I only tonight learned of David Foster Wallace’s very short “thought experiment” in in the Nov. 2007 issue of Atlantic Monthly. While I’m not particularly sold on where he takes it, especially in his reflections on the necessity of sacrifice, I do think the opening bit is interesting enough to quote at length.
Are some things still worth dying for? Is the American idea* one such thing? Are you up for a thought experiment? What if we chose to regard the 2,973 innocents killed in the atrocities of 9/11 not as victims but as democratic martyrs, “sacrifices on the altar of freedom”?* In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea? And, thus, that ours is a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life—sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort?
In still other words, what if we chose to accept the fact that every few years, despite all reasonable precautions, some hundreds or thousands of us may die in the sort of ghastly terrorist attack that a democratic republic cannot 100-percent protect itself from without subverting the very principles that make it worth protecting?
Incidentally . . . are you prepared for, dare I say it, how annoying next year’s 10-year-anniversary of the attacks are going to be? The only possible solace is that it is not an election year. I can but hope the Park51 people have planned their groundbreaking accordingly.