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The triumph of American values

7 September 2002

12:00 AM

7 September 2002

12:00 AM

After 11 September America knows who the enemy is, says Mark Steyn. There can be no more polite fictions. Moral clarity and the Bush doctrine of pre-emption now govern world affairs

New Hampshire

September 11 was the day everything changed. Everyone said so, and some still do. This Wednesday, CBS’s special commemoration will be called ‘The Day That Changed America’. Fox, slightly less passive, has gone with ‘The Day America Changed’. But the best proof that nothing has changed are the networks’ day-that-everything-changed specials themselves. The other day I warned against the Dianafication of 11 September. But I was too late. Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, Connie Chung and the rest of the all-star sob-sisters will be out in force with full supporting saccharine piano accompaniment. The most disturbing footage – the planes slicing through the building, 200 people jumping to their deaths, the thud of bodies landing on the lobby roof – will not be shown. The networks have decided our anger needs to be managed. It’s a very 10 September commemoration of 11 September.

Much of the stuff that was alleged to have ‘changed’ never did except in the mind of addlepated media gurus: Irony is dead! Columnists wrote columns about it. And TV producers put vox-pops together with folks who agreed there was no irony to be found. And then people wrote columns ironically commenting on the irony-is-dead TV items. And, pretty soon, irony had snuck back in. And, before you know it, the pneumatic widow Anna Nicole Smith got her own reality show on MTV.

None of this matters. Most Americans don’t watch Anna Nicole. I can’t get MTV, never see it. But, if I could get it, whether or not I watched would be unconnected to the events of 11 September. Nations do not change in a day. The day-everything-changed myth was a convenience. It enabled the media, for example, to explain why the guy they’d dismissed as an idiot for the last year seemed to be handling things okay. If this was the day that changed America, then it must have changed him, too: he’d been ‘transformed’; he’s ‘grown in office’. (This narrative has now been discarded: the Bush dummy jokes are back, the cartoonists have re-shrunk him in office, drawing him once more as a small preppy schoolboy way too teeny for the Oval Office chair.) Bush, of course, was unchanged. He reacted to 11 September just as anyone who’d paid him any heed since 1999 would have expected him to. His view of the world was reinforced by 9/11, not shattered.

The change that occurred on 11 September was a simple one. When Osama bin Laden blew up the World Trade Center, he also blew up the polite fictions of the pre-war world. At Ground Zero, they’ve been working frantically to clear away the rubble. Likewise, at the UN, EU and all the rest, they’ve also been working frantically not so much to clear away the mess but to stick it back together and reconstruct the great fantasy world as it existed on 10 September, that bizarro make-believe land where Nato is a ‘mutual defence alliance’ and Egypt and Saudi Arabia are ‘our staunch friends’. Even in America, some people are still living in that world. You can switch on the TV and hear apparently sane ‘experts’ using phrases like ‘Bush risks losing the support of the Arab League’.


The easiest way to understand how little has changed is to consider the two UN conferences in South Africa which bookend the year. The weekend before 9/11, at the UN Conference Against Racism, Colonialism, Whitey, Hymie and Capitalism, Robert Mugabe’s government was cheered to the rafters for calling on Britain and America to ‘apologise unreservedly for their crimes against humanity’. Last week, when the world’s jetset Luddites convened at the Church of the Sustainable Conception for the so-called Earth Summit, who got the biggest roar this time? Why, ol’ Starver Bob, for a trenchant assault on the wickedness of Tony Blair.

A few weeks earlier, Libya was elected to chair the UN Human Rights Commission. Washington doesn’t expect much from the UN, but why did it have to be Libya? Okay, it’s never going to be America or Britain, but how about Belize or Western Samoa? Why did it have to be something so utterly contemptible of reality as the elevation of Colonel Gaddafi’s flunkey? If the multilateral world is irrelevant, it’s because its organs – the UN, EU, Nato – are diseased and sclerotic, and it has shown no willingness in the last year to address the fact.

Does that mean Bush is a unilateralist? Not at all. Bilateralism is booming. Since 11 September, US-Russian, US-Chinese, US-Indian and US-Turkish relations have all improved, all of which are arguably more important than whether Washington sees eye to eye with Chris Patten. Only a very blinkered, self-absorbed Eurocentric would assume that because Mr Bush (as quoted in The Spectator last week) doesn’t ‘give a shit about the Europeans’, he doesn’t give a shit about anyone else: within a year, for example, the US has built productive relations with the Central Asian republics.

As for Europe, for the next couple of decades it will be too preoccupied saving itself to do much on the world stage: the EU faces a declining birth-rate, rising social costs, a swelling unassimilated immigrant population – all the indicators heading in the wrong direction. Islam For All reported approvingly the other day that, at present demographic rates, in 20 years’ time the majority of Holland’s children (those under 18) will be Muslim. It will be the first Islamic country in western Europe since the loss of Spain. Europe is the colony now.

So, whether or not the world changed, America’s relationship with it did. A year on, there’s still no agreement as to the meaning of 11 September. To some of us, it was an act of war. To Guardian columnists, it was the world’s biggest ‘but’: yes, it was regrettable, BUT it was also a logical consequence of America’s ‘cowboy arrogance’ blah blah. To the Muslims who celebrated openly in Ramallah and in Denmark and at Concordia University in Montreal, it was the most spectacular victory in a long conflict stretching back through Osama’s ever greater provocations of the Nineties to 23 October 1983, when Hezbollah suicide bombers killed 300 American and French soldiers in Beirut and drove the Great Satan out of Lebanon. To other Muslims, it was obviously the work of Mossad. To John Lahr, theatre critic of the New Yorker, it was possibly the work of George W. Bush trying to distract attention from Democrat criticism of his missile-defence plans.

When an opinion-former’s caught unawares, he retreats to his tropes, however lame, as Lahr did, and Pilger, Chomsky et al. But the clearest way to understand the meaning of the day is to look at those who were called upon to act rather than theorise. We now know that the fourth plane, United Flight 93, the one that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, was heading for the White House. Had they made it, it would have been the strike of the day. It might have killed the Vice-President and who knows who else, but, even if it hadn’t, think of the symbolism: the shattered faŒade, smoke billowing from a pile of rubble on Pennsylvania Avenue, just like the money shot in Independence Day. Those delirious Palestinians and Danes and Montrealers would have danced all night.

That they were denied their jubilation is because the dopey hijackers assigned by al-Qa’eda to Flight 93 were halfway across the continent before they made their move and started meandering back east. By the time the passengers began calling home on their cellphones, their families knew what had happened in New York. Unlike those on the earlier flights, the hostages on 93 understood they were aboard a flying bomb intended to kill thousands of their fellow citizens. They knew there would be no happy ending. So they gave us the next best thing, a hopeful ending. Todd Beamer couldn’t get through to anyone except a telephone company operator, Lisa Jefferson. She told him about the planes that had smashed into the World Trade Center. Mr Beamer said the
y had a plan to jump the guys and asked her if she would pray with him, so they recited the 23rd Psalm: ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me….’

Then he and the others rushed the hijackers. At 9.58 a.m., the plane crashed, not into the White House, but in some pasture outside Pittsburgh. As UPI’s James Robbins wrote, ‘The Era of Osama lasted about an hour and half or so, from the time the first plane hit the tower to the moment the General Militia of Flight 93 reported for duty.’

Exactly. The most significant development of 11 September is that it marks the day America began to fight back: 9/11 is not just Pearl Harbor but also the Doolittle Raid, all wrapped up in 90 minutes. No one will ever again hijack an American airliner with boxcutters, or, I’ll bet, with anything else – not because of predictably idiotic new Federal regulations, but because of the example of Todd Beamer’s ad hoc platoon. Faced with a novel and unprecedented form of terror, American technology (cellphones) combined with the oldest American virtue (self-reliance) to stop it cold in little more than an hour. The passengers of Flight 93 were the only victims who knew what the hijackers had in store for them, and so they rose up, and began the transformation of Osama into a has-bin Laden.

Al-Qa’eda might yet come up with something new, but invention and improvisation are the hallmarks of a dynamic culture, not a stagnant one like Islamofascism. Flight 93 foreshadowed the innovations of the Afghan campaign, when men in traditional Uzbek garb sat on horses and used laser technology to guide USAF bombers to their targets. The B2s dropped their load and flew back to base – Diego Garcia or Mississippi. The ‘Vietnam-style quagmire’ crowd made the mistake of assuming the Pentagon is as institutionally resistant to fresh ideas as the average Ivy League faculty or American op-ed page.

The Flight 93 hijackers might have got lucky. They might have found themselves on a plane with John Lahr (‘You guys are working for Bush, right?’) or an Ivy League professor immersed in a long Harper’s article about the iniquities of US foreign policy. They might have found themselves travelling with Robert Daubenspeck of White River Junction, Vermont, who the day after 11 September wrote to my local newspaper advising against retaliation: ‘Someone, someday, must have the courage not to hit back but to look them in the eye and say,


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