Is Paul Krugman right about 9/11 shame?
It's already inspired former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to cancel his New York Times subscription. And columnist/pundit Michelle Malkin, herself no slouch when it comes to inspiring outrage, was prompted by it to call him a "smug coward."
This is what happens when you have the gumption to call the 10th anniversary of America's most devastating domestic terrorist attack "deeply shameful," as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman did on his blog Sunday.
Krugman's point was that the Bush administration used the nation's unity after the 9/11 attacks back in 2001 to press an unnecessary war in Iraq and make heroes of questionable figures such as Bernard Kerik and Rudolph Giuliani. That's not an unreasonable position, but it's sacrilege at a time when people want to remember the heroism and unity immediately after 9/11.
Last week, I quoted folks such as former CBS anchor Dan Rather talking about how the unity of 9/11 led journalists to miss the story in the run up to Iraq. Ex CBS News president Andrew Heyward talked of being aware that the public wanted news media to show support for government action in the wake of attacks, and journalists faced retribution not just from government officials but from the general public for looking unpatriotic. (back then, I wrote about the patriotism issue too, chiding anchors for wearing flag lapel pins and cheering U.S. victories on the battlefield).
But, as much as I sympathize with Krugman's point, I realize he's a columnist looking to make an impact.
What I really think happened on 9/11 was that we were traumatized like someone who has been beaten or witnessed a violent crime up close. Politicians, media networks, pundits and power brokers of all shapes and sizes rushed to fill that void. Some of them were White House officials; some of them ran newspapers. They all let us down in the end, manipulating us in the same way you might coax a skittish, abandoned stray pet.
As always, the opportunists among us deserve the blame. And I doubt America will ever have the will to root out all those people who deliberately, decisively twisted our national horror to their own benefit. But its important to separate the shame they deserve from the reasonable, expected and unfortunate trauma most of us endured to varying degrees in the wake of the attacks.
And you can't do that in a six paragraph blog post.
Far as I'm concerned, our biggest shame right now, is people insist on taking emotional, complex topics and reducing them to the length of a bumper sticker slogan, Twitter feed or six-graph blog post.
So I'd say, I respectfully disagree with Krugman's contention that the 9/11 anniversary is "irrevocably poisoned." It's only so, if we allow it -- those of us who were here in the aftermath and recorded what happened.
The real story of 9/11's aftermath is courage and shame at once; volunteers jumping into military service as a government prepared to spill their blood for non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Widows and orphans and grieving relatives trying to honor their dead while a timid media declines to demand concrete proof war in Iraq is necessary. Some choosing to learn more about Muslims, others choosing to shun and demonize them.
There is no black and white here. Just horror, trauma, courage and shame. As always.