In the wake of 9-11 very few Americans shuddered at the idea of trying to explain why terrorists flew planes into buildings. It was not enough to say simply that they ‘hated us’. We wanted to know why. In the months that followed the mainstream media and commentators of all stripes looked into the immediate and remote past to try to understand why such a horrific event occurred. There were few, if any outcries that this somehow disrespected the memories of the victims. In fact, many considered it a fitting tribute as well as a necessity – even as a matter of national security. That was certainly the case for me as I both mourned the loss of my cousin, who was killed in the South Tower, and struggled to understand the relevant history.
We can do the same for the nine men and women whose lives were cut short last week in such a brutal and senseless fashion. It’s not enough to say that Dylan Roof hated just as it was not enough in the case of the 9-11 terrorists. Roof hated for a certain reason and he told us in explicit language. His hate was built, in large part, around a certain understanding of the past and wrapped in the iconography of the Confederacy. As a nation we have a responsibility to come to terms with all of this.
We honor the victims by grappling with these very thorny issues and asking the tough questions that all too often hide behind platitudes and a self-serving politics. Let’s keep going.