We all had emotional reactions to the attack on our nation on
September 11, 2001. Recent televised images of 9/11 in Bush's
presidential campaign proved that, two and a half years later, we
still have strong reactions. Are these reactions related to the
increasing cultural divide between America's political left and
political right? Or are there underlying psychodynamics that are
only coincidently related to the cultural divide?
Nobody has an
emotional monopoly on 9/11. Everyone was affected by the collapse
of the World Trade Center. Some people were directly devastated or
traumatized. Some who lost loved ones have an understandable
negative reaction to the advertised 9/11 images (and to the way in
which lower Manhattan will be rebuilt). Even among those directly
affected, however, there are different reactions to these issues.
The same is true of people who were indirectly affected. The
peculiar thing is that it does not seem to matter whether you were
in New York City on September 11, 2001. People still have strong
feelings when presented with the reality.
New perceptions of
the world seem to have evolved. There are those who view 9/11 as
fundamental to all political decision-making and to how we live
our daily lives. Then, there are those who view 9/11 as belonging
to the past, another chapter for the history books, and that we
currently live in what one reporter referred to as a new
universe. Since we still live in the aftermath of 9/11,
probably neither view is totally objective.
Our nation is still
in pain. Some people have been less able than others to cope.
It is not uncommon for people to use defense mechanisms when they
feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. Specifically, some people
seem to be using denial and repression of memories. Sending 9/11
to the history books could be a form of denial: it's over, it
wasn't really terrorism, it was a plot from our own government.
Likewise, the objection to using images of 9/11 in political
advertising (regardless of whether this was appropriate) is
possibly an objection to reality confronting the repressed
memory of a horrific day. Resistance to reality actually began on
9/11 itself when people quickly coined it as a tragedy
rather than calling it an attack.
condition becomes more complicated as it weaves itself into the
issues of the 2004 presidential election year. People in denial
seem to gravitate toward the political left where some leaders have
expressed blame and possibly displaced their anger. Blaming can
defocus from the problem and from personal responsibility, and
anger can give a false feeling of power. These defense mechanisms
are obstacles to productive thought and communication.
People who gravitate
toward the political right are more difficult to describe. They
view 9/11 as a declaration of war, but then so do some people in
the political left. The contrast seems to be that those in the
political right have strong moral convictions that are intimately
tied to their democratic values. In response to America's
vulnerability to terrorism, they became interventionists regarding
Iraq. The political right seems to be troubled within itself,
however, over whether the Iraq war was the right war for the
right reasons or the right war for both wrong and right reasons.
justification for the Iraq war, the leaders of the political
right seem to have underestimated the potential difficulties and
the amount of resources that would be needed. Most people agree
that the fall of Baghdad and the removal of Saddam was a good
thing. But, with recent lawlessness in Iraq, there is tension
over whether the democratization of Iraq is really essential to
America's safety from terrorism. The political right could be
facing a predicament of morals and principles versus national
There are some
people in the political left who were wary of the possibility of
Iraqi democratization from the beginning. Their view has always
been that Muslim culture is not conducive to democracy, especially
when the democratic impetus comes from America which is mostly
Christian. The anti-democratic view is certainly true of radical
Muslims whose terrorism would not be tolerated in a democracy.
This view, however, may or may not be true of the everyday Muslims
This is our first
presidential election since September 11th. Intentionally or
unintentionally, some political leaders seem to have built
election platforms based on 9/11 terrorization. The 2004 election
year has become symptomatic of unresolved impact and primal needs.
Gone are the days of united we stand and the civilized
world against terrorism. Now it is left against right, and
right against left. This is not politics as usual during
an election year. This is a fragmentation of the American psyche.
People in recovery
from alcohol and drugs know that the attitude is gratitude.
We need to feel grateful that America has not been attacked in two
and a half years, that the military has absorbed the hatred and
violence for us. We need to explore together, as rationally and
objectively as possible, ways to rid the world of terrorism. If
we disagree, the disagreements should be based on intelligent
good-faith arguments, and not on obligatory platform opposition.
We need to be mobilized by, not divided by, September 11th. It
really happened. It was horrible. It is not over yet. Let us
stand united again.
[NOTE: This essay is
neither a political statement nor a complete analysis of post-9/11
reactions. This essay simply discusses two types of human
conditions that I have noticed: the denialists and the
interventionists. My hope is that by sharing these thoughts,
others might gain clarification or perhaps stimulation for their
own conclusions.] (Written 04/12/04: bibliography available.)
Until we meet