September 11, 2010


Baldwin, James, "Views of a Near-Sighted Cannoneer," The Village Voice, July 13, 1961 ("There is observable, I think, in the work of most of this generation a desire to tell what actually happened--or what it actually feels like to be an American, now; but this desire is perpetually defeated by the spiritual obligation of being an American, which obligation is, simply, never to accept that evil is in the world. I am struck by the variety of ways in which the actual spiritual state of Americans is denied by people who have every reason to know what the state is: our educators, artists, and politicians. It is hard for me to believe, for example, that educators do not know the sorry truth behind the lack of real education here. It seems very clear to me that until the educators themselves believe in what they teach, there is no hope for their students. But the educators cannot accept this, because in order to do so they would have to overhaul every aspect of their private lives, which effort would hurl them forever beyond the bounds of the academic life." I agree with Baldwin regarding the 'spiritual obligation of being an American' as 'never to accept that evil is in the world.' Certainly since September 11, 2001, this spiritual obligation has been tested. Most Americans have been (willingly/unwillingly) trained to accept at least one evil or source of evil in the world: terror or terrorism. Yet, Americans knew there was evil in the world before September 11, 2001. Americans are strong believers in evil. Americans need evil and thrive on evil in the world: communism, secularism, foreigners, nonwhites. Think of all the evils Americans have gone to war against: war on drugs, war on crime, war on poverty, war on terror, war on guns, war to end all wars . . . . Americans believe there is evil in the world. It is just that they believe in other peoples' evil. Americans just don't believe that they are evil or a source of evil in the world. And, perhaps, that is the failure of educators in America. We failed to teach students to see the evil that is us. Our students are defeated by an obligation, drilled into them by parents, politicians, and educators, to never except that we Americans may be a source of some of the evil existing in the world.).