“The Terror Dream”
I’d like to follow up Scarecrow’s fine post about what should have happened in the wake of 9/11 because it’s relevant to a book I’m reading right now (and loving) which tries to get at the heart of why it didn’t.
I always find it ironic when people try to dismiss the liberal blogosphere as some kind of “boys club,” because much of the media critique we regularly offer up is founded (whether people realize it or not) on feminist thought. Susan Faludi’s book Backlash, as others have noted, still holds up remarkably well today and provided much of the prototype for what we do on a daily basis.
In The Terror Dream, Faludi has written what I think is an important work for the moment as we try desperately to extricate ourselves from an imperialistic foreign policy and politicians who are locked into a narrative where bellicosity is equated with strength. In the wake of 9/11, the country suffered a collective trauma that Faludi argues exposed deep sexual anxieties and caused us to fall back violently and reflexively into native myths of gunslinging cowboys and fainting virgins in need of rescue as we struggled to compensate for a threatened sense of national virility:
Throughout the fall of 2001, the media attempted to position the assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as a reprise of pearl harbor, a new “day of infamy” that would reinvigorate our world War II ethic of national unity and sacrifice, a long-awaited crucible in which self-absorbed Americans would at long last, be forged into the twenty-first century’s stoic army of the latest Greatest Generation. But the summons to actual sacrifice never came. No draft ensued, no Rosie the Riveters were called to duty, no ration cards issued, no victory gardens planted. Most of all, no official moral leadership emerged to challenge Americans to think constructively about our place in the world, to redefine civic commitment and public responsibility. There was no man in a wheelchair in the White House urging on us a reassessment of American strength and weakness. What we had was a chest beater in a borrowed flight suit, instructing us to max out our credit cards for the cause.
Indeed, we stood by and watched as the world was inherited instead by Yellow Elephants, content to outsource the fighting to those already on the losing end of a class war.
One need look no further than the esteemed punditry of Tom Friedman’s “suck on this, Iraq” to see that the threat we actually faced and the insecurities that it punctured might perchance be two different things. As she writes:
In the years since 2001, we’ve been on a circus ride of impractical policies and improbable “protective” politics more on the desire to reinstate a social fiction than on the need to respond to actual threats. The enemy that hit us on September 11 was real. But our citizenry wasn’t asked to confront a real enemy. The arrest and prosecution of our antagonists seemed to be of only secondary concern. Instead, we were enlisted in a symbolic war at home, a war to repair and restore our national myth of invincibility. Our retreat to the fifties reached beyond movie troops and the era’s odd mix of national insecurity and domestic containment. It reaches back beyond the fifties themselves. For our peculiar reaction to 9/11 — our fixation on saving little girls and restoring an invincible manhood – is not so anomalous. It belongs to a long-standing American pattern of response to threat, a response that we’ve been perfecting since our original wilderness experience.
As we observe the sixth anniversary of September 11 it’s time to start detangling our dark and ignoble response to the events of that day that led to the launch of a war based on lies, ego and macho bravura. Susan Faludi’s book represents an important contribution to the deconstruction of that response and I’m very happy that she’s going to be joining us on November 4 for the Book Salon. I urge everyone to buy the book, read it and join us. We need to free up our party, our candidates and our country from the atavistic myths that dominate our political discourse and our international policy, and Faludi’s book is an insightful and well-written attempt to begin that task.