Sunday, September 11, 2011

Two Extremes for 9/11: Hate and Forgiveness

Deacon Greg Kandra in the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn recalls a splendid memorial to those who had fallen on September 11, 2001:

Anyone who saw the 2002 Super Bowl saw something unforgettable.

And it had nothing to do with sports.

It was held in New Orleans, in the Super Dome. The half time entertainment was Bono and U-2. There must have been 100-thousand people in the stadium, cheering wildly. Bono stepped onto the stage and the lights dimmed and the crowd roared and the band began to play.

If you watch video of that performance, you can hear Bono, over the music and the cheering, speaking into his microphone: “Lord, open my lips that my mouth may sing forth your praise.” The same words spoken at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Hours in the Catholic Church.

And in fact, what followed turned out to be a kind of prayer.

As the song began, and the music swelled, behind the stage a massive banner started to rise, coming up from the floor of the stage, rising toward the ceiling, hundreds of feet above. Around the world, I imagine, millions of viewers were transfixed – stunned and moved what they were witnessing.

On the banner were projected the names of all those who had died on 9/11, less than five months before.

And the music continued, and it went on, Bono and U2 singing about a place “where the streets have no name.” And the banner kept growing, and the list kept getting longer. It seemed like it would never end. Name after name after name, like a visual litany of the lost.

Then the banner reached the roof of the Superdome. And it collapsed, rippling to the floor. For a brief moment, we were back there, and it all was happening again.

To see it so clearly was devastating.

And at the end of the song, with the crowd on its feet, screaming wildly, Bono opened his jacket and there, inside, was sewn an American flag. He stood there in defiance, and in pride, and in solidarity.

There have been so many other tributes and memorials and remembrances since that day – but nothing like that. It was raw, and it was real. An Irishman stood on a stage in New Orleans and paid tribute to a tragedy that struck New York and Pennsylvania and Washington and he said, in effect, I’m with you. Inside, I’m one of you. This is my tribute, my remembrance, my prayer.

By way of sheer contrast, an infamous liberal can see only blackness in the commemorations of the event:

What happened after 9/11 — and I think even people on the right know this, whether they admit it or not — was deeply shameful. Te atrocity should have been a unifying event, but instead it became a wedge issue. Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror. And then the attack was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons.

A lot of other people behaved badly. How many of our professional pundits — people who should have understood very well what was happening — took the easy way out, turning a blind eye to the corruption and lending their support to the hijacking of the atrocity?

The memory of 9/11 has been irrevocably poisoned; it has become an occasion for shame. And in its heart, the nation knows it.

I’m not going to allow comments on this post, for obvious reasons.

Have it your way, Mr. Krugman. Let's let Deacon Greg have the last word, shall we?

It is difficult to capture what this anniversary means to us as Americans, as New Yorkers, as Catholic Christians. The things we feel are almost beyond words. We are still, in many ways, groping in the dark, struggling to find a way to deal with what happened, and how much our lives and our world have changed. Yet, this day, as we come before the altar of God with our prayers and petitions, our grief and our anger, we hear these words from the ancient prophet:

“Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.”

In the gospel, Jesus says it again: “Forgive your brother,” he says, “from your heart.”

But how? I wish I knew. I wish there were a mystical way to click on a forgiveness switch in the human heart. I wish I knew how to love all my enemies and pray for all my persecutors and “forgive my neighbor’s injustice” – even this most heinous injustice of all.

I think perhaps that forgiveness – like conversion – is a journey. The human heart isn’t necessarily converted over night. We don’t all have that electrifying moment on the road to Damascus. For many of us, it grows out of what Flannery O’Connor called “a habit of being.” It happens over a lifetime.

Conversion is a daily choice. So, is love.

And so, I believe, is forgiveness.

Like all of the challenges of our faith, it is something we need to pray for – to pray to able to do what we are called to do.

To love our neighbor.

To love our enemies.

To forgive our neighbor’s injustice.

C.S. Lewis put it beautifully. “To be a Christian,” he wrote, “is to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven it in us.”

We forgive you your inexcusable hatred and bile, Mr. Krugman. May God forgive you, as well.


  1. I don't see any hatred and bile in what Mr. Krugman wrote. What is hateful about looking straight-on at what 9/11 did to this country?

    We invaded two countries, and wreaked death and destruction in both places far out of proportion to what happened in America, visited largely on people with no conceivable culpability for 9/11. We abandoned the standards of the Geneva Convention, and not only tortured prisoners, but defended it. We stretched the endurance of our soldiers to the very limit, sending them to tour after tour of duty. (I know families bankrupted because middle-age fathers were send off to Iraq, coming home to long-term hospitalization.) And all this time we never bothered to ask any taxpayer to make any sacrifice to pay for any of this.

    What is unpatriotic about pointing out these things? Personally, I think waving a flag no more makes one a patriot than wearing a cross makes one a Christian. It was certainly appropriate to seek out and punish those who committed the atrocities of 9/11. But I don't think it unpatriotic or hateful to question whether the decade-long unleashing of American military power in the Middle East and Central Asia will really be condusive to American security.

  2. Rick Allen, thank you for offering some counterpoint to the post. If you can find no hatred or bile in this one sentence, then you are, I suggest, identifying a little too closely with Mr. Krugman and his sentiments:

    "Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror."

    In the larger view, I do not like what 9/11 did to our country any more than you do. But looking at the reactions to that horror by Rudy Giuliani and George W. Bush, and naming them fake "heroes" for what they did immediately afterward to keep us safe, is simply spilling bile, and not any form of truth-telling. If 9/11 becomes nothing but an occasion for shame, then we all will have lost a good deal, and will have surrendered to those who attacked us.

  3. As a follow-up to the above exchange, readers might be interested in today's piece by James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal, who sums up the reaction to Krugman's post in his title:

    "History's Smallest Monster".

    And then be sure to read this article by Mark Helprin in the Claremont Review of Books, which makes the larger point that Rick Allen was making, about the errors in our long-term response to 9/11:

    "The Central Proposition".

  4. Mr. Haley, I agree that the characterization of politicians as "fake heros" was harsh, but, for me, it had a ring of truth, even if perhaps too narrowly applied.

    We rightly do not expect our politicians to have the kind of courage that leads a man to run into a burning building, any more than we expect the general to lead the charge. But we do look for a lesser political courage, that places a premium on doing the right thing, even if it is unpopular and can lead to the end of a career, or a party's fall from power.

    I have to say that, in looking back, I remember much more pandering than leadership. It is normal for those of us in the crowd to want vengance, and it is the rare politician who doesn't give it to us when we clamor for it. It still seems to me that our main response to 9/11 was blood and fire, and I'm not particularly proud of that.

    To say that takes nothing away from those who did display courage and sacrifice.

    Since I am a Democrat you will not be surprised that I fault the Republican administration. But there was just as great a failing among Democratic politicians, a fear of being called "unpatriotic," a hesitation to take a stand for measures short of war. It puts me in mind of the reflections near the conclusion of Waugh's "The End of the Battle": "Even good men thought their private honor would be satisfied by war....God forgive me, I was one of them."

    (And I cite Waugh as he is as close as I know to the Platonic ideal of the conservative.)

  5. I’m curious about your description of Paul Krugman as an “infamous liberal.” Is he “infamous” because he’s a liberal? Or is this particular liberal “infamous,” while others are, I suppose, merely misguided? Is Krugman widely viewed as “infamous” or viewed as such only by his political opponents?

    Krugman cites George Bush, who used 9/11 to launch a war against a country that had nothing to do with that horrific crime and to sanction torture as official state policy; Rudy Giuliani, who insisted that emergency command and control remain at the WTC, despite the first attack in 1993, and failed to give firefighters proper radios; and Bernard Kerik, former NYC police commissioner, who was sentenced to four years in prison following his plea of guilty to eight felony charges, including hiding profits and royalties from his post-9/11 autobiography.

    In pointing out that these emperors have no clothes, Krugman shows once again that he is among today’s most courageous and incisive commentators. Are those of us who view Krugman this way tainted by his infamy?

  6. No liberals are "infamous" just because they are liberals, Jeff -- you have to work for the appellation, no matter what are your political stripes. I notice that Paul Krugman's remarks about "rac[ing] to cash in on the terror" were not seconded by any other prominent liberals; nor, indeed, do I recall any of the major liberal papers criticizing President Bush's appearance at Ground Zero at the time for such a motive, or accusing Rudy Giuliani or Bernard Kerik of "cashing in" on the tragedy for their seeking and accepting help from around the country to dig out of the rubble and try to recover as many remains as possible for identification and a decent burial.

    (Yes, in retrospect, you and others on the left are free to impugn the long-term motives of Bush et al.,, but that was not the point of my post. Krugman's impugning of their motives "immediately after" 9/11 is, to my limited knowledge, something new -- or at least, if others voiced it at the time, they were drowned out by the chorus of us all coming together to stand behind New York.)

    Krugman's single-minded screed, offered ten years after the fact, takes a grand moment when we were all proud for rallying together to help New York, and besmirches it with his bile. That no one saw fit to be so ugly in print at the time says volumes about why he is "infamous."