some decision of his which we had no way of affecting could wreck the lives of thousands, even our own — loomed over us. But on May 1, 2011, order was restored and the villain taken down. And that is a catharsis worthy of storybooks.

Voices urging restraint and caution at such moments of national catharsis are good and worthy. Because moments of catharsis can be distorted — they can turn to ugly emotions. Wisdom counsels that we “Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he is overthrown.”  It is unseemly to celebrate murder — and all too easy to demonize one’s enemies to justify resorting to violence. But as another wise man said,  “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

And it was Martin Luther King who said, “the arc of history is long but it bends towards justice” — and even as this prophet of non-violence may not have condoned it — in Bin Laden’s violent end by American hands, there was justice.

An evil man who claimed theological justification and technological means to murder millions; who inspired, authorized and directed the killing of thousands; who wanted women confined to a second-class status; who directed the killings of the vast majority of Muslims as unclean unbelievers — an evil man who murdered 3,000 souls on one fateful September morning — this Sunday, he was removed from this world.

And the world is better for it.

And for that, we should all celebrate.

[Image by Dan Nguyen @ New York City licensed under Creative Commons.]

If that’s what you believe, Mr. McCain, you’ll have to draft me.

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

[Photo courtesy of christhedunn.]

Senator McCain:

You have said that Islamic extremism is:

the greatest evil, probably, that this nation has ever faced…

You have said that you think:

the transcendent challenge of the 21st century is radical Islamic extremists…

You have explained that you:

think it’s clear that this [war in Iraq] is now part of a titanic struggle between radical Islamic extremism and Western standards and values…

You have said that the war in Iraq is the main front in the battle against:

the incredible evil of radical Islamic extremism…

In an interview, you explained that you would:

much rather lose a campaign than lose a war. Because [you] think there’s so much at stake.

You said, as you launched the general election campaign, that you have always:

put our country before any President – before any party – before any special interest – before [your] own interest.

Your website quotes an NPR reporter saying that you are:

of the school where if you’re going to do something you should do it right and you should commit sufficient resources…

You have traveled around the country in a bus called “the Straight Talk Express.”

I bring all this up because if you truly believe we are in this titanic struggle with the fate of our nation and our values at stake and you are willing to risk your candidacy to convince the American people of this, shouldn’t you be calling on all Americans to sacrifice to defeat this transcendent challenge to our way of life?

Why is it that the only things (those of us who aren’t in the military) are being asked to give up are some of our liberties at home and some of our national values as we turn to the “dark side” to defeat terrorism?

If the threat we face is so dire, we obviously need to marshal all of our resources to defeat it.  If we need to win in Iraq and Afghanistan, and if you know that the only thing worse than a war with Iran is an Iran with a nuclear weapons (and Iran seems determined to get nuclear weapons), and as Pakistan destabilizes and if we are truly fighting a generational war and with our military already stretched to a breaking point, and with our civilization itself apparently at stake, we cannot afford to go to war with the military we have – we need to use every societal resource to make sure we have the military we need.  We obviously will need a draft.

Mr. McCain – I believe that we face a very real threat from Muslim extremism.  I remember waking up on the morning of September 11.  I work in the Chrylser Building in Manhattan, and I am aware of the threat of terrorism as I travel the subways at rush hour.  I believe that military measures are necessary as part of an overall strategy to deal with the threat of Muslim extremism – especially in the area of the world where, according to experts, many of these extremists are gathered – from Chechyna, from Al Qaeda, from the Taliban – the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.  I believe it is likely that Al Qaeda will strike America again.  I take this threat seriously.

But I don’t believe you are being straight with us.

Why haven’t you laid out some plan, aside from staying in Iraq indefinitely, to marginalize and defeat Muslims extremism?  Why isn’t this plan one of the centerpieces of your campaign?  If we can’t afford to lose this war, why do the measures you propose we take seem so half-hearted?

Everyone has their own experience.  I don’t know what you believe – but I do know that I love my country.  I was a big supporter of yours in your 2000 campaign – sending far too many emails around to my relatives, pasting a bumper sticker onto one of my school notebooks, and trying to convince my friends to support you.  I counted you as a personal hero when you stood up to the Bush administration as it authorized torture, when you stood up to Bush’s irresponsible tax cuts, when you condemned the Swift Boaters for the trash they were throwing in 2004, and when you fought for campaign finance reform.  But now you support those tax cuts and you have made it clear that you believe that the CIA should be allowed to torture.  Your line about Boumediene was shameful.  I don’t mean to be a jerk, but you’re not the candidate I once supported.

This campaign you are running now is far different from your campaign to remake Washington in 2000.  Instead you advocate the preemptive surrender of our values in war-making and the preemptive surrender of our liberties at home.  You speak of Iraq as a kind of American protectorate and confuse the extremely different enemies we face.

If you can convince me that the threat we face is dire enough, I will volunteer in whatever capacity I might be most useful.  If I believed we were facing an existential struggle for our civilization, I would join the military.  If I believed some leader had a realistic plan – based on more than naive hopes of democracy-building by invasion – I would do what I could to help.  As it is, I am doing what I think is necessary to win this war against Muslim extremism.

I believe the problems we are facing are more complex and more challenging than a repeat of the Second World War.  And I believe we need a president who can inspire us to rise to the approaching challenges, who can remain steadfast in defending American values, who will marshal our resources wisely in the fight against Muslim extremism, and who will call on Americans to serve their country to allow us to make it through these hard times and emerge stronger.  I believe we need a president who can lead our nation in this war against Muslim extremism.  That’s why I support Barack Obama.  He’s not perfect, but he understands the moment we are in and the challenges forthcoming better than you seem to.

So, Mr. McCain –

If you can’t convince me, and if you believe your own straight talk about the absolute necessity and urgency of this war, you’ll have to draft me.  And the rest of my generation.  But you’ll have to get enough votes first.

Good luck with that.

Sincerely,

Joe Campbell

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September 11

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Excerpts from my Journal
[Undated; between entries for late December 2001 and mid-January 2002]

I didn’t cry until I came home in late December. I knew no one who died. I knew no one who had survived the tragedy. The towers had never been a part of my life.

I cried when I saw the newspapers from the days after the attack. When I read about how television had stopped in the face of the crisis When I remembered catching the last minutes of the TV concert and at an off-campus party on Cambridge Street. When I read the comics, when I read the sports pages about the Mets and the Yankees – especially the Mets and their desperate dash to make the play-offs. When I heard phone calls a person high in the tower made to a person further down, or the calls from people on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. Reading The Onion, and watching God cry. When I see the Mayor – Rudy Giuliani, man of the year, mayor of America – when I realize the leadership it took for him to lead the city during and after the attacks. When I drive by the city and notice where the towers are not anymore, and I realize that the island over there is still Manhattan.

As all these memories come together, focused on the moment Isaac, my roommate, shouted at me to get out of bed – and I stood, sat, started transfixed by the smoke and fire – and that terrible footage of the plane headed straight for the building. Unreality had taken hold. I knew it wasn’t a dream, but still, it was not real as I had understood and still understand reality.

I know this terrible thing happened – and that firemen are still removing bodies from the rubble, but it is not real. There’s no way it could be.

So, in a year of Bush league politics, the country rallied around our President – no matter his failings. He is the Stars and Stripes. Disgustingly, this was abused.

But America will survive the abuses of power. After all, it survived September 11, World War II, the Great Depression, the Civil War, and the British invasion.

My country – may she always be right and stay true to her course.

There are two main emotional touchstones which those of us who lived through the Bush years will look back to:

  • September 11, and the days afterwards;
  • the period from September 2002 until March 2003, the build-up to and the opening days of, the Iraq war.

All these years on, it is hard to see the period after September 11 as anything but a missed opportunity – for a president who had won in a disputed election to become the president of all Americans by creating some form of national unity government in response to the crisis – or to call on all Americans to do their part to pro-actively make the world better – something, anything. Instead, he told us to go out and buy stuff, and to be very afraid, and that if we offered him enough leeway, he would be able to protect us. He used the crisis as a political wedge issue; he used it to seize more power for the presidency; he used it to win elections for his party and himself. He abused his office and this moment in history.

It is difficult to remember today that they held vigils in Tehran; that the Irananian moderates in charge of Iran at the time offered to (and did) help us take down the Taliban, and that they wanted to make peace with America1; that in France, Le Monde declared that all citizens of the world were New Yorkers now; that we, as Americans, realized what petty squabbles we had been having for the past decades; that we together honored those men and women who served as firefighters and policemen, as soldiers and spies, whose job it was to protect and serve.

That day – the horrendous attack of that day – reminded those around the world, and those in America, what we had in common, and what all of us admired about this great nation.

Which is why, nearly seven years later, what I feel most is regret – that the opportunity that presents itself with any tragedy was squandered, and then abused. I was amazed when reading the entry posted above that this squandered opportunity, this abuse of power, was already evident while the ruins at Ground Zero were still smoldering.

Members of the Bush administration are fond of saying that everything changed on September 11. They have been ridiculed for it – and rightly so, because for them, that concept has been used to justify the policies they were promoting beforehand. It was rather convenient for them that September 11 changed everything – and proved that what they had been promoting before September 11 was more needed now than ever before – expanded executive powers, an expansion of surveillance powers, war with Iraq, tax cuts, reduced financial regulation, and more Republicans in the Congress.

But what the mockers miss is that something fundamental did change on 9/11. The American people were forced to focus on the world again; many of us no longer felt safe – even if our fears were overstated, and outside of the major cities, almost entirely unfounded. The more fundamental change was emotional, a change of timbre. We were forced to reckon with the fact that some people in the world were so willing to kill us, indiscriminately, that they would kill themselves in order to do so; and we realized that our values and our ways of life have far more in common than in opposition. Despite the partisan attempts to take advantage of this crisis and the polarization that resulted, these emotional facts remain latent. We still remember – however dimly – that we are one people, with far more uniting us than dividing us; and we remember that in our moment of weakness, the world mourned our losses with us and stood with us; and we remember that there are those who wish us harm and who are willing to sacrifice themselves in their cause.

None of this is exceptional, but it sets the stage for the story to unfold.

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  1. We didn’t respond. []

An emotional calculus

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

In evaluating the legacy of the administration of George W. Bush and where we need to go as a nation from here, we need to undertake the delicate, obscure, and imprecise art of projecting how the future will be affected by our decisions today, taking into account the many elements of the past and present that are out of our control. This unknowability of the future and how our decisions affect is one of the essential pragmatic and moral arguments in favor of democracy – because we cannot determine the optimal course using reason, we all take shared responsibility for making our best judgment.Emotions are our attempt, as beings of limited understanding and knowledge, to synthesize the great unconscious mass of our knowledge – the subtle hints, the forgotten information, the half-remembered, the projections based on our past experience – with that which we have analyzed and understood.

What I propose to do here is to perform a kind of emotional calculus – which I think is commonly practiced but rarely described in these terms. Reason is often said to be the light illuminating the darkness; but the future is made of a darkness impenetrable to reason’s light; instead of walking confidently down a lighted path, we instead must grope in the darkness, struggling to identify how best to make our way, and only slowly coming to understand our surroundings.

This is the first part of a three part argument – to be posted on the blog (in at least three parts) over the next week – based on my understanding of two events from the early days of the Bush administration and a more recent event, and how these events relate to what might be called grandiosely the American psyche – but more aptly would be called my personal insight into what Carl Jung identified as the collective unconscious. I would call this attempt David Brooks-esque without being leavened by humor.

My method begins with my own personal experiences and follows an emotional logic.
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Why I write this blog

Sunday, December 9th, 2007

It’s been about two months since I’ve started this blog. I started it knowing only that I wanted to write, and that I already had a dozen ideas for posts or articles. There were many times as well when I would read this or that article and be frustrated at the inaccuracies, and I wanted to correct them, or add to them, and I thought could advance the collective conversation.

This blog has in many ways been more successful than I anticipated – with over 125,000 pageviews and over 80,000 absolute unique visitors in this short time. I’ve been writing only in my free time here and there – a few minutes before lunch at work, after I get home at night, and on weekends.

Recently, I have been trying to determine what exactly it is that I have to offer, and therefore what this blog should be about. My most popular link so far was this funny cat video I came across on a Saturday night and embedded; next was this bit of electoral analysis which has proved remarkably prescient, especially in its title “The Beginning of the End of Hillary 2008”; then comes this uneven piece on the rhetoric used in the debate on what to do about terrorists and terrorism. As you go further down the list, there is one piece of pop-political-philosophy discussing the differences between two libertarian-minded political trends; a mention of Chris Rock’s comments introducing Obama with related video; the contrasting stories of the interrogation of two Al Qaeda related prisoners in the aftermath of September 11; and a video of a cheerleader getting trampled by a football team. The posts cover a wide range – from clear fluff to horse-race analysis of the presidential campaigns to more serious discussions of issues.

What is it that I have to offer?

Given my position – having a full-time job and blogging on the side – I cannot do what I would most want to do, in-depth first person research on every topic.1 But I think there are other things I have to offer. I am a voracious consumer of media – especially about news and politics. I listen to many unedited candidate and policy-maker speeches.2 I care deeply about a number of issues and follow them closely in the news including the issue of liberty in America today, the fate of Pakistan, the attempt to create a practical and moral foreign policy, and the construction of a strategy to wage a smart and effective War on Terror. I read opinions from a broad political spectrum, and take them seriously. Or at least most of them. I have read books by Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, and Barry Goldwater, as well as books by Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, and I regularly read both conservative and liberal blogs and magazines, as well as some radicals that are not so easily classified. 3 I believe I have generally sound judgment and a sense of the political winds, as well as a unique and insightful views on current events.

So what I have to offer is this: a funny video every Saturday; analysis of where the politics is headed in the near and slightly-less-near future; and serious policy discussion (leavened with some humor).

What this blog is about

There is one issue which above all shapes my thoughts today and is the impetus behind this blog: the precariousness of the American experiment. I am convinced that America’s status as a liberal4 democratic republic is in existential danger. This danger is not only from terrorism, but from our government’s response to terrorism. I have come to believe that the Bush administration has undermined and subverted many of the institutions and ideas that have kept executive power in check since our founding: the media, the Supreme Court, the independence of executive agencies, the military, the Congress, and the rule of law. At the same time, the Bush administration has posited monarchical powers for the presidency, they have been relatively reticent in using them. 5 For example, while Bush has asserted the authority to declare any person a terrorist and enemy combatant and hold them secretly and indefinitely without trial or charge and torture them for information, and given such a broad definition of terrorism as to include anyone who even criticizes him, he does not seem to have used this power to the extent he has asserted he can. This has led many people to see the rhetoric of those raising the alarm about these issues as unhinged from the reality of their lives. But because Bush has asserted such powers and undermined every check on his power, we are closer than ever to a police state.

Let me be clear – I think in every practical sense, America today is far from a police state. But with the theoretical foundations laid down by this administration, and the subversion of any check on executive power, we seem to be only one 9/11 away from a fall from authentic liberal democracy. It is this concern that is the prism which affects how I see every issue: it is why I became a Barack Obama supporter; why I am afraid of Rudy Giuliani; why I am so opposed to torture; why I am so concerned about our strategy in the War on Terrorism; why I started this blog; and why I will continue to write and seek other ways to affect America’s fate.

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  1. I am trying to do this though, and to do it more – sending emails, letters, and in other ways trying to contact the subjects of my pieces; and also trying to get more information in this way. []
  2. Through C-Span, the Constitution Center, and the Council of Foreign Relations primarily. []
  3. I believe there is a third way in politics – but that neither Bill Clinton nor his wife have found it, relying instead on cynical triangulation and the papering over of large differences with clever rhetoric. []
  4. In the classical sense. []
  5. Only relative to what they have asserted is their power. For example, the Bush administration has asserted that it does not need Congressional approval to go to war, but it still asked for it. []

The Disengagement with Power

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

All of these legacies have left the young feeling depressed, cynical and powerless. And yet our democracy needs them more than ever now. Young people are always in the vanguard of any movement to sustain or advance liberty. Students led the charge for freedom in Prague and Mexico City in 1968, in Chile in 1973, in Beijing and throughout Eastern Europe in 1989.

Naomi Wolf in the Washington Post on the disengagement with power of the Post 9/11 generation. I’ve posted about this before: excerpts from an interview with a former radical Weatherman, a meditation on the post 9/11 generation, and a similar, but much more extreme version of this disengagement and its effects in the islamist movement.

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