Victory over Evil
by DANIEL GREENFIELD
September 11, 2010
When a nation loses its way and gives up on its own destiny, exchanging the birthright of its own exceptionalism for the porridge of self-amusement—it takes a collision with an unthinkable evil to remind it of its place in the world. Too many Americans had accepted the postmodern view of the world, one in which there was neither good nor evil, just a variety of opinions and viewpoints. That postmodern world seemed more comfortable with its welcoming non-judgmentalism and its disbelief in destiny. It was a world that did not ask anything of us, except to occasionally pretend that we care.
9/11 changed that. It tore down the sky and opened a gaping hole in the self-centered arrogance that had been the legacy of the 90’s, best exemplified by its champion, the morally ambiguous William Jefferson Clinton. It reminded us that we cannot just be satisfied with bread and circuses. That the world does not exist for our amusement. And that all views and beliefs are not created equal. That despite the ironic detachment of pop culture, there was a right and a wrong. And that despite the retreat from faith in a higher being, to a faith in our own technocratic castles in the sky, there was such a thing as good and evil. And not that we had forgotten that we were meant to be the good-- evil had come to pay a call on us.
With the fall of the Soviet Union, and even long before then, many Americans had ceased to believe that there was an evil out there. Only different views, governments and cultures. But in defeating one evil, a power vacuum had opened in which an old dormant evil could thrive again. And so it shall always be.
We had come to think of the “good life” as a natural and inevitable outcome of our own gifts and talents. But it requires more than that. It requires that we stand ready to resist those who would destroy it. On 9/11 we met our opposite, the mirror image of what we had allowed ourselves to become. Fanatics with a murderous faith, confronting a country that had come too close to forgetting its own. Destroyers attacking a civilization of builders. Barbarians besieging the gate of a civilization that had forgotten the sacrifices which had built their cities, and the price paid to raise up their walls.
9/11 interrupted the culture of passivity with a warning and a challenge. Either we would defy and defeat evil anew, or it would consume us whole, as it had done to so many cultures and countries around the world. Our “good life” could not be seen as an unchallenged gift, but an inheritance we would have to fight for over and over again. There is horror in that, but there is also greatness. Because men and women are not uplifted by wallowing in comfort and plenty, but by testing their bodies and souls against challenges, and prevailing over them.
We were not made to be a nation of credit card holders and sofa cushion sitters, fast food eaters and spectator sports watchers. These things are part of the reward of wealth for the challenges that we have already overcome. But to take consumerism as a gift, rather than a reward, is to become debauched by it, as so many peoples have by wealth and plenty before us. We do not need to feel guilt for what we have, only guilt for forgetting why we have it. Because generation after generation fought challenges of every sort to win it for us. And if we allow ourselves to forget or to imagine that those challenges were only in the past, we throw away what they fought so hard to gain for us. Not mere wealth, but freedom.
9/11 was not only a call to arms, but a call to awareness. The awareness that what we have is not free, it must be paid for in generation after generation. There is no final victory and no permanent armistice. As long as human evil endures in the world, so long we must be prepared to fight against it. The latest phase of a very old war has come again. We can be uplifted by the struggle against it, or destroyed by the submission to it. The choice is ours. The consequences of that choice however will follow us across generations and to the end of time.