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Sunday, September 15, 2002

Our Opinion

The Year After

It was a cruel, ghastly coincidence. It made of September 11, 2001, as long as we’re around and for several reasons, a permanent and painfully resonant reminder of’s own purposes and obligations. We went online a month after the attacks, which meant, of course, that we were feverishly engaged in preparing our launch at the time the terror struck. Two of the four of us who founded are New Yorkers, and Manhattanites, as are many of our contributors – and the other two are Washingtonians, although one now “commutes” regularly from Athens. All four of us are native-born Greeks who, for one reason or another, ended up in the United States, like so many other – infinitely more desperate and choiceless – immigrants. As citizens of this republic and, at the same time, of another as well, therefore, we have no alternative but always to gaze upon one country – it doesn’t matter which – through the eyes of the other one.

Depending on your point of view, that’s either a curse or a benediction. We’ve done all we can in the last 11 months, and hope to continue in precisely the same way, to ensure the latter. We find ourselves continually, unavoidably, inevitably in the middle, dissenting from the opinions of the majorities (silent or otherwise) of our fellow citizens, both in the United States and Greece. Divided loyalties? Hardly. Because of what can only be called our (and many of our contributors’) existential condition, we find ourselves constantly, endlessly negotiating a different course from the well-trod ones down which both our American and Greek compatriots blithely proceed, in both cases with batteries of flag-bearers waving the respective ensigns, which, unfortunately, only obscure the road ahead for those who choose to do nothing but march in step sullenly, nursing bleak visions of victimization, real and imagined.

There’s no point in following this route, and we won’t. In the event, (very) many others have been doing it for decades, with remarkable skill and ease. We leave to them the tried (if not necessarily the true), while we address the needful. Which, right now in the life both of the United States and the world – precisely because the United States is so deeply affected – is lucidity. A clear – that is to say, a morally clear – sense of where we are headed and, more important, why.

Initially, foolishly, a while ago, we had planned a special edition of to commemorate September 11, 2001. As September came upon us, however, and the media and bookstores and cultural groups in New York combined in a mighty chorus of designed solidarity, we changed our minds; we thought that the victims and their families – that all of us – deserved better than this. So, we chose not to participate in what has obviously become an organized retreat from understanding, and from genuine human resistance to evil, which, unfortunately, comes in all the guises and colors and falseness of the human condition.

Nevertheless, we are proud of this issue. Our lead article – written by Melanie Wallace, an American woman living in Greece – speaks (movingly indeed) for all of us in its conviction that to submit to the pathetic clichés and political exploitations of the moment (which has already stretched to a year) is, at the least, an intellectual crime in itself. Alexander Kitroeff’s pointed reappraisal of the historical scholarship surrounding one of the worst tragedies of the earlier part of the twentieth century is a reminder of how history keeps its own counsel, and of how, even more than vindication, the dead demand understanding.

While Laurie Hart’s review does not touch upon September 11 directly, it touches very much upon the cultural myths that make a people proud – or angry or even confused – about who they are. As she makes clear, even buildings can help define a nation – or certainly provoke the most extraordinary and resolute loyalties in the human beings among whom they are erected. Ted Honderich’s recent book on the moral implications of how we live “after the terror,” discussed in Peter Pappas’s review, argues that people and nations should, at the very least, care about what is happening among other people and in other nations. This, of course, has been said often enough in the discussions surrounding the attacks of September 11. It is not clear, however, that it is as yet understood.

In the end, Stelios Vasilakis’s riff on, and with, the Boss is, perhaps, not only the most appropriate conclusion to this issue, but the finest honor we can pay to all those who lost their lives, or were seriously handicapped, or were the wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, or – the category that covers all preceding ones and many more – lovers of such. This is not the place to get mawkish about the consolations of art, and of popular art in particular. It is the place, however, to echo Vasilakis in his sensitive reading of Springsteen (and, of course, in his listening of the music). When Vasilakis refers to Springsteen’s uncanny ability to communicate “the fact that life is so fundamentally simple that it is utterly impossible, indeed too overwhelming, to comprehend,” we can only shake our heads in agreement. Life is simple, and that’s what makes it so hard to figure out. One thing’s clear to all of us at, however: there’s absolutely nothing worth dying for in George W. Bush’s – and Dick Cheney’s and Donald Rumsfeld’s and John Ashcroft’s – America; there’s a whole lot to die, and live, for in Springsteen’s America.

Although we decided against a special commemoration of September 11 this year, we will return to the issue(s) it has engendered again and again throughout the next year. That makes more sense to us in any case. As for the final word, we leave it to Vangelio Koutsoukos, the 75-year-old woman from the village of Myloi, in southern Evia: the notion that mass murderers – of any race, gender, color, creed, place of national origin, or ideology – will be greeted by any kind of “reward” in any kind of “afterlife” is a terrible, and monstrous, “lathos.”

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