Bushisms and Self-Sacrifice

 Posted by on 25 May 2002 at 2:01 pm  Uncategorized
May 252002

Eugene defends the president’s latest Bushism as nothing to get all excited about. Eugene cites Bush’s speech:

They found out we think differently here in America. We think differently because this is a nation that loves our freedom, loves our country. And this is a nation that has got citizens who are willing to sacrifice for a cause greater than themselves.

Forget the silliness of “this is a nation that … loves our country.” How about the philosophical absurdity of the United States being a nation of “citizens who are willing to sacrifice for a cause greater than themselves.”

There is a reason that the worship of death and destruction found in Islamic militants is accompanied by a worship of self-sacrifice for a greater cause. The former is the natural consequence of the latter.

Americans, however much they might prattle incoherently on about the virtues of selflessness, are lovers of life and happiness. That’s why we think differently from our enemies. That’s why America is so great.

Particularly aggravating is the idea that the passengers on Flight 93 willingly sacrificed themselves for the good of the rest of us. Surely, their actions benefited us greatly. Surely, they did not want to stand by and be complicit in the horrible evil that the terrorists were attempting to perpetrate. But, in reality, attacking the hijackers was their best and only chance of survival. They knew, from talking to the relatives on their cellphones about the attacks on the WTC, that they were all dead if they did nothing. Their only chance for life, as slim as it might has been, was to attempt to retake the plane. So they did.

Those of Flight 93 are not heroes because they were willing to sacrifice their lives to save others. They are heroes because they saw the reality of their situation and acted courageously to fight for their lives. They are heroes because they were unwilling to play the role of sacrificial victims to the hijacker’s evil.

Will Thomas articulated this point better than I have in a commentary entitled American Heroism. He writes:

A myth has circulated in the press: that the passengers of Flight 93 sacrificed themselves to save the nation’s capital. In fact, at the time they attacked the hijackers, there is every reason to think they had a reasonable hope of survival. This myth is driven by the altruistic conception of heroism which permeates the cultural subconscious, steeped as it is in the life-boat stories so prevalent in college courses on moral problems. Let it be said that were this myth true, there would still be much to admire in the integrity and benevolence of a person who would not abandon his values in the world even in the face of his own certain death. To live as a human is to live by reason and to live by principle. So it is admirable and moving to see a person face his own death with the same virtues that he lived his life.

But there is no evidence that martyrdom was the goal of Glick, Burnett, and their companions. There is every reason to think it was possible for the passengers, perhaps with the help of a surviving pilot, to find a way to safely land the plane if they could only get control of it. Burnett’s wife told the AP her husband “thought he was going to be home. He was going to solve this problem.” It is a tragedy that he and his compatriots did not make it home. It is heroic that they acted while they still could, as best they could. It takes a rare love of life to throw oneself into a one-sided battle, against the odds, risking injury and death for a chance to make it through. That is the hope of the lover of life: that even the direst problems can be solved. It is a characteristically American hope, and striving to bring it about under the direst and most unforeseen of circumstances takes greatness in many dimensions. It takes American heroism.


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