Rethinking 9/11

By CATHERINE TUMBER  |  September 11, 2006

We are seeing various expressions of the totalitarian impulse, including in our government right now. That tendency to fight totalitarianism with totalitarianism. That, if there are people who want to “destroy” our way of life, then we have to fight them by pretty much doing the same things — the mirror impulse that led to things like Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, or “extraordinary rendition.”

The impulse toward safety through absolutism and idealism is so terrifying and so deep in human nature; it occurs in progressive and leftist thought just as often as it does on the right. Every utopianism is totalitarian at heart. This is such a human impulse and so complicated and difficult to recognize. It recurs so regularly in so many different clothes. Almost nobody goes and blows up buildings because they think of themselves as evil. They do it out of a belief in good — and good is a terrible thing sometimes, a very dangerous temptation.

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Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and Public Life, Boston College

What the last five years have proven to me is how unbelievably important leadership is. The more time goes by, the more I see how truly unlucky we were. We’ve had huge crises before in this country — the Civil War, the Depression, Pearl Harbor, but we managed to come through those essentially because of who was in the president’s office. Lincoln, for example, was an unsuccessful and inexperienced politician, and people saw him as one of the weakest candidates in the election of 1860. Yet he became the greatest president in our history. That was really a lucky break. FDR was kind of a playboy. Nobody pictured that he would rise to the occasion, but he did and also became one of our greatest presidents. I think that could have happened on September 11, and in fact I thought it did happen on September 11, at least initially. I was not a Bush supporter, but my reaction to this horrible event was, my god, once again we’re blessed. After a few moments of hesitation he really came through. But I sure don’t feel that way now. We’re at a great historical turning point in this country because — and I don’t want to sound like an extremist, here — we have one of the worst conceivable men in office, and the setback to our country as a result of what he has done and used 9/11 as cover for, will take at least half a century to recover from.

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