In the days and weeks after 9/11/01, I recall being very disappointed in some of my friends and acquaintances who, through one instance or another, proved themselves to be racist assholes. I admit and have admitted that right after the Twin Towers fell, I had a little bloodlust, myself. I wanted to pound Osama bin Laden in his ugly face and carpet bomb whatever sand-choked hellhole he had squirreled himself away in. But I never felt like attacking Muslims, frankly I didn’t make the direct connection between Islam and the events of 9/11 until FOX News kindly pointed it out for me. When someone carries out hurtful acts in the name of a religion that otherwise preaches peace and moderation, then they are not representatives of that religion. They’re wackos.
So right after 9/11, I noticed that a lot of my peers and neighbors were fucking dickfaces. It wasn’t just the people around me, either, but all over America there were flags on car bumpers and anti-Muslim slogans and outbursts of racist violence that, quite honestly, scared the shit out of me. As our army was pulled from Afghanistan and sent to Iraq in order to ferret out those elusive Weapons of Mass Destruction, I wondered what the fuck is happening in my country? I felt powerless, the events that directly affected my life were out of my control and coalescing into something I could not understand. There is nothing wrong with owning and displaying the American flag, if that’s your thing, but the implied and actual jingoism of the early twenty-first century was a little much.
I got a similar sense reading In the Garden of Beasts by the engaging and talented Erik Larsen. It’s about a family of four, the Dodds, the head of which was a Midwestern university professor, tapped by President Franklin D. Roosevelt for travel to Berlin as an ambassador of America. He takes his clan: wife, son, and his free-spirited and sexually liberated daughter Martha, and when they arrive to Germany in 1933, Hitler has only just become Chancellor and the Nazi Party is gaining its footholds. In just one year, the Nazis break the Treaty of Versailles, remove practically every right of Jewish citizens, and stage a bloody coup in which as many as a thousand people are simultaneously assassinated. In the middle of it all is the Dodd family, beholden to American isolationist interests, but recoiling in horror at what is happening in Germany.
It’s easy to pretend that the Nazis rose to power overnight, confounding an otherwise peaceful public who went to bed one evening and discovered Stormtroopers goose-stepping down their streets the next morning. But it didn’t happen like that, and political coups are rarely that abrupt. We remember the acts of violence: Kristallnacht, concentration camp murders, the bombing of London. But we don’t recall the legislation put into place years earlier that forbade gentiles to marry Jews, or made it mandatory to salute parades and any Nazi officers that happened to pass within one’s field of vision. It’s a subtle ramp up to accepting a fascist dictatorship, so sneaky that you barely realize anything’s changed until you discover that all of your Jewish neighbors have disappeared. And then you remember that they had an awesome radio in their living room.
I wonder how far along this path we Americans went in the years following 2001. We accepted the Patriot Act, we accepted an unjust military foray into Iraq, we accepted that we would have to sacrifice some of our personal freedom for the hope of safety. Often I wonder if we’re still headed down that path. We subject ourselves to a degrading experience every time we travel by air, is it impossible to think that at the end of a line of people taking off their shoes and belts, wearily but willingly being prodded by metal detectors, there might be a communal shower filled with Zyklon B? Would you step into the shower if you thought that it would stop another 9/11 from happening, or would you resist? At that point, would resisting even be an option?
I’ve heard from a few people that don’t know what the title of this essay is about. I’m surprised at all of you! See below.