From the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and bestselling author of Backlash—an unflinching dissection of the mind of America after 9/11
In this most original examination of America's post-9/11 culture, Susan Faludi shines a light on the country's psychological response to the attacks on that terrible day. Turning her acute observational powers on the media, popular culture, and political life, Faludi unearths a barely acknowledged but bedrock societal drama shot through with baffling contradictions. Why, she asks, did our culture respond to an assault against American global dominance with a frenzied summons to restore "traditional" manhood, marriage, and maternity? Why did we react as if the hijackers had targeted not a commercial and military edifice but the family home and nursery? Why did an attack fueled by hatred of Western emancipation lead us to a regressive fixation on Doris Day womanhood and John Wayne masculinity, with trembling "security moms," swaggering presidential gunslingers, and the "rescue" of a female soldier cast as a "helpless little girl"?
The answer, Faludi finds, lies in a historical anomaly unique to the American experience: the nation that in recent memory has been least vulnerable to domestic attack was forged in traumatizing assaults by nonwhite "barbarians" on town and village. That humiliation lies concealed under a myth of cowboy bluster and feminine frailty, which is reanimated whenever threat and shame looms.
Brilliant and important, The Terror Dream shows what 9/11 revealed about us—and offers the opportunity to look at ourselves anew.
SignatureReviewed by Richard RodriguezSusan Faludi has written a brilliant, unsentimental, often darkly humorous account of America's nervous breakdown after 9/11. "The intrusions of September 11," she observes, "broke the dead bolt on our protective myth, the illusion that... our might makes our homeland impregnable... and women and children safe in the arms of their men."Drawing on political rhetoric and accounts from the New York Times and the major networks, as well as Fox and talk radio, her book makes clear just how sexually anxious Americans became in the aftermath of that terrible day. But "the tragedy had yielded no victorious heroes, so the culture wound up anointing a set of victimized men instead: the firemen who had died in the stairwells of the World Trade Center."The woman's role, she argues, became that of victim. Husbands had lost wives, but it was on the surviving wives of September 11 that America's grief was fixed. When some widows "the Jersey girls" rejected the victim's role by asking pointed questions about governmental incompetence, they were quickly ostracized by the press.After September 11, we read that Donald Rumsfeld had been a wrestler at Princeton and that became his legend in news accounts. Even the president clearing brush in Crawford, Tex., became the stuff of legend in the National Review, which juxtaposed Bush's "refreshingly brutish" demeanor with the way "the president sizes up the situation and says, 'You're mine, sucker.' " A late chapter on Jessica Lynch rehearses how the myth of the imprisoned woman rescued by male warriors was manufactured by the government and the media. But I wish Faludi had appraised the more important Abu Ghraib scandal. Arguably, the photographs of Private Lynndie England standing over naked Arab men shocked many of us out of any remaining childish belief in our own heroism. The last third of the book traces how the American male's determination to see himself as protector (and the woman as dependent) derives from colonial Puritan wars against the Indians and the cowboy conquest of the West. In the end, Faludi judges our invasion of Afghanistan to be "inept" and tthe war in Iraq "disastrous." It is essential, she says, not to confuse "the defense of a myth" with "the defense of a country." A nation given to childish fantasy ends up with a president dressed like Tom Cruise, "a chest beater in a borrowed flight suit."Richard Rodriguez is the author of Brown: The Last Discovery of America (Penguin).