THese were the guys who had spent the previous decade refurbishing the old America-as-Decadent-Rome analogy -- you know, the country had become so permissive and relativistic and trivial that its citizens would fall to pieces in the first stiff wind. They were wrong on two counts. Despite America's love of scandal (O.J., Monica, Gary Condit) and fondness for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, such silliness hardly called down the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Al-Q'aeda has no qualms about murdering devout Muslims in Istanbul or Jakarta who've never heard of Britney Spears. And it's not as if we had been given a fateful choice -- "Would you rather watch Survivor or stop bin-Laden from killing 3,000 people?" -- and couldn't tear ourselves away from the next immunity challenge. Say what you want against Seinfeld, it is no more trivial than the radio escapades of Fibber McGee and Molly that my folks listened to during World War II. And no more corrupting: Lightheartedness is the saving flip-side of our national sense of rectitude. When the big moment came on September 11, most ordinary Americans behaved with admirable courage; it was Prince Hal who flew to Nebraska. The firemen raced into the danger just like their grandfathers on D-Day; brave civilians died helping one another escape the World Trade Center; the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 tried to take back the airplane. These people hadn't been ruined by the Sixties or the immoral Bill Clinton (given the geographic location of the attacks, many probably voted for him); no fireman refused to do his job because he'd been crippled by irony or was busy daydreaming about J.-Lo. So much for the sick soul of America. As the British demonstrated during the Blitz, you can fight the enemy and be ironic at the very same time; in fact, humor helped keep things bearable when the bombs were hitting London. Only dullards think you must be earnest to be serious.
Anyone who tells you that they way they want you to react is the only way to react is a self-serving liar who has not your best interests in mind. Pointing this out and providing instructive counter-examples is one of the greatest services a writer can do in an age of propaganda. "It ain't necessarily so" should be our national slogal these days.