Saturday, May 07, 2005

Weekly Jackass Number Twenty-Two: Maggie Gyllenhaal

I've previously commented on Maggie Gyllenhaal's ill-conceived comments about 9/11, but in case you missed them, here's an encore (see also Don Feder's take):
"I think America has done reprehensible things and is responsible in some way and so I think the delicacy with which it's dealt [in the film The Great New Wonderful] allows that to sort of creep in...9/11 was a terrible tragedy and of course it goes without saying that I grieve along with every American for everyone who suffered and everyone who died in the catastrophe...[B]ut for those of us who were spared, it was also an occasion to be brave enough to ask some serious questions about America's role in the world."
It's an encouraging sign that the comments triggered a firestorm of controversy; perhaps the American people have grown weary of examining 'our role in the world' to please the anti-capitalists and Bush-haters.

My niece suggested I make Maggie my Weekly Jackass and I agreed because I want to address this 'responsibility' argument head on. America's role in the world is overwhelmingly positive. It is America that largely funds the United Nations, that organization full of America-haters. It was America that provided the bodies to liberate France on the shores of Normandy; and it was American money that resurrected Europe in the aftermath of World War II. It was America that occupied Japan, as it now occupies Iraq, long enough for the building of democratic institutions that would allow it to become one of the world's economic engines.

Yes, slavery was once allowed in America; it was Americans who ended it, themselves. It took four years and an ocean of blood, but we wiped away the horrendous practice by the grace of God. Yes, we were excessively ruthless in colonizing the West; if our current policies towards Native Americans are not sufficient to relieve us of the responsibility, at least we hope there is some mitigation. It was America that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, yes, but despite having by a large margin the most devestating arsenal in the history of mankind, we have not dropped another in the 60 intervening years.

In short, it is American bodies, American dollars, American ideas, and American culture that permeate the increasingly transparent, democratic world that we live in. We didn't accomplish these things alone; we accomplished them with the help of allies like Australia and England. The Poles, the French, and the Canadians have shed more than just a little blood by our side; the day may come when they will be called to do so again. Temporary spats between the Western Europeans and our current administration aren't enough to break bonds forged in the fires of Hitler's Hell.

Even if the above were not true, though, the larger problem with an argument like Gyllenhaal's is its implied acceptance of terrorism as political dialogue. The proper response to an abominable atrociy like the one visited upon us that frightful day is speedy, aggresive mobilization. It was a call to war, not a call to a negotiating table. Osama bin Laden is not pursuing a ceasefire through diplomatic back channels; he is attempting to glorify a radical brand of anachronistic religious rule, such as that practiced by the Taliban, by striking at the very symbolic heart of capitalism and modernization. That is not a war that can be solved through diplomacy; it is a war to the death, and it is a war we cannot fail to win.

Gyllenhaal is young, and she is in the heart of Hollywood, the land of fuzzy political thinking, so perhaps she can be forgiven her thoughtlessness. It does not honor the victims of 9/11 to validate the feelings of their murderers; indeed, it is the worse insult possible.

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