Entry from August 19, 2003

Two corrections to my diary of last Tuesday, in response to reader’s e-mails. First and more trivially, I now accept that the G.I. Joe-style doll called Elite Force Aviator and featuring George W. Bush in his flight suit as he appeared on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln last May is being produced not by Hasbro but by a Hong Kong toy-manufacturer called BBi or Blue Box toys. So far as I know it will, however, be for sale as the original diary said it would be at KB toys from September 15th.

More seriously, Professor Michael Lewis of Williams College writes to complain of the way in which the item characterized his views, as they were expressed in The Wall Street Journal. “In fact,” he writes, “I share the sentiment of your piece, and regret only that I was drawn in as a straw figure to support a point of view that I vehemently disavow.”

I am quite happy (he continues) to perpetuate the cycle of violence — or preferably end it through our decisive military victory. I don”t think my essay implied that our country should refrain from just and manly retaliation. But it is the job of our marines, soldiers and airmen to do it — not our artists and architects. Our violence should be directed outwards, not inwards in masochistic reveling. One of my dearest students, a lovely young tennis star who graduated the year before, was killed on the 85th floor of the second tower. I wrote the article in part because of my determination to see that her death isn”t marked by some grotesque literal mock-up of the attack.

I believe that a monument is an artifact of civilization. And if you don”t believe that — and most artist today probably don”t — your monument will be a piece of graphic design or commercial imagery. This is my fear, and why I wrote my article.

In reply, I have written to Professor Lewis as follows:

My apologies for misinterpreting your piece in the Journal as a typical liberal outcry against “violence” and therefore against retaliation for the attacks. I agree with you that a literal-minded representation of the attacks themselves would be but a poor memorial, but think it hardly likely to happen. Much more likely would be some sort of Zen or Henry Moore-ish representation of peace and “non-violence” — which I think would be equally bad and which I thought you were advocating. Once again, I apologize for the mistake.

In my own defense I can only say that the attitude I was attacking is all but universal among American journalists and academics, and so commonly to be met with in any account of terrorist outrages that it is easy to overlook the kinds of subtle distinctions Professor Lewis makes. Even as I write this, I am looking at the New York Times’s first photos from the latest suicide bombing in Israel. And what does the picture caption say? “The bombing threatened to restart the cycle of attacks and retaliation that could derail a U.S.-backed ‘road map’ peace plan to Palestinian statehood.” Sometimes I wonder if the “cycle of violence” itself will come to an end sooner than the tendency of the bien pensant to blame it not on the terrorists but on those who retaliate against them.

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