Andre Glucksmann, the French philosopher, has a very important piece in City Journal-the subtitle describes it this way: “Modern terrorism seeks to combine the annihilating power of Hiroshima with the nihilistic gospel of Auschwitz.”
Glucksmann compares our reactions to September 11 and modern terrorism-horror and then denial-to the reactions of Europeans to the World Wars. First, they were shocked and tried to understand, but then it became too much:
“More often, though, one runs up against the limits of awareness. The worst of the storm has barely passed, and one is busy ‘moving on’-renovating dead-end roads, regilding the clocks of Cloud-Cuckoo-Land. We turn away from reality and its truths, which are neither easy to live with nor pleasant to talk about. Before long, repression is complete…
“Maybe one day, we will view the last century with nostalgia, even if it was dealt Auschwitz and Hiroshima. For today’s terrorism strives to mix these two ingredients into new cocktails of horror. During the cold war, the threat to man was dual: one, between two blocs, involved reciprocal annihilation; the other, terrorist, confined the savage extermination of civilian populations to the interior of each camp. Today, global terrorism eliminates geostrategic borders and traditional taboos….
“Imre Kertész was twice a survivor, once from the death camps and then again from Communism; saved by literature, he was Hungary’s first Nobel Prize winner. He writes: “Some day we should analyze the mass of resentments that bring the contemporary mind to scorn reason; we should undertake an intellectual history of the hatred of the intellect.” The various forms of racism, chauvinism, fanaticism, and the apparent rebirth of an aggression that was thought to be a thing of the past surprise us. Should we not be surprised at our surprise? The understandable but wrongheaded choice to sleep peacefully, whatever the price, puts us all in jeopardy.”
It was a great temptation to quote at greater length from this fine essay. Please read the whole piece.