|photo of Jean Bethke Elshtain: Kevin W. Weinstein/ Associated Press|
“Jean Bethke Elshtain, a Guiding Light For Policy Makers After 9/11, Dies at 72,” was the headline of a recent obit (NYT, 8/15/13). Elshtain was Laura Spellman Rockfeller professor of social and political ethics at the University of Chicago. In Paul Vitello’s post-mortem she’s quoted as saying “an image that crowds out many others in my mind is that of tens of thousands fleeing New York City by foot. As I watched and wept, I recalled something I had said many times in my classes on war: ‘Americans don’t have living memories of what it means to flee a city in flames. Americans have not been horrified by refugees fleeing burning cities.’ No more. Now we know.” There was a Battle of Britain. There was D-Day. There was the bombing of Dresden. Atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but as a world power, with the exception of the 9/11 and the earlier World Trade Center bombing (and discounting, of course, the Revolutionary and Civil Wars), modern day Americans, who are not in the military, have remained curiously immune from the wars they have fought. But Elshtain’s quote is prescient. Are we on the precipice of a whole new era in which average Americans will be personally affected by world events? Will there be new forms of cyber terror that will wreak havoc with the juggernaut of American prosperity? Perhaps weather events like Sandy, that paralyzed the Northeast last fall, shutting down major cities and leaving a massive path of destruction in their wake, presage the kinds of Armageddon, Europeans and others have experienced in the great wars and which we will no longer be able to excape.