Entry from August 16, 2002

Memorializing September 11th, Part Two. How could anyone resist the invitation? “Certificate enclosed to honor Mr James Bowman on the Wall of Tolerance,” announced the envelope — right under: “Please R.S.V.P.” Not surprisingly, the certificate to the effect that my name was on the W. of T. and co-signed by Morris Dees and Rosa Parks came with a pre-printed reply form inviting me to check a box indicating that “I understand I must be a Founding Member of the National Campaign for Tolerance to receive this honor. Enclosed is my tax-deductible gift to support all of your work for tolerance and justice.” Then there was another series of boxes beside the following amounts of money: $25, $35, $50, $100 and “Other $_____”

Asterisks guided me to the fine print below where it said that I must contribute $35 to be a Founding Member with my name on the Wall. For $50 I would also receive a video copy of a documentary film, The Rosa Parks Story, “after it is completed.” An accompanying letter noted that the wall “will be just blocks from where Rosa Parks helped launch the Civil Rights Movement when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man. It will be around the corner from the church where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, and the capitol steps where the Selma-to-Montgomery Voting Rights March ended in 1965.”

Moreover, “the wall will be in the same complex as the Civil Rights Memorial, which honors the slain heros [sic] of the Movement. The Memorial was designed by Maya Lin, architect of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Washington, D.C.” Among the good works promoted by Mr Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center, to whom checks should be made out, was an educational program called “Teaching Tolerance” — which, “noted journalist Bill Moyers” was said to have testified, was “a bold move into America’s classrooms to curb the rising tide of racial hatred.”

It was not clear exactly what the noted journalist Bill Moyers had in mind when he spoke of this “rising tide of racial hatred,” but clearly what the “Teaching Tolerance” people thought was that it had to do with “the intolerance and hate crimes that were being committed against Arab Americans” in the wake of the September 11th attacks. The existence of same in any numbers was presumably to be taken for granted by anyone likely to contribute to the National Campaign for Tolerance — where the folks also believed that the “helpful resources” they could provide, in particular to teachers and pupils in our nation’s educational institutions, would help people to “deal with” these acts of intolerance.

Rarely do you get quite so direct and explicit a link between the self-congratulation that lies behind programs like “Teaching Tolerance” and the programs themselves, but it is something to bear in mind when the folks down at your local educational institution start clearing their throats about what they are doing to commemorate the day. At Earlham College in Indiana, for example, students will be pressed, according to the New York Times “to acknowledge how naïve they were on Sept. 10 last year. “‘We should be thinking about how we can be change agents,’ said the college”s provost, Len Clark. ‘We have to think constructively, not just mourn or remember.’”

Indeed, says The Times,

Across the country this summer, colleges, high schools and even a few elementary schools plan to confront and commemorate the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in ways that they say would have been impossible in the emotional time immediately afterward. The forums will afford students and teachers opportunities to explore subjects like Islam and terrorism and to debate the merits of the United States” actions around the world before and after Sept. 11.

Such plans have not come easily. School and community officials have spent hours agonizing over how to deal with those topics with sensitivity.

“There are some who say that we have to maintain some respect for the dead by not asking these questions,” said Kelly Keogh, an international relations teacher at the high school in Normal, 100 miles south of Chicago. “But aren”t we doing them a better service by not giving simplistic answers?”

Now if I were one of the dead, and found myself in any condition to want anything, I’m pretty sure I would want simplistic answers. Simplistic is good. Simplistic, in Mr Keogh’s terms, goes something like this: You kill me, my friends and family and comrades and fellow countrymen come to where you are and kill you. Simple. That way you’re less likely to do any more killing, aren’t you? And I get the satisfaction (for what it’s worth) of reflecting that justice has been visited on my slayer.

But of course when Mr Keogh says that this is “simplistic” what he means is that justice is maybe not so good if you are a progressive thinker like himself. It might perpetuate the “cycle of violence.” I, being dead, should give up my unreasonable wish to have my murder avenged — for the sake of those who, uninjured themselves, are disgusted and horrified at the idea that any such primitive and simplistic bloodlust might be lurking in the breasts of those, living or dead, with whom they share a continent. No doubt the schoolchildren will be encouraged to feel a similar disgust and horror — and then to congratulate themselves on how tolerant they are. It must provide an unspeakable comfort to the bereaved to see what a high-minded generation we are raising.

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