[This post will grow over the course of the next few hours. But if you have not read the post on Truthers, please do so. More soon.]
I don’t have, cannot have, a unified response to what has occurred. I have only a succession of impressions, fugitive and transitory, which arise and disappear.
I know I was angry for a very long time, and it was only the domination of my passions by reason that enabled me to oppose the Iraq War from the beginning. But that did not change the underlying anger, and the way it warped my conception of the world. The anger began to fade for many reasons: an acquaintance who saw into it shamed me, Jane Meyer’s book tore at my conscience, and, yes, the idealistic tone of the Obama campaign gave me hope that we might finally get beyond all this if we made a conscious and collective choice to do so.
My deepest impulses had never believed in anger; my roots in Nietzsche’s critique of resentment were deep and decades old, and if I had a fundamental mood, it was sadness. I remember walking through the streets of Chicago with my son Tristan, who was nine years old when it happened, how he would gaze straight up at the skyscrapers and tell me he was afraid. He was often afraid, though generally not of terrorism, and much of my memory of him was of helping him overcome his anxieties, reassuring him that the world was not a dreadful place. But I often wished that his childhood had occurred in a gentler, safer, more hopeful world. He committed suicide a few days before his sixteenth birthday. If that taught me anything that 9/11 itself could not, it was the infinite preciousness of human life, and the vast indifference of the world to its preservation. To willfully take life in such a universe, especially for the sake of an idea, seems the height of perversity, like throwing away good food during a famine because it isn’t to your liking.
That certainly colors my perception of last night and this morning. Nothing more fully brings out my sense of the futility of human existence than the knowledge that somewhere a man is taking another man’s life. The image of a prison does the same thing to me: nature builds enough walls around us and yet it’s not enough, we must build a few more and lock ourselves in.
And build we did: camps and secret facilities and laws and tribunals that blithely threw away the accumulated wisdom of centuries of political experience, because “everything had changed.” We learned that our belief in liberty (at least as I understand it) was hostage to our accidental sense of invulnerability, and when that went, everything went, with breathtaking speed.
The gallows is not a site of triumph, but failure, for all concerned. A necessary failure, perhaps. There will always be those for whom we can think of nothing else, but if we think that we thereby rule over evil and death, the passage of time alone will teach us otherwise. I kept hearing Ravel, “Le Gibet” from Gaspard de la Nuit. The ridiculous seethings of a sick old man would now be silenced. In time, we all are, some sooner than others.
My wife said, “they are avenged, they can rest in peace now.” This was a gentle thought, even if I knew that they were nothing but a memory, and that if anyone can rest, it is us with our haunted thoughts, if we are willing.
A friend reminded me of the Beatles’ “Day In The Life” with it’s almost limitless, ironical detachment from foofaraw. “Now we know how many holes it takes…” In response to men responsible for vastly more deaths than Osama Bin Laden, one of us once said ”We must summon such detachment and intellectual integrity to our task that this trial will commend itself to posterity as fulfilling humanity’s aspirations to do justice.” That was Justice Jackson, November 21, 1945, at Nuremberg. I do not know what justice can mean in such a setting; perhaps I do not know what justice means at all. But to invoke such ancient rituals, to so package our cry, has a certain dignity, and reminds us that we are still men. With all that is due to those who risked themselves to bring us this day, there is little here that will commend itself to posterity. We proved that with a trillion dollars, a decade of effort, and over two thousand lives, you actually can kill a single man. That’s not called “winning.” That’s called “closure.” May we get some, and get on with our lives.