‘A Unified, Unifying, Pearl Harbor Sort of Purple American Fury’

My bookshelves were a mess.

I worked at a used bookstore right after college and they basically paid me half in money, and half in pages, so I left Madison, Wisconsin ten years ago with fourteen boxes of books, to marry a pack rat with ten boxes of his own. We lived first in a town with a limited library but with proximity to the great bookstores of the city, so we added to our collection accordingly. Friends wrote books, gave us books, lent us books, we lent books back, and when we last moved, six years ago, we had forty boxes. I shudder to think what will happen if we ever move again.

I do not organize books. I take them down and put them back and count on my increasingly faulty memory to tell me where I put them. I lend books, books are lent to me. I read history, mystery, novels, poetry, plays, I save newspapers and magazines and they all wind up piled on the shelves in our spare bedroom until the place looks like what arsonists dream about. The shelves were messy, and today, when our brunch plans were canceled by a friend’s unfortunate cold, I decided to make myself useful, yank every single volume down, dust, straighten and organize.

In the process of which, I was going through all the magazines we saved after 9/11, or rather the magazines Mr. A saved; I was too busy writing then to read. And so I’d never really sat down with Time’s 9/11 Tribute or Memorial or Whatever issue until this afternoon. Good God. I mean, good vanilla chai buttercream God. Here’sLance Morrow:

A day cannot live in infamy without the nourishment of rage. Let’s have
rage. What’s needed is a unified, unifying, Pearl Harbor sort of purple
American fury—a ruthless indignation that doesn’t leak away in a week
or two, wandering off into Prozac-induced forgetfulness or into the
next media sensation (O.J. … Elián … Chandra …) or into a corruptly
thoughtful relativism (as has happened in the recent past, when, for
example, you might hear someone say, “Terrible what he did, of course,
but, you know, the Unabomber does have a point, doesn’t he, about
modern technology?”).

Let America explore the rich reciprocal
possibilities of the fatwa. A policy of focused brutality does not come
easily to a self-conscious, self-indulgent, contradictory, diverse,
humane nation with a short attention span. America needs to relearn a
lost discipline, self-confident relentlessness—and to relearn why human
nature has equipped us all with a weapon (abhorred in decent peacetime
societies) called hatred.

Which is, incidentally, exactly what happened.Lots of people got good and righteously pissed off. Then about a third of them, unfortunately the third on TV, decided to have a little contest to see if anybody was insufficiently angry, and to use one or two people who weren’t amped up enough about a war to smear the two-thirds of the country that wasn’t still functionally insane two years later.

Anybody who said, “Erm, about Iraq, shouldn’t we try not to blow it up if we can’t un-blow it up afterward …” was the equivalent of a dolphin-fucking vegan, or something, meanwhile we were torturing people in secret prisons and it was gauche to mention it. The New York Times politely withheld a story about how we were illegally wiretapping ourselves and Bush got re-elected, just so nobody was offended or “political,” and Natalie Maines said fuck your war, except she didn’t, but you have to wonder if after they bulldozed her CDs she wished she had. It was like that thing they put the bingo balls in, that goes around and around, and every number they pulled was worse than the one before.

Morrow goes on:

It is not a bad idea to repeat a line from the 19th century French
anarchist thinker Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: “The fecundity of the
unexpected far exceeds the prudence of statesmen.” America, in the
spasms of a few hours, became a changed country. It turned the corner,
at last, out of the 1990s. The menu of American priorities was
rearranged. The presidency of George W. Bush begins now. What seemed
important a few days ago (in the media, at least) became instantly
trivial. If Gary Condit is mentioned once in the next six months on
cable television, I will be astonished.

I would like to ask Morrow if he is astonished today.

The mistake they made, the mistake all those people who so solemnly declared the age of triviality over made, is assuming the new solemnity wasn’t a reality show all its own, wouldn’t become the new Gary Condit topic, wouldn’t get just as trivialized as everything else gets, when you put these fucking morons in charge of presenting it to us on TV every night. Assuming that everything that came with a chyron and a soundtrack wasn’t the same, wouldn’t start to sound the same after a while. And couldn’t be treated the same, then, trivialized, until we’d believe anything we were told so long as it appeared on the program as scheduled.

The presidency of George W. Bush did indeed begin then. It ends next week, and in the interim? The intervening eight years? You sons of bitches. You motherfuckers, who did this to us. I wish I had something better than that to say. Maybe I will, later on, as we get closer to this being over, I think, but then I think about the people whose stories we don’t even know, and I can’t think it will be over, ever, ever be over.

I looked at the newspapers, the magazines, everything we saved from that week, as I was organizing my bookshelves. Magazines from the days after 9/11, from the start of the war. And I felt the fury Morrow was asking us in his column to find.


3 thoughts on “‘A Unified, Unifying, Pearl Harbor Sort of Purple American Fury’

  1. The mistake far too many of us made was to not let the fury give way to reason after a very few weeks. I, too, wanted to grab an axe and chop off the heads of a lot of people who don’t live in a country like this, but before 11/11 I had cooled off and was back to rational thinking.
    I was even rational enough to recognize that invading Afghanistan was a mistake. Never for a second did I think there was even a smidgeon of reason behind invading Iraq.
    Guess who was fanning the fires of hatred all of that time? If you have trouble remembering, here is a hint – they are out of office in 9 days.

  2. It’s especially maddening and galling for those of us who didn’t fall for it, not for a minute. I don’t think we deserve praise for it, mind you, remaining sane. I was certainly no less horrified by the September 11th attacks than your average freaked-out wingnut screaming for revenge, I just didn’t take it as an excuse to give my ordinary, boring, life some kind of Deep Meaning and Purpose, and that’s what makes me the angriest about it all, in retrospect. Those bastards were ENJOYING it. It was EXCITING to them. They got to talk tough and swagger about AND be “victims” at the same time. Fuck them. I will not forget what they did, and I will not forgive them.

  3. as a 10%, i just watched us get stupider. my epal still thought saddam was involved somehow in 9/11. that training. DUH. of course i had to edjumicate her.
    depends if i changed her mind. she knows i’m one of them democrats.

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