The events of September 11, 2001, were an unforgettable tragedy, but they also revealed that the spirit of America is strong and undiminished. Not since the shocking attack on Pearl Harbor has the nation pulled together with such unity and purpose, resolving to endure whatever hardships may be necessary to win the war on terror. We were united in the defense of and belief in our country. It truly brought out the best in our national character.But a small group of influential public intellectuals, writers, members of the media, and academics were not part of this unified response. They still preached the same self-doubt about America and her traditions that have steadily undermined our national confidence and resolve in recent decades. Within days of the attacks this debilitating mindset was in evidence, as influential figures rushed to point the finger at America and decry what they were sure would be our murderous and indiscriminate reaction. While most Americans remain confident of the justice and appropriateness of our military response in Afghanistan, these vocal critics have caused some to wonder whether we brought the attacks on ourselves because of our foreign policy, our popular culture, or our support for Israel.
National morals arbiter Bennett takes America's reaction to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and uses it as a platform to discuss a half dozen of the major social and political issues including the role of pacifism, patriotism, "Islamophobia" and support for Israel. His goal is to bolster support for the Bush administration's War on Terror, and in particular, convince readers that the U.S. is, quite literally, a "country worth fighting for." Bennett's point of view is anchored in the "righteous anger" he feels Americans are justified in feeling against al-Qaeda. To rally the cause, he invokes all the righteous institutions of America the church, the state, the family except our well-regarded ability to tolerate different points of view. Unfortunately, his own anger is directed internally, at the members of the so-called cultural elite mostly journalists and educators who would call into question America's clear mandate to retaliate. This elite, he says, is trained on relativistic, postmodernist theory rather than on what he calls common sense. In so doing, he extrapolates unreasonably from the behavior of a small group of individuals, such as a few university studentss quoted in the press, and applies its thinking to larger class of college students. Further, Bennett excels at simplifying issues to the point where black and white appear out of gray. When he concludes that "why we fight" is to prevent al-Qaeda from acquiring chemical and biological weapons and using them for mass destruction, it is easy to agree with him. But when he condemns self-criticism as a national pathology, his words lose their value. For what is this book, if not a product of self-criticism Bennett rarely ventures beyond his personal convictions. Stirring it may be, but edifying regarding the complexities of America's present situation it is not. (Apr. 9) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 31, 2001
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Excerpt from Why We Fight by William J. Bennett
The Morality of Anger
The ruins of the World Trade Center were still smoking, ash and soot lingered in the air, the odor of death lay everywhere. It was early October 2001, and one army--an army of police and firefighters and rescue workers and volunteers of every stripe--was hard at work clearing, searching, burying, shifting mortar, ministering to mortals. Another army, under the direction of the president and the secretary of defense, was readying itself to move against our attackers. The land was full of grief and full of anger, full of opinion.
What had happened to us? What could we do about it? What should we do about it?
We were not the only ones asking. In the days after September 11, the whole world caught its breath, waiting to see how we would respond. Ordinary people everywhere shared our shock and astonishment, sympathized with our grief, understood our anger, were moved by our unity and solidarity. But both at home and abroad there was also uncertainty, even apprehension, as to what we were going to do about this assault. Would our response be measured and appropriate, or would we strike out blindly, thereby confirming the lowest expectations of both foreign and domestic elite opinion? Long before we responded, the nature of our response had become, for many, a test of our national character.
From where I sat, the quality of both the grief and the anger--fierce, aroused, yet deeply thoughtful--was a sign of everything that is instinctually grand about the American national character. I had agonized for years about what was happening to this American character as our educational standards spiraled ever downward, our elites presided over an unprecedented coarsening of our culture, and our people seemed to be showing clear signs of self-doubt and moral confusion. The truth is that I would rather have gone on agonizing forever than have had my questions answered by a national calamity, but when the calamity occurred on September 11, the overwhelming and immediate reaction of our people--not the grief and anger in themselves but the quality of the grief and anger--certainly helped to answer them.
As for the quality of the post-September 11 opinion, on the whole it, too, bespoke the settled maturity of the American people, tending as it did to coalesce around a consensus view that retaliation had to be swift and uncompromising, adequate to the outrage, and in keeping with the dictates of our moral and political traditions. But there were other opinions as well, motivated, primarily, by the fear that we would overreact, that September 11 would trigger our supposed tendency to blind rage and rash action. Suddenly the name of Curtis LeMay, the American general who was alleged to have recommended that we "bomb Vietnam back to the Stone Age," was in the air again, a code word for what was assumed to be the "default" mode of American military thinking.