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The embarrassments of September 11
By Steven Martinovich
Out of times of great tribulation can emerge a new solidarity among a nation's citizens. Like the attack on Pearl Harbor, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks united America in a common purpose. Gone were the relentless carping of cheap partisanship and rancor of politics and usual, replaced instead by the common front of patriotism and compassion. Well, not quite.
The initial weeks following the attacks did see a renewed American spirit on display with flags seemingly bought by the millions for porches across the country, proud chants of "USA" in stadiums and arenas and heartfelt renditions of "God Bless America." For some people though, it soon became apparent, this pride in country was a scandal, something to be as embarrassed about as the alleged sins of American foreign policy that supposedly resulted in the terrorist attacks.
Jake Easton's Americans Behaving Badly: Greed, Blunders and Scandal in the Aftermath of the Terrorist Attacks on America chronicles "what not to do after a national disaster." Unfortunately, Easton was able to dig up thousands of examples of "outright fraud ... incompetence, lapses in judgment, or remarks that once were simply considered obnoxious" which "have since become hurtful, insensitive, or worse." Of the several hundred that Easton included in Americans Behaving Badly, many are guaranteed to disappoint, shock and outrage.
Organized into sections which include "Celebrities," "Airport Security," "The Media," and "Politics and Government," Americans Behaving Badly features famous incidents -- such as former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney's (D-GA) opportunistic appeal for a $10 million donation by Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal that was rejected by then New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani for the prince's implying that September 11 was the result of American foreign policy -- and many others lesser known. One such story is that of the sixth grade teacher who set fire to a corner of the American flag in front of his class and telling them, "I can't burn it all, because that's illegal."
Admittedly, Americans Behaving Badly is going to appeal far more to conservatives than it will to liberals. While those on the right do take their deserved lumps Easton spotlights Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Rep. John Cooksey (R-LA) among them a fair majority of the targets are identifiable liberals ranging from Jesse Jackson, Sen. Hillary Clinton and filmmaker Michael Moore. Fortunately, though, Easton goes outside of the world of politics to record outrages from the worlds of academia, business and the media.
Mercifully, Eaton wraps up Americans Behaving Badly with a short section detailing the some of the good things that came in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks such as the stories of window washer Jan Semczur and former Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman and a roundup of the strange events and hoaxes that came to light. As important as cataloguing the bad is, Easton should be commended on deciding to end the book on a positive note.
It could be argued, not without some justification, that Americans Behaving Badly is an exercise in creating division, of targeting some Americans who have legitimate grievances with the actions of their own government. That argument only holds up, however, if you accept that no hidden agendas played any role in their actions, a hard difficult defense to sustain given some of the people behind the incidents that Easton spotlights.
Rather, Americans Behaving Badly serves as a useful catalogue of the surprising pettiness that arose in the weeks and months after September 11. Easton's effort may not rival some of the compelling post-September 11 analysis that has appeared but by no means is it easily dismissed. At a minimum it serves as a reminder to us that even the most terrible attack on American soil wasn't enough to spur some Americans to remember they were Americans first.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Enter Stage Right.
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