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Return to Normal, You Say?

by John Troyer

While I was thinking about a column topic for today, a friend of mine suggested I write about something, anything other than the events related to Sept. 11. People are tired of hearing about it, she said; write something funny.

My friend’s comments revealed a sentiment I have increasingly noticed in daily life over the last month. A visible weariness is beginning to emerge for an American populace wanting the return of normal life. What I am not clear on is how a return to normalcy (however normal might be defined) is possible or advisable. I increasingly believe an abnormal way of life is the only way the United States population can undo the tyranny of normality that is pursuing a wholesale forgetting of the historical moments connected to Sept. 11.

If the way things were before produced the way things are now, then what benefits does the return to normalcy offer? I presume the short-term yields involve personal comfort, the expenditure of capital and perhaps national pride. The long-term benefits are not so clear (if even possible) and suggest prolonged dangers.

A return to normalcy guarantees nothing but problems as the vast majority of the American population resumes ignoring anything not bearing the made in the USA label. To even assume the possibility of getting back to business normality means forgetting the historical complications surrounding the events post-Sept. 11.

I witnessed an apparent return to normalcy on Sunday, Oct. 7 when the United States and Great Britain began their bombing campaigns in Afghanistan. The national television networks briefly interrupted their regular programming to provide some important, albeit limited, information about the military action. The Pentagon was predictably withholding campaign details that might risk military security, so the information was limited at best. Dan Rather, however, made a point of assuring viewers the previously scheduled football game would soon reappear on the television.

As a card-carrying member of the counter-American club, I abruptly turned off my 10-inch black and white television and begrudgingly realized how back-to-normal life had returned. Even though the bombs were falling, at least the American people could watch a football game. Could anything be more menacingly normal on a Sunday afternoon? The raw spectacle of Sept. 11 garnered unprecedented television coverage, and I would hope any global war fought by the United States of America would also receive unparalleled attention.

The problem is Afghanistan is elsewhere _ somewhere between here and a far off place called the Middle East. It is a country without militarily defined high-value targets and was a source of chilling laughter when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld explained Afghanistan is running out of locations to destroy. Then again, perhaps laughter is appropriate _ it is most certainly normal.

Even now, I seriously question how many Americans can look at a world map and point to the country allegedly responsible for assisting the suspected individuals of unhinging normalcy in everyday Western life. Where on the map does the free-flowing, invisible terrorist threat lurk passing along supposed secret messages every time Osama bin Laden is heard speaking on national television. Press Secretary Ari Fleischer and National Security Council Adviser Condoleeza Rice apparently received their secret decoder rings before anyone else in America. Perhaps the point is irrelevant since a working knowledge of world geography is abnormal for most Americans. Knowing about the other places _ the elsewheres _ is too much labor and of course the business of those external populations desirous of American dreams. At least one group of roughly nineteen individuals knew exactly where American memory might cling to the geography. Maybe, maybe not.

Between maybe and maybe not is a crucial shift involving a nationally-directed, personal willingness to embrace the normal for the sake of forgetting the abnormal. Herein lies the lesson most American people need to learn: the highest value targets are rarely material locations but memories of the past. Landmarks in architecture will come and go with the passing of time or abrupt destruction.

Forgetting the circumstances leading up to and beyond the destruction of American landmarks is the real victory for any terror-based organization. America has already successfully forgotten any lessons partially learned in the U.S. historical past about terrorism’s productive qualities on the North American continent _ but that is normal.

Terrorism is inherently a practice; a method of reaching ends that works most successfully against a population unaware of its own past. The dual terror of Sept. 11 is the human damage done and the often repeated, unquestionable goodness of America in a just crusade as suggested by President W. Bush. The use of the term crusade should cause all Americans great discomfort, although I predict most people will continue watching the football game.

I am the first to admit it is completely normal to wash the blood off hands that look all too historically American _ more specifically, Anglo-American. Red stains white with a great deal more ease than other colors. An aggressive and methodic cleansing of the historical stains is all too normal in everyday life. I do not presume to remove myself from the accusation; I cannot. I have no interest in forgetting any of the history leading up to and beyond the bombings of Afghanistan on Oct. 7.

As the terrorists, a group apparently easy to identify based on skin color, are smoked out of their holes the world over (military strikes are rumored soon to begin in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia) perhaps American troops will once again strike Iraq with a lionhearted fury. Then and only then will I remember something I wrote ten years ago about the Gulf War, “military occupation in the Middle East by the United States will only cause problems in the future.”

Truth told, that statement was considered abnormal for the times in my small-town Wisconsin high school. My classmates did not have the term terrorist in their everyday lexicon, so I was simply called a Communist. Marx and Engels apparently inspired my small-town Wisconsin commie-rhetoric, and I really believe the two terms are interchangeable for many American citizens.

Winning the Cold War has made finding the bogeyman really difficult for post-1989 Washington administrations. At least the Berlin Wall gave American presidents an object to suggest tearing down. Then again, it was the Cold War that got the United States government involved in Afghanistan the first time around the block but during those days the members of al-Qaida were freedom fighters.

The infinite justice or enduring freedom of the present historical situation will not reside in a military reckoning but a prolonged remembering of the past by the American populace. For the time being, however, America needs to again forget everything that happened and return to normal, it is by far the most comfortable way of life. CP

John Troyer is a columnist for the Minnesota Daily, the student newspaper at the University of Minnesota.

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