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What is an appropropriate response?
Political and philosophical considerations after the attack on the Word Trade Center

[Psychotherapy in Place of Democracy]

Susan Sontag
The New Yorker

The disconnect between last Tuesday's monstrous dose of reality and the 
self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public 
figures and TV commentators is startling, depressing. The voices licensed 
to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to 
infantilize the public. Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a
"cowardly" attack on "civilization" or "liberty" or "humanity" or "the free
world" but an attack on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken 
as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many 
citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq? And if the 
word "cowardly" is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who
kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those 
willing to die themselves in order to kill others. In the matter of 
courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the 
perpetrators of Tuesday's slaughter, they were not cowards.

Our leaders are bent on convincing us that everything is O.K. America is 
not afraid. Our spirit is unbroken, although this was a day that will live
in infamy and America is now at war. But everything is not O.K. And this 
was not Pearl Harbor. We have a robotic President who assures us that 
America still stands tall. A wide spectrum of public figures, in and out 
of office, who are strongly opposed to the policies being pursued abroad 
by this Administration apparently feel free to say nothing more than that 
they stand united behind President Bush. A lot of thinking needs to be 
done, and perhaps is being done in Washington and elsewhere, about the 
ineptitude of American intelligence and counter-intelligence, about 
options available to American foreign policy, particularly in the Middle 
East, and about what constitutes a smart program of military defense. But 
the public is not being asked to bear much of the burden of reality. The 
unanimously applauded, self-congratulatory bromides of a Soviet Party 
Congress seemed contemptible. The unanimity of the sanctimonious, 
reality-concealing rhetoric spouted by American officials and media 
commentators in recent days seems, well, unworthy of a mature democracy.

Those in public office have let us know that they consider their task to 
be a manipulative one: confidence-building and grief management. Politics,
the politics of a democracy - which entails disagreement, which promotes 
candor - has been replaced by psychotherapy. Let's by all means grieve 
together. But let's not be stupid together. A few shreds of historical 
awareness might help us understand what has just happened, and what may 
continue to happen. "Our country is strong," we are told again and again. 
I for one don't find this entirely consoling. Who doubts that America is 
strong? But that's not all America has to be.