can't help feeling uneasy reading your three articles on 9/11
("The Remains of the Day," December/01). They were thoughtful
and rational in their stylized way, from the ethicist Jean Bethke
Elshtain's use of Aristotelian methodology to analyze a just war
vs. a holy war (funny how her categories just reek of the Aristotelian
bias of Chicago) to the iconologist W. J. T. Mitchell's pop references
to video games and his focus on "image" to philosopher
Jonathan Lear's attempt to understand 9/11 through psychoanalysis.
All balanced, lucid, yet they missed the point. Where is the feeling?
Most objectionable was Mitchell's blatant pop trivialization of
9/11, jammed with "hip" reference points we all know.
For those of us who live in New York this was no "War of
Images." We saw firsthand those hellish projectiles smashing
into the towers. These were our firemen, policemen, EM personnel
who lost their lives. These were our friends, fathers, mothers,
brothers, sisters, uncles, sons, and daughters who were killed.
We lost Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Native
Americans, atheists, agnostics, and dozens of nationalities (all
of whom came here for a chance at a better life because they know
this is what we do best). We saw people fall and jump from a hundred
floors up, some hand in hand. When the buildings finally collapsed,
raining steel girders, ash, cinder blocks, bodies, and body parts,
this was no video game. On that bright, clear, disgustingly beautiful
day we saw this black cloud of death hang over our city. We smelled
the stench of soot, smoke, and human flesh ground up in a mash
of twisted steel and cinders and watched as the smoke stalked
Manhattan. For days afterwards in a bizarre salt-in-the-wound
way, we found paper from the towers-purchase orders, marketing
proposals, personal notes-in the streets.
what did we do? We cried. We cried individually and we cried in
groups. We lit candles and carried them around to appropriate
places-in front of firehouses, police stations, hospitals. We
visited these shrines daily, added candles, wrote posters and
placards which we placed next to our shrines, along with pictures
of those who had died. While we cried we worked. New Yorkers volunteered
in such numbers they had to be turned away. Some local businesses
bankrupted themselves offering free goods and services.
brought us together, made us appreciate each other. We realized
how much we love this city, how much we love the people in it,
even the bum on the corner and the drunk urinating in the park
as well as the pompous real-estate baron and our loudmouth leaders.
Yes, we love our brash and brusque manner, our hurry, our slapdash
commercialism, our attitude, our sports teams, even our politicians.
Maybe that's what makes other nations, and even other cities in
this country, dislike us. We have seen promised relief drop from
$40 billion to $20 billion to $9.5 billion to what looks like
less than that as giant corporations get obscene tax breaks in
the guise of "getting the economy moving."
what. This is our city. You can't take it from us. We are here
to stay. Our grief has bonded us. And you can't begin to understand
what happened unless you share in our grief. Then you must go
on to understand our willingness to "bootstrap" ourselves
up and our desire for vengeance for those who did this. Until
you do this you have understood nothing, only placed the events
in some intellectual framework.
Brooklyn, New York
three experts who gave their thoughts regarding the "war"-the
one the U.S. is currently waging on certain unknown and unnamed
individuals-expressed some intriguing ideas but were ultimately
Jean Bethke Elshtain, an ethicist for whom I have a good deal
of admiration based on her past writings, contributed some interesting
and useful insights toward a better understanding of St. Augustine's
just war theory. Unfortunately, she felt called upon to append
to that discussion a special pleading for our president and his
current war policy.
she sees it (or perhaps as she is persuaded to see it by our administration
in Washington) it's a matter of comparing our own war making ("good,"
because based on just war principles) with that of the other side
("evil," because based on holy war principles). I fear
things are not that simple. Worse, though, than her oversimplification
is the professor's permitting herself to be used as an advocate
for that which, by Jesus's standards, is indefensible: retaliation
for wrongs done to oneself. St. Augustine notwithstanding, Jesus
never permitted that-in fact, forbade it.
Lear's piece was more insightful but also ultimately disappointing.
In his case the problem is his need to identify evil where it
exists in the world-or rather where Professor Lear thinks he finds
it in the world. Interestingly, he identifies "evil"
with "envy," a penetrating insight in and of itself.
But applied the way it is-directed solely at Osama bin Laden-it
falls right back into the same category as the judgment of Professor
Elshtain: that of special pleading on behalf of the position of
the U.S. Or, rather, the position of the Bush administration.
and philosophers do themselves no credit by renting out their
services to politicians. Fortunately for Professors Elshtain and
Lear, the U.S. has the Big Guns. Thus, it is unlikely they will
have to endure the savaging of their reputations that happened
to Professor Heidegger after the Nazis lost their war. But it's
hardly high praise for either ethicist or philosopher to celebrate
his or her ability to pick the winning side.
F. Love, MBA'72
eminent iconologist W. J. T. Mitchell, in his "The War of
Images" piece, is way out of line. The deaths of 3,000 people,
not to mention hundreds of uniformed men, is no image, no icon;
it was a deliberately planned event intended to cause the most
mayhem possible. He would have said the same had the Rose Bowl
or the Citicorp building been hit. We can make an icon out of
anything, can't we?
points fingers too. The "use of the postal system for bioterrorism"
has not yet been proven or even pointed at our enemies. I, like
many, regret dropping bombs on "one of the poorest, most
desolate countries in the world," but they were the ones
harboring criminals who caused these acts.
military significance of the bombing is highly dubious."
So he is not only an iconologist but also a military strategist?
As of this writing (12/16), it looks like it's working quite well.
The Taliban are out of power, which was one of the goals of the
have also not yet seen or heard of any law suggested to make burning
or desecration of the flag being proposed. I am a New Yorker,
born, bred, raised, and upon my return to that city after the
bombing, I was astonished to see flags (instead of the usual nonsense)
on sale on street corners. We are not your ordinary Americans;
we don't wear our patriotism on our sleeves. That didn't make
us unpatriotic. The fact that flags are being bought and put up
in every store might be a better story for your boy. Sure, the
flag is an icon. It's a fine one. So is burning one, if one is
so inclined to do so. But instead of attacking, perhaps Mitchell
ought to wonder why even intelligent and educated people have
seen fit to rally around this icon. Maybe, just maybe, it's a
way to honor. Maybe, just maybe, it's a way to show solidarity.
Maybe, just maybe, it's a way to express the pain we feel for
those lost in these horrific acts of iconography. How 'bout the
image of Republicans quashing more money for homeland security?
There's an image to work with.
warnings about attacks on bridges" are the response of a
very nervous people not accustomed to terror on their own land.
This is "ineffectual image-warfare"? Unless he has more
info than the FBI, he needs to tell us where this is coming from.
Has he never heard the words "better safe than sorry"?
Hell, being warned about possible bridge attacks is surely better
than sugar rationing. I'm sorry this isn't the WW II that he seems
to wish it were, so we wouldn't have to rely on an unseen enemy
to rally us. But, just perhaps, his iconography is 60 years behind
the times too.
war has its naysayers, doubters, and crackpots. Perhaps Mr. Mitchell
was one of the few who did not know someone who worked in the
Pentagon or the WTC; given his field of work, it doesn't seem
likely he would. After all, these people worked, not diddled,
for a living. They also died, for no good reason. Here's an icon
for you, Mr. Mitchell: you are irrelevant; you are living in a
iconologist W. J. T. Mitchell's "The War of Images":
What a difference a month makes. Here, in our alumni journal,
a University of Chicago professor wrote: "Judging by the
polls, th[e president's] strategy is a popular one, but its popularity
could rapidly fade as winter approaches and the futility of the
whole exercise becomes apparent."
can be wrong. No one ascribes clairvoyance to university professors-at
Chicago or elsewhere. But the arrogance of this statement is more
than I can stomach without an antacid. The good professor is not
only speaking well beyond his apparent area of expertise, iconology,
but, more importantly, this professor is talking down to the American
public. Why is "popularity" a pejorative in the professor's
eyes? Shouldn't officers of an elected government, at least all
things being equal, seek out and attempt to implement popular
programs? How is it that the professor knows the exercise is futile,
but this secret is somehow lost on the unwashed masses and the
officials they elect?
There is a great gulf between being an intellectual and being
a snob. There is a vast chasm between having well-informed opinions
(even when proven wrong by unexpected circumstances) and mere
anti-populism (even when proven correct-as even bigots occasionally
are proven correct). Good editors know the difference.
Barrett Tillman, AB'84