From THE VN/VO:
Shortly after the July 7th attacks on London, I emailed an associate who works downtown in the British city. Half of the reason behind the email was to make sure that no one was hurt. The other half came from my instincts as an American- for some reason I felt I had to share in an outpouring of emotion and healing. He emailed me back, still at work getting things done. He briefly mentioned how not unexpectedly calm everyone was and- even though four bombs had just gone off blocks from his office- his main concern- after seeing everyone was safe- was the impending traffic getting home.
While the United States is certainly doing a lot of things right in its fight against terrorism, we could learn a lot from Britain in terms of how we react to horrific- but ever more apparently inevitable- attacks. A nation's reaction is not just window dressing, but a truly important piece of what is essentially an international cultural war. In this modern battle with terrorism, cracks in the proverbial armor can show up both in military campaigns as well as cultural reaction.
Hours after the attacks, British Prime Minister Tony Blair gave a speech which contained a reference to what may be the most important internal social element in the fight against terror. One would be hard pressed to find such a term in much of the reaction in the US after 9/11. Blair commended "the stoicism and resilience of the people of London." The key word here: stoicism.
Certainly Americans have done well with such concepts as strength, energy and healing- however stoicism has, for the most part, been missing. Stoicism is the indifference to pain or pleasure, and as against-the-grain as it seems to American culture, "indifference" is actually a small but critical piece to avoiding the intentions of terrorists.
In the aftermath of September 11th, Americans' first reaction is generally to gush with somewhat charlatan patriotism. Flags, candles, and memorial ribbons fly off the shelves. While I'm not about to knock anyone's personal healing process, it's tremendously interesting that our reaction always centers around that which displays.
Is such display merely a sincere love for the principles of our country finally coming out? Is it a trite begging for attention and sympathy? However you define the American cultural reaction, one thing is for certain: pretty much everyone around the globe- from our allies to those who actually attacked us- know we're deeply affected.
Stoicism and a healthy indifference is also severely lost on our internal policies as well. Taking a look at recent American airport security measures: it is as if the authorities main intention is merely to remind us of the exact items and processes used to attack us on that one specific September morning. Well, except this time around every single traveler is a suspect.
While I have to believe that those actually behind the scenes protecting America from future attacks are doing a decent job of being efficient and proactive, the face we show to world is a lot less stoic resolve, and a lot more fear and- shall I say- terror.
Beyond the intangible policies and attitudes of Americans, the prime weakness in our reaction to terrorism can be found in our fetish for overly designed and contrived monuments. New York City is embarking on a project to "rebuild" the World Trade Center area in a fashion that is everything but stoic determination. In 2001, a group of terrorists decided to, amongst many other things, permanently change the skyline of America's largest city. For some reason, our reaction was to go with their redesign plan, merely employing our architects to add that Disney touch everyone seems to desire.
Now, design critiques are subjective, and not the main point here. The new buildings in New York will be beautiful to some, ugly to others. However, the underlying attitude and message is the important piece. Would not the most resolute reaction have been to simply rebuild the twin towers- of course using the most modern structural and security processes- in the same slab-by-slab image as the ones the terrorists knocked down?
Sure, stoicism is not generally exciting. Stoicism doesn't make for good television, nor does it inspire an outpouring of emotional patriotism. What it does do, however, is to prevent a culture from remaining rattled and affected forever- lingering on past pain for decades.
You see, gushing displays and lingering pain are the definition of terrorism's goal. The weapons used by terrorists are not car bombs and hijacked planes- rather, it's the intangible terror. The real casualties of terrorist attacks are not the unfortunate passengers on a bombed train- the casualties are our resilience and stoicism.
View story at THE VN/VO:
Learning from the British Stoic Reaction