If Bush or Giuliani Had Been Stoltenberg

The murder spree in Norway was apparently the work of a Norwegian, not a group of foreigners, and for various other reasons the comparison is not exact. Nonetheless, it’s tempting to wonder how many people would still be alive today if George W. Bush or Rudy Giuliani had spoken after the 9-11 attacks as Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg just did.

You’ll recall that Bush immediately spoke of a “war against terrorism,” claimed to have been attacked for being a beacon of freedom, announced that we were all filled with anger, and decreed that we would make no distinction between terrorists and “those who harbored them.” “The people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!” he promised.

Now take a 60-second tour of an alternative universe by substituting “the United States” for “Norway” in Stoltenberg’s remarks:

“Today the United States was hit by two shocking and bloody and cowardly attacks. We still do not know who attacked us; much is still uncertain. But we know that many are dead and injured. We are all shocked at the evil that has struck us so brutally and so suddenly. This night demands much of all of us. And the days that follow will demand even more. We are prepared to face up to this. The United States hangs together during critical times. We mourn our dead, we suffer with the injured, and we comfort relatives. This is about attacks on innocent civilians. . . . An attack on all of us. I have a message to the people who attacked us, and those behind them. This is a message from all of the United States: You will not destroy us. You will not destroy our democracy nor our quest for a better world. We are a small nation, but we are a proud nation. No one shall bomb us into silence or shoot us into silence. Nothing will frighten us out of being the United States. This night we will comfort each other, talk with each other, and stand together. Tomorrow we will show the world that the United States’ democracy grows stronger when it is challenged. We shall find the guilty and hold them responsible. The important thing tonight is to save lives, to care for the victims and their loved ones. I would like to state my recognition for the work of the police, the medics, and all the other people who currently do such formidable work to help others, healing injures and saving lives. We must never cease to stand up for our values. We have to show that our open society can pass this test, too, and that the answer to violence is even more democracy, even more humanity, but never naïveté. That is what we owe to the victims and to the those they hold dear.”


Not “we will destroy you,” but “you will not destroy us.”

Imagine opposing fear rather than celebrating it.

Imagine proposing more democracy rather than working “in the shadows” with “the gloves off.”

Now, I know that Norway is taking part in illegal U.S.-led wars. I know the Nobel Committee went to Oslo and gave a peace prize to a warmonger. I know that once foreigners had been ruled out as culprits, President Bill Clinton went and gave a decent speech in Oklahoma City. There is much to praise and condemn on both sides of the pond.

But Norway, with less wealth than ours, cares for its people. It has a higher life expectancy and a higher living standard. I don’t mean for the private-jet-to-summer-camp set. I mean for everyone. Norway has healthcare, retirement security, vacation and parental leave, and firmly protected rights in and out of the workplace. And it responds to national trauma with relative sanity.

My grandmother could speak Norwegian. I’ve visited my extended family there. I have to wonder with embarrassment and shame what got lost in the emigration. Should the Statue of Liberty be shipped over to Scandinavia at this point? There’s a difference between blaming wars on mythical hatred of freedom and actually being free.

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