Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. The United States of America was attacked without warning by Japanese bombers. 2,403 people were killed.
Shocked and angered, Americans rallied together and mobilized for war.
Working round the clock, American workers produced more than 100,000 aircraft, more than all of the Axis powers combined.
New York City, September 11, 2001.
The United States of America was attacked without warning by Islamist bombers. 2,974 people were killed.
Shocked and angered, thousands of Americans took to the streets to demonstrate for peace.
Since September 11th, Muslims have built hundreds of new mosques in America.
Islam is one of the fastest-spreading faiths in America, with a 25 percent increase in the number of mosques over the past seven years.
To accommodate our Muslims we have installed prayer rugs at our airports...
and footbaths at our universities.
For millions of Americans
How could we have changed so much?
It's been seven years now, and many of us whose lives have been drastically changed by the events of that awful day in September are still asking ourselves this same relentless question. Our nation has been ripped apart by this fateful event. Not so much by the event itself as by our attempts to qualify its proper significance to America. For some of us, 9/11 was perceived as an unquestionable act of war, an act of war no less violent or dastardly than the attack on Pearl Harbor. And an act of war must be responded to in kind.
Others aren't so sure. We are, they admonish us, at least partially responsible for this attack, which many believe was a direct retaliation for our selfish imperialistic actions in the Middle East. In short, we brought it upon ourselves.
Then there are the others, a much greater number, but a number impossible to compute. These people have simply set it aside. To them, September 11, 2001 was a senseless anomaly. Like a tornado or an earthquake. One of those freak disasters that happens every so often. Something that grabs our attention for a few weeks but is then lost in the swiftly-moving current of our everyday lives.
For these people, 9/11 most certainly happened, it was a polarizing event, shocking and scary -- but it was something removed, something experienced vicariously in the comfort and safety of their living rooms on their widescreen TVs. Soon it would be put away with the other DVDs, just another frightening movie, like The Exorcist or Jaws. They saw it and it scared the hell out of them and they remember it, but life is calling and we must move on. To obsess over it would be as foolish and unhealthy as obsessing over the threat of demonic possessions or possibility of shark attacks. Besides, there are enough real problems in life without going out of your way looking for more.
In our attempts to understand this apparent nationalistic apathy, this seeming indifference to catastrophe, we have come up with several possible answers. Richard Nixon and Watergate was the cause of our manifest distrust in government. Vietnam was the cause of our manifest distrust in war. And the pervasive and insidious cynicism and rampant anti-Americanism of our leftist academia, infested as it is by ideological radicals from the 60s, most likely became the cause of our manifest distrust in America.
Although all of these answers are, I believe, equally valid, there is another possible answer to the vexing problem of this deadly complacency, an answer which has nothing whatsoever to do with Richard Nixon or Vietnam or the radical environment of our Ivy League universities.
We have become saturated with violence, and immune to disaster.
Virtually speaking, we've seen it all. In our movie theaters and on our television screens we've experienced every conceivable form of murder and mayhem. We are, at once, appalled and obsessed with violence. We always have been, and we probably always will be.
Are we any more civilized than our Roman ancestors because the blood that we so avidly watch being spilled is virtual blood in a virtual arena? Isn't this precisely the same emotion only ever so slightly sublimated? Have we really developed that much morally? I wonder.
Our cups runneth over with artificial blood. Our children have been subsumed into a world of virtual brutality and violence.
Our tolerance for violence and our threshold for shock has risen exponentially.
On Oct. 30, 1938, thousands of otherwise normal Americans ran out into the streets in panic in response to Orson Welles' now-famous realistic radio production of H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds. Terrified people fled the cities and armed themselves with shotguns.
What, I wonder, would it take to shock our contemporary American? What, I wonder, would make them run out into the streets?
Nearly 100 percent of households have television, and the total number of sets is increasing; 87 percent of households have two or more television sets. Over 60 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds have a television set in their bedroom. Cable TV is found in about 77 percent of American homes, greatly increasing the number of channels and programs available. Children readily learn the TV-viewing lifestyle from the adults around them. Within households viewing time may total up to 59 hours a week. Recent studies indicate extensive violence in television programs.
The National Television Violence Study, for example, found that 57 percent of programs contained violence, usually numerous acts of violence in a single program. In approximately 75 percent of these programs, the violence seemed to be sanctioned, with no punishment of the perpetrators. Violence was depicted as humorous in more than a third of the programs.Only 4 percent of the violent programs offered a strong anti-violence message. Premium cable programs, often showing movies, had the highest percentage of violence. A study of children's programs showed that they were 10 percent more violent than adult programs.
In addition to extensive viewing of programs and movies on television, children at home have access to other on-screen entertainment, including video games and the Internet. 67 percent of homes with children have video game equipment. Slightly over 68 percent of homes with children have computers and 41 percent have access to the Internet.
65 percent of American households play computer and video games
38 percent of American homes have a video game console
The average game player is 35 years old
One out of four gamers is over age 50
Women age 18 or older represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (33 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (18 percent)
41 percent of Americans expect to purchase one or more games this year.
The effects of violence in television or in video games on our children has been studied extensively. But what about the effects on our entire society? We have become accustomed to interacting with this world or ours through plastic screens. We have become one step removed from reality. Nothing touches us deeply anymore, or lasts for very long. We've seen it all.
This present generation isn't in love with peace, nor does it loathe war. It is enamored of war, so long as it is virtual war.
This, then, is perhaps the greatest tragedy of 9/11. The effects have worn off. Our sense of imminent peril has receded. It's safe to go outside once again. It was just something that happened, that's all. To obsess over it would be as foolish and unhealthy as obsessing over the threat of demonic possessions or possibility of shark attacks. Besides, there are enough real problems in life without going out of your way looking for more. -rg