September 11, 2003

America's Shame

On this 2nd anniversary of 9/11, the wound might have healed enough to speak a bit about american guilt at the events. No, there was no grand conspiracy by the US to launch the attack but two curious facts exist that nobody, to my knowledge, has ever convincingly explained.

1. The death compensation for the victims is very much out of line with other death benefits before and since that event
2. The WTC victims get more money than the Pentagon victims.

When the Soviet flag came down from the Kremlin and was replaced by the Russian flag, the Cold War ended. There was great talk about a peace dividend and soon the budget knives were out. "The End of History" was at hand. Not only was the defense budget cut but national security faded from swing voters' attentions (the US is electorally divided in three with one third in each ideological camp and a third that swings between the two).

The risk was viewed as low enough that it was acceptable to elect the closest thing we've ever come to an anti-security president as it was more important to punish GHWB's tax betrayal than to maintain a security apparatus that the end of history had rendered unimportant.

That judgment was unchanged by the 1993 WTC bombing. It was unchanged by the Clinton administration's revelation that their first military priority was the integration of homosexual soldiers. It shrugged off the several episodes of singular humiliation of uniformed officers at the hands of Clinton staffers. It was unmoved by the rise of the Taliban, the birth of Al Queda, the ever increasing attacks.

We bugged out of Somalia after condemning our Rangers to die because shipping armor to support them was politically icky and the dead merited no cost to their betrayers. But boy was there a good movie in it later.

And so we woke up, surprised, shocked, and hurt on September 11 to the enormity of the cost of our fecklessness. And though we do not want to admit it to ourselves, we know, in our heart of hearts, that we are ultimately responsible for our lack of preparedness. So we salve our consciences with cash to the families.

But why are the WTC victims paid more than the Pentagon victims? The Pentagon casualties participation in the military make them less innocent. We expect that men in uniform will die in war and do not feel so shamed when it happens.

This is also a partial explanation why our allies' advice to accept a new normalcy, that terrorist strikes will happen and that we will periodically have to bury our dead strikes us so badly. We're viscerally unwilling to consider it. This is not only because in the end it's a bad idea (and it is) but also because we, in our hearts, think we failed our countrymen and are unwilling to live with the idea of failing again.

Posted by TMLutas at September 11, 2003 12:33 PM