YANA DJIN

LETTERS FROM AMERICA

Yana Djin


 SLAVES OF HISTORY

Moscow News
September, 2001

          May you live in interesting times, goes the Chinese curse. The 21st century, which started off with the blast in New York and Washington, promises to be nothing short of interesting in the Chinese sense of that word. Speaking from the point of view of human history, however, we are cursed no more or less than in any other recorded century. The 20th, for example, with its two World Wars and its massive exterminations, did not exactly prove to be a monument to the progress of human nature. Objectively, 5000-plus years after Cain killed Abel and 2100 years after Christs Sermon on the Mount, we, the human race as a whole, are facing the same old demons ourselves. Nothing substantially new is happening. We are simply doing what we have done all along engaging in the sad repetition of our own damaged nature. Borrowing from the political jargon: the state of the union of the two-legged creatures is as weak and pitiful as ever.
        As I write this, I keep hearing the admonitions from various TV personalities and leading politicians around the world that this is no time for philosophical speculation and intellectual babble. These admonitions were directed at the scarce voices of American men and women of letters, otherwise known by the suddenly-derogatory term: intellectuals. These voices, such as Susan Sontag and Katha Pollit, to name the few, were reluctant to join the chorus of American congressmen and senators and contribute to the out-of-tune rendition of patriotic songs after the terror-attacks on New York and Washington. Unlike the above-mentioned congressmen and senators who, as it now became clear, were equipped with the gas masks designed to protect them from bio-chemical attacks (perhaps, that is reason behind bi-partisan sing-songs), the few American intellectuals chose to raise their voices in a different fashion: to criticize their government for engaging in the foreign policy which resulted in the violent death of thousands of its own civilians. 
        Although my own sentiments lie with the likes of Ms. Sontag, this time, I am afraid, I must agree with the vulgar voices of the popular opinion simply because the times have somewhat changed. Indeed, this is no time to engage in questions such as what if, because all the ifs have been eliminated on September 11th and it is now too late. The ifs of the potential attacks have been replaced by the when and where of  the now-inevitable-attacks. And it is precisely here that the curse of our condition lies: in our necessity to abandon philosophy for the time being and put on the nearsighted spectacles of the real-politik. 
        The tragedy of 9-11-01 was not too unfathomable to foresee for the keen minds. After all, equipped with the proper education, those minds could have concluded that history teaches us that the Superman complex, which America sported proudly and happily, does not go unpunished for too long. History, that science of cruelty, provides numerous parallels. However, it also teaches us that we, the not-so-keen majority, learn nothing from history and inadvertently become its slaves. As such, we have no choice but to play according to its rules. That is why we no longer have the leisure to invoke any other discipline like philosophy to our rescue. 
         For the sake of bringing forth parallels, that was the reason why the French intellectuals, like Sartre and Camus, stopped speculating and took up arms alongside the French Resistance during the WWII. They, like us, were faced with the same dilemma life or death. Naturally, they chose life. During their times the symbol of death was Hitler, and during ours it is the radical Islam with Osama Bin Laden as its most visible proponent. No matter what our grievances were against the internal or foreign policy of the United States, after the September 11th massacres, they became obsolete and irrelevant. And not only the grievances of the Americans against their own government but also those of the rest of the world. The choice, as the George W. Bush, the now-smart-president of the United Stases put it, is black and white: either youre with us or youre not. 
I believe, the choice is clear. It does not matter whether the local political elite, propelled by lust for power and riches, is an underlying cause for the displeasure which has so cruelly crystallized three weeks ago. I, for one, think that it is, as inconsequential as that may be. It no longer matters whether the terror on September 11th and its inevitable aftermath is justified from the point of view of its perpetrators. Perhaps in theory, they  have a point, in practice, though, they dont. And they will be and should be punished if only because we, the nearsighted slaves of history, do not know of any other solution. According to our laws, the strong defeat the weak.
During the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union, the world was living in the luxury of constant speculation. Those times are gone. Now, we are living in the most vulnerable and vulgar of times those when actions speak louder than words. Those -- when organized hatred means unity simply because hatred as a tactic is more productive and goal-oriented than its opposite, love. Now, it is time to shut up and face the history of our own making. It is time to take up arms, however reluctantly, against the most obvious enemy. America is the only surviving empire with all of the virtues and follies that the definition carries. It is presently facing a very real threat of barbarian-terrorists. If we want the civilization (and by civilization I mean that constant which does not know the boundaries and prejudices of East and West and which presupposes that twain" between the two does meet) to persist, we can not afford to rationalize their crimes. 
        Now, lets take off the nearsighted glasses and get back to philosophy for just a minute. One gets used to anything. A week ago, most of us living in NY and DC were thinking of remote places to move to in order to survive the approasching Armageddon. A week later, we are no longer in such a hurry to run away from our own death. Perhaps, the documentaries from Afganistan, depiciting people stripped of everything except their eyes as an instrument for weeping, played a major role. Perhaps, we no longer feel sorry for ourselves and are finally ready to acknowledge our role in existence as a whole that of the slaves of history.

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