Saturday, June 10, 2006

The World Saw Evil that Day

This morning I was watching the trailer for Oliver Stone’s upcoming movie World Trade Center, and aside for the fact that it looks like a reconstitution (a well-made one, mind you) of the famous documentary by the Naudet brothers, what bothered me was the caption with which the trailer ends: “The World Saw Evil that Day.”

The irritation lies in the assumption of innocence, that evil was visited upon guiltless shores. That’s not how the world works. In no way do I excuse or commend the actions of the perpetrators of the September 11 terrorist attacks, but to hint that the world was a happy place before this event is morally irresponsible.

Which leads me to my second and third objections. First, the world did not see evil “that day.” The world sees evil every day. It sees it in the Congo, in the Sudan, in Somalia, in Colombia, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, China—it’s everywhere. It exists in the United States, in Canada, in Europe, and rears its ugly head in parliaments, defense and intelligence agencies, the Enrons of this world, schools, and households.

Second, how presumptuous it is to substitute downtown Manhattan with “the world,” as if all the other conflicts raging around the planet simply didn’t register, or couldn’t stand for “the world.” Despite the emphasis by the media on 9/11, it was neither more nor less the result of evil than any other mass killing that was going on around that time or that has happened since. The world did not become more, nor less, aware of the existence of evil on September 11, 2001. Really, how can the rich moviemakers in Hollywood claim that a suffering child in, say, Liberia or Afghanistan learned about evil on that day?

The foregoing begs the question, What is evil? Does it exist in intentions alone (in other words, the perpetrator is consciously aware that what he intends to do constitutes a breach of morality), or does its manifestation lie in the commission and the results, in which case even well-intentioned actions can nevertheless lead to evil? For all I care, judging from the size of the explosion that killed insurgent leader and alleged al-Qaeda representative in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi a few days ago, more than this single individual perished in the bombing. It is quite likely that some of them were innocent collateral. Does the elimination of the insurgent make the killing of innocent bystanders—even if accidental—any less evil? All that to say, there are many ways to interpret what constitutes evil, and it’s been with us for far longer than five years.

Because of where it took place, 9/11 was a shock to many. But “the world” didn’t communally learn about it on that one specific day. Sadly, on this beautiful albeit hurting planet of ours and in the grand scheme of things, September 11, 2001 was just another, terrible day.

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