What Have We Learned About Ourselves Since 9/11? Not Enough
As I recall the horrors of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, I want to express my forgiveness of Karlheinz Stockhausen, a noted German composer who, at that tragic time two decades ago, should have stuck to music.
Stockhausen suddenly became infamous after a news conference a few days after the attacks in New York and Washington for describing them in German like this: “What happened there is, is of course — now you all have to adjust your brains — the greatest work of art that has ever existed.”
Uh, oh. Too soon.
Although Stockhausen quickly apologized for any misunderstanding, his remarks sparked a predictable backlash. His concerts at a music festival were canceled and his pianist daughter said she would no longer perform using the Stockhausen name.
When he died in 2007 at age 79, his 9/11 scandal all but overshadowed his extraordinary musical career.
Yet, as someone who makes a living out of trying to make sense out of senseless tragedies like 9/11, Stockhausen’s observation has begun to make sense as a explanation for why terrorism still plagues our headlines: In modern parlance, it’s a performance art, a lethal force adapted by a small group to intimidate everyone else.
Such is the nature of “asymmetrical warfare,” a David-versus-Goliath strategy that enables small armed groups like Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida or Afghanistan’s Taliban to go up against a larger force armed with modern high-tech weaponry.
Since breaking the unity and fighting spirit of the larger force is a key aim of such tactics, I am also reminded two decades after 9/11 of another memorable performance later that evening that happened on Capitol Hill: Members of both parties and both houses of Congress stood on the Capitol steps, some holding hands, for a moment of silence to honor victims of the attack.
Then they ended memorably with an unplanned song: “God Bless America.”
Call me a sentimental softie, but that particular performance art put a patriotic lump in my throat. Our national trauma was followed in the best American way with a heartfelt display of national unity.