Some of my fellow Americans have predictably declared Friday’s attacks to be “France’s 9/11.” While I do not fault their instinct to express sympathy, our respective tragedies occurred under vastly differing circumstances and will have equally divergent effects. I am certain that the best and brightest – not to mention the worst and dullest – of both our nations are now struggling to make sense out of this chaotic mayhem. While I do have my opinions on those questions, I’m under no illusion that they’d be either unique or helpful. I’ll pass on that discussion for the time being.
What I would like to offer are some thoughts on how to mourn such a perverse act of violence. Before I continue, I want to assure you that I’m under no illusions that your nation is either naive or passive towards the civilizational cancer of Islamist fundamentalism. As a young cavalry officer in Afghanistan, I learned to value and anticipate the soothing roar of Mirages over the orchards of Kandahar. Thank you.
However, I suspect most of the French people would agree that Friday’s attack on Paris represented a new frontier of violence. While these attacks would have been traumatic anywhere, I’d imagine this effect is magnified in a society as devoid of violence as almost any in recorded history. To contrast, when my classmates and I contemplated the future on the afternoon of 9/11, we did so through psyches well-prepared for the task: We had listened to news reporters update us on the Oklahoma City bombing and the Waco siege. We had watched video of two young men similar to ourselves merrily gun down their classmates in a high-school cafeteria. And many of us had experienced some form of the banal, routine daily violence that, sadly, makes our nation so “exceptional” in comparison to the rest of the developed world. What I want you to know is this: You have built an otherwise tranquil nation. You’re so stunned, so anguished because your values could not be further from those of these barbarians.
So mourn. Grieve publicly, as a unified nation. Grieve privately, and fully entertain the darkest visitors to your psyche. Cry and drink too much and express your seething anger but do not – and I cannot emphasize this enough – do not get used to this shit. It is not the status quo and it will not be our future. In the coming months, your leaders will likely argue ad nauseam over the question of how best to defend your nation from this threat. These discussions will be tedious and divisive, yet they are absolutely necessary. But do not, at any point, believe that acquiescence is part of any valid strategy. Do not submit, in any sense. For a quarter of a millennium, your Republic has authored the ideas that have enabled such a stunning advance of human dignity. Hold this lead. Do not submit.
Putting aside my confused, perhaps even condescending thoughts on grief, politics, and the rights of man, please know this: I am sorry for your loss.
In Fierce Solidarity,