The following was printed in the Umatuna, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Agana, Guam, on 9/18/11.
In the Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis warned of a world in which the contortion of language would lead to the obfuscation of objective truth, which, in turn, would reduce man to a creature ruled by those who knew how to control the language.
Of course, advertising gurus have understood this for years and have employed it to profitable ends. A more sinister application is employed by social engineers who exploit academia and our lust for news to feed us a steady diet of manufactured meanings.
Language contortion is readily apparent in “pro-choice” camps where the sliced up body of a child is labeled “the products of conception”, the prescription of chemical abortifacients is “health care”, and “choice”, of course, means no choice but abortion.
“Tolerance” is particularly manipulated. To “tolerate” means “to put up with” as in “to put up with something that is wrong”, but has now been made to mean “open-minded”, “non-judgmental”, and “accepting”- something quite different if not completely contrary.
The events of 9/11 created a mad scramble for words: words to describe the attacks, words to describe the attackers, words to describe our response. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, a curious thing happened: the Media changed its script from words like “atrocity”, “outrage”, and “act of war”, to “tragic”, “sad”, and “the unfortunate events of 9/11”. And almost as quickly, the scenes of the burning towers and bodies smashing into the Manhattan pavement disappeared from our screens.
Today one is more likely to see footage from seventy years ago of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Jewish Holocaust than they are to see the atrocious event of only ten years ago. For some reason there seemed to be a national effort to erase the terror of 9/11 from our collective memory even though our lives have been made ever more difficult since. (I’ll not speculate here on the reason.)
For the record, 9/11 was NOT a TRAGEDY. 9/11 was an ATROCITY. A tragedy is death, destruction, or suffering wrought by a natural calamity or accident that no one intended. 9/11 WAS intended. It was intended, planned, and executed with skill, cunning, and a desire to inflict maximum pain and suffering.
And like the Americans of yesteryear who left the Arizona “bleeding” at the bottom of Pearl Harbor as a warning to future generations of the cost of a lack of vigilance, and like the Jews who scream “never again” through their insistent demand that the horrors of the Holocaust remain on full and constant display, the atrocities of 9/11 should be similarly memorialized and contemplated.
But they are not. The language police mitigated the outrage by assimilating the “pure evil” of the attack with the language of a natural disaster. The “War on Terror” (which was poorly named to begin with) has since been reduced to: “Overseas Contingency Operation”. Terror attacks are now rebranded: “man-made disasters”. And the annual memorial has been amended to a “Day of Service”.
|The March to Manenggon 1944|
Some may wonder “what’s the big deal?” To bring it closer to home, imagine calling the cowardly slaughter of Chamorros backed into a Merizo cave a “tragedy”. Imagine calling the March to Manenggon or slashing off the heads of innocent Chamorros after forcing them to dig their own graves as merely “unfortunate events”??
Seventy years later we have no issue with calling the horrors perpetrated on the Chamorro people during the Japanese occupation of Guam as “atrocities”, even as “Japanese atrocities”. Our remembering does not preclude our forgiveness. But we are right NEVER to forget!
While a National Day of Service is praiseworthy, co-opting the massacre and intense suffering of the events of 9/11 to promote neighborly acts is, well....well, imagine, once again, memorializing the Fena Cave massacre with a neighborhood trash pickup or collecting canned goods for the needy, or remembering Pearl Harbor by cleaning up a beach?? Such acts are good in themselves but are better left for Thanksgiving and Earth Day.
At the root of our nation’s convoluted response to 9/11 and reluctance to call it what was is a national ignorance about “The Long War”. Bin Laden calculated that while Americans might initially strike back, they wouldn’t have the stomach for “Endless Jihad”, for “The Long War”.
So on the eve of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, while the President visited a soup kitchen and Americans logged on to Serve.gov, the Taliban released the following message: "The Afghans have an endless stamina for a long war and...will send the Americans to the dustbin of the history like they did send other empires of the past to such a destination..."
Next week: the Catholic answer...the uniquely Catholic answer.