TCS Daily

Did We Have It Coming?

By Lee Harris - March 23, 2004 12:00 AM

"This is the culture in which we live... The world is ruled by force. The only way we can put a permanent end to terrorism is to stop participating in it... This is the first time the guns have been pointed the other way."

-- Noam Chomsky, discussing the events of 9/11/01.

Noam Chomsky has endorsed, however reluctantly, John Kerry.

This is an endorsement from the man who, on hearing about 9/11, attempted to put it in perspective for the American people by arguing that President Clinton had murdered many times more people in his response to the Al Qaeda bombing in Kenya than Al Qaeda had murdered on 9/11. The fact that Mr. Chomsky had not a shred of evidence for this blood libel did not kept him from making it. After all, he had something far better than evidence -- he had his own opinion; or what Jeremy Bentham called ipsedixitism: something is true because I myself have said it is true.

Yet Noam Chomsky was by no means alone in standing up in the days immediately following 9/11 and declaring that 9/11 was the expected and natural reaction of those who had been oppressed by American hegemony, and who, however immaturely, were fighting back in retaliation for what we had done to them.

True, there were different theories of what exactly we had done to them, and at times, as I watched America's leading public intellectuals apologize for the terrorists, I felt as if I were watching a contest in which these various intellectuals had been invited to write a theme on the question: "Why I would have flown planes into the WTC if I were a terrorist," and in each case, the major intellectual had a ready answer -- an answer that, oddly enough, was invariably couched in terms of their own pet theories concerning the evil of the very empire from whom they derived their power, prestige, and status. But in every case, the basic fundamental theme was unchanged: it was all really, in the last analysis, our fault.

In short, we had it coming.

Now let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that these critics of America are right. Let us suppose that when the terrorists struck us we had done more than enough bad things to deserve such an attack. But now let me ask these apologists for terrorism a simple question:

If we had it coming then, don't we have it coming even worse right now? If two thousand of us deserved to die on September 11, 2001, less than a year after Bush stole the election and plunged America into the arms of the military-industrial complex, how many more of us deserve to die today, this very moment, after giving George Bush more than three years to consolidate his empire?

Those apologists for terror who ascribed to the "complex and nuanced" view that we had it coming are not merely apologizing for the wanton slaughter of two thousand men and women on 9/11, they are advancing a justification for killing a whole lot more of them right now.

To say that we deserved 9/11 is to say that they were right to do it to us. And, since from 9/11 to today, as judged by their standards, we have only gotten worse, then they would be even righter to do it again. To tell a man that he is right to shoot his wife, if not positively inciting to murder, is not working very hard to discourage it.

So the first thing that Senator Kerry needs to do before he begins to celebrate the endorsement of the man the New York Times calls our leading public intellectual would be to ask him frankly, "Do you believe that the terrorists would be justified if they were to strike us again?"

Senator Kerry needs to know this in advance, as do the American people. It is a simple question, and it is one that deserves a straightforward answer -- not just from Mr. Chomsky, but from all those who tried to explain away the deaths of two thousands of their fellow human beings. "If we had it coming then, do we have it coming now?"

Lee Harris recently wrote for TCS about Inviting the Vampire. His new book, Civilization and Its Enemies, is now out from Free Press.


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