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Jewish World Review Nov. 28, 2001/ 13 Kislev, 5762

Norah Vincent

Norah Vincent
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It's not our fault that we're better off -- THE terrorists attacked the World Trade Center because they think the United States is about money. That's also why the political left, here and in Europe (both of which have deep roots in communism), has tended to take an anti-American view of Sept. 11 and its aftermath. Their common enemy is the almighty dollar, the only difference being that the terrorists are motivated by cultural envy; the ideological left by cultural guilt.

But this is mostly because they've failed--or refused--to see what democratic capitalism, at its best, is all about. It isn't the World Trade Center. It isn't Wall Street. It isn't really money at all. That's only a means to rather unambitious ends. If you venture outside today, you can't help noticing it. Walk around your neighborhood. Feel the almost palpable silence. It hangs like a thick and drowsy summer afternoon, a still point in the turning world, a dot of necessary ease. It's what we've been working toward all along. That's why the average American spends five days out of seven drudging through endless workdays, when the coffee has worn off and quitting time seems miles away. He doesn't do it for the money. He does it for the simple privacy and repose that his earnings can buy. A home. A nice meal. A day off. A morning spent in bed or in front of the television with family. A well-deserved rest.

This is no accident. These are the benefits of our economic and political system, and a great many Americans enjoy them. Not every American enjoys them fully, but this cannot negate the fact that even our poorest citizens are rich by Afghan, Indian, Pakistani, Chinese and African standards; neither can it negate the more telling fact that hordes of immigrants come to this country every year in search of that same small corner of contentment. Many find it.

On this day, when the mythologized American "way of life" is celebrated, we would do well to remember that adverse economic conditions in many countries are as much a direct result of those countries' self-inflicted political fiascoes as our prosperity is a direct result of our political equilibrium. Surrounded by bounty, we should remember that while famines and abject poverty in other parts of the world are deeply lamentable, they have arisen largely from the ravages of ongoing civil wars, the neglect of incumbent tyrannies and the outright greed of predatory warlords. It is not the U.S., the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund that is primarily to blame. What's more, in many cases--as we are doing in Afghanistan now and as we did in other starving and ravaged trouble spots like Ethiopia and Somalia--we have provided humanitarian aid to those in need.

This doesn't mean that we are blameless. During the Cold War especially, we partook in many a covert and dirty conflict, including anti-Soviet action in Afghanistan. Chile, El Salvador and Nicaragua belong on the list as well. Protecting our interests abroad has not been bloodless or unfalteringly benign.

But it also has not been meritless. As in the current conflict, it has sometimes been necessary to protect not just the grosser things that our detractors think the U.S. embodies but the simpler things that we have, until recently, taken so much for granted.

Foreigners who have little acquaintance with this country and ivory tower intellectuals who have, in many ways, even less, think that the United States and its flag stand for the powerful rich and greedy imperialists alone.

Actually, the system that admits such excesses and abuses of power also makes possible such common, unsung niceties as a slice of leisure and a room of one's own. Not perfect, but surely defensible.

JWR contributor Norah Vincent is a New York writer and co-author of The Instant Intellectual: The Quick & Easy Guide to Sounding Smart & Cultured. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2001, Norah Vincent