In the hours and days after the Boston Marathon bombing, Americans showcased in bloody technicolor the racism, Islamophobia and pure-hate-mongering that are the unfortunate lingering (festering?) by-products of the culture created by the Bush Administration’s handling of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Honestly, I hoped that this time around we might get a glimpse of how different the reaction to a terrorist action might look with the country headed by an administration of markedly different ideology than the previous one. The Obama Administration did attempt to go on record as cautious, calm and authoritative, but its stretch toward a thoughtful moral narrative was drowned out—heckled, even—by the Chicken Little school of reason that was founded by a craven leadership on one fateful September morning, and has been honed and encouraged ever since.
If our national character was not permanently damaged by the Bush Administration’s blatant exploitation of the fear and confusion brought on by 9/11, it suffered a blow so serious that more than a decade later we have recovered neither our courage nor our moral compass. We still scream fear-inspired epithets at an entire ethnic group, 99.99999% of whom bear no blame for the attacks that have reduced us to a quivering, raving mob. We threaten torture, murder, wholesale deportment and worse to neighbors—some of whose families have been in this country for generations—merely because they practice the same religion as some crazy person who decided his ethnicity provided a convenient excuse for him to carry out his psychopathic craving to murder strangers.
What is wrong with us?
Look back at the aftermath of World War II. Hitler was Satan incarnate, Mussolini an opportunistic despot. But for whatever reason, we never held the German or Italian people responsible for the transgressions of their leaders. Why? Because they looked like us? Because they were Lutherans or Catholics? Because the US has been inextricably connected to Europe since its birth? Did we believe, on some level, that war is what they DO in Europe, and our role would forever be to muster ourselves across the water to restore order when the conflicts got ugly?
In spite of Hitler’s and a complicit Europe’s systematic genocide—the truly sick annihilation of nearly six million Europeans of Jewish descent—we gave Europeans a pass. It was upon the Japanese that we unleashed our hysteria, fear and hatred. We were much more inclined to hold all Japanese responsible for the actions of their leaders. It was easy—they did not look like us, they did not share our religious or political history. We didn’t understand them and we didn’t care to. It was easy to demonize the entire race; and so we treated Americans of Japanese descent shamefully. Nearly seventy years after the end of World War II, this failing grade on our national moral report card is a cause of lingering shame and regret.
And yet, it’s obvious that, as a nation, we do not have the capacity to learn from our own mistakes.
Are we still such a young and callow people? Where is the wisdom? Where is the outrage? Where is the courageous refusal to saddle up the lynch mob and go riding out into the ideological desert to inflict frontier justice on the rest of the world?
We are better than this.
We have to be.