Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?

Editor’s Note: see the previous reflection in this series on country music and American values: “3 Reasons Why I Like Country Music


Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” (“on that September day”) is a loving and poignant tribute to the victims of the 9/11 atrocity. Debuting at the CMA Awards festival two months after the terrorist attack, it is country’s version of Billy Collins’s poetic memorial “The Names.” Like Collins (“Yesterday I lay awake in the palm of the night”), Jackson is modest and understated (“I’m just a singer of simple songs/I’m not a real political man”), but the political and communal messages are powerful. Listing the reactions of ordinary Americans, Jackson charts a range of caring responses to the terror attack. These include patriotism, gratitude to heroes, the turn to God for answers, and a reassessment of what matters most in life:

Did you burst out with pride for the red, white and blue
And the heroes who died just doin’ what they do?
Did you look up to heaven for some kind of answer
And look at yourself and what really matters?

“I didn’t want to write a patriotic song,” Jackson told his interviewer Linda Owen at Today’s Christian. “And I didn’t want it to be vengeful, either,” he explained, “but I didn’t want to forget about how I felt and how I knew other people felt that day.”

Whether he intended to or not, Jackson did end up writing a patriotic song filled with solicitude for his country and its people. There is one potentially vengeful, or realistically self-protective, response mentioned (“Did you go out and buy you a gun?”), but most of the emphasis is on holding loved ones close and affirming membership in community: phoning one’s mother with a message of love, standing in line to give blood, speaking to a stranger on the street. Nowhere, of course, does Jackson imagine that ordinary Americans might have felt satisfaction at the thought of America being so wounded, or that their first impulse would have been to blame America and glorify the terrorists.


For many if not most Americans, the assumption of inviolability and non-involvement had crumbled with the Towers. The feeling of immunity or even apathy toward the possible irruption of terror on American soil had been replaced in the minds and hearts of decent people by an unexpected conviction of responsibility, coupled with a deep sense of anger, sorrow and resilience. “No man is an island, entire of itself,” John Donne wrote in the 17th Devotion, “every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Wherever many of us were on that September day, we were also in New York. I was marooned (no boats, no planes) on the tiny Greek island of Tilos, but rapidly understood that Tilos was a part of the North American continent.

Jackson may not be a “real political man” but he’s the real thing, a man with a big heart and a clear mind, so indefeasibly different from our complacent and wrong-headed intelligentsia and community “leaders”, whose range of responses runs between outright commiseration with the terrorists and a kind of Houyhyhnm-like complacency, that is, between palpable madness and ineffable foolishness—if they are not actually shilling for the enemy.

To cite just a few among a plethora of instances. While Ground Zero was still smouldering—as I wrote in The Big Lie, canvassing the all-but treasonous responses of our intellectual “elite”—influential  “rights activist” and former head of the University of Colorado’s ethnic studies Program, Ward Churchill, posted an online essay praising the “gallant sacrifices” of the terrorist “combat teams” (September 12). Four days later Edward Said published a Comment in The Observer in which he deprecated the American “superpower almost constantly at war…all over the Islamic world,” and could not restrain himself from getting in a blatant canard against the “Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories,” concluding that the “roots of terror” lay in “injustice.” As I wrote at the time, no one seemed to notice that this was the rhetoric of the ideological scavenger, picking over the carcasses to feed his hatred.


Shortly afterward, Susan Sontag in an article for The New Yorker (September 24) claimed that 9/11 was “undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions.” On the same day, Peter Dale Scott, a transplanted Canadian and the author of several books of unreadable verse, proclaimed to a class at the University of California at Berkeley that the terrorists “aren’t cowards, if nothing else, it surely isn’t cowardly to ride the plane in for something you believe.”

Among those who waited a month or two before gloating over the corpses, Naomi Klein writing in The Nation (October 10) responded to the bloodbath of 9/11 by considering that “now seems like a good time to challenge the forces of nihilism and nostalgia within our own ranks”—by which she would have meant people like Billy Collins and Alan Jackson. In a speech delivered at MIT (October 18), Noam Chomsky asserted that the American retaliatory strike against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden should be understood as “some sort of silent genocide.” In an article titled “The Spirit of Terrorism” for Le Monde (November 2), French philosopher Jean Baudrillard wrote of the “prodigious jubilation of seeing this global superpower destroyed.”

Not to be outdone, the politicos joined the intellectuals in pursuing a despicable agenda. For example, in a speech at Georgetown University, Bill Clinton issued a national mea culpa to the enemy, confessing that “those of us who come from various European lineages are not blameless” (November 7, 2001). As David Horowitz justly deplores in The Great Betrayal, this “ranks as one of the most disgraceful utterances to pass the lips of a former American president.” On December 11, former attorney general Ramsey Clark addressed a letter to the United Nations vehemently condemning not the terrorist strike in New York or the Islamic states which harbour the terrorists, but the United States itself for attempting “to consolidate U.S. domination over the Middle East, the Gulf region and central Asia.”


Nothing much has changed since that time. Just the other day (December 3, 2014), in a speech delivered at Georgetown University—home of John Esposito, the pro-Muslim founding director of the renamed Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding  [sic]—Hillary Clinton remarked that we should show “respect even for our enemies [and] empathize with their perspective and point of view.”

Plainly, the West-and-America-hating Left in the universities, the legacy media and a substantial portion of the political class have become an enemy expeditionary force, a fifth column of de facto jihadists in everything but name as they prosecute the war against Western civilization. Abetted by the profound naivety of a public ignorant of history and educated in the dogmas of postmodern relativity—all cultures are equal and must be understood on their own terms—our redneck-despising, country music-hating, Tea Party-bashing, Alinsky-loving, anti-conservative Left, with open arms and closed minds, has welcomed the prospect of self-immolation.

We know where these people were when the world stopped turning. They were barely holding their malicious glee in check in the centers of anti-American indoctrination that comprise the modern academy and the PC intellectual journals and media. How much more insightful, honorable, mature and intelligent, in contrast to the tribe of intellectual dandiprats that controls our cultural institutions, is the troupe of country singers represented by such red-blooded icons as Trace Adkins (“Arlington”), Lee Greenwood (“God Bless the U.S.A.”), Brooks & Dunn (“Only in America”), Tim McGraw (“If You’re Reading This”) Kenny Chesney (“Back Where I Come From”), Tom Petty (“I Won’t Back Down,” sung to perfection by Johnny Cash and adopted as a patriotic anthem after 9/11), Ted Nugent, a rock musician but with a country “feel” (“Star Spangled Banner”), and, of course, Toby Keith (“Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue”), among many others.


(Madison Rising, billing itself as “America’s most patriotic rock band,” is parsecs away from country, but shares with it a love of the nation as it once was and is meant to be. The group’s version of The Star Spangled Banner brought it public recognition and its latest release Soldier’s Christmas will have made country proud.) What’s not to like? Theirs is an America that must still exist somewhere but which the “progressivist” regime associated with the Democratic left is trying, might and main, to bring to its knees.

When it comes to patriotic sentiment, fly-over country is really touch-down country. As for Alan Jackson, his relevance and appeal are not only American or Christian—though they are primarily that—but are evocative of freedom, loyalty, down-to-earthness and integrity wherever such values are to be found in a morally parsimonious world.  And of these values, the greatest, he sings, quoting I Corinthians 13:13, is love. “Did you just stay home and cling tight to your family/Thank God you had somebody to love?”

Jackson is emblematic of that which country basically represents: a tribute to land and history, a testimonial to family, friendship and community, and an antidote to national disintegration. 25 Years of Keepin’ It Country is the appropriate title of his 2014 exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. Like his companions in the saddle, the singer of simple songs sees more clearly, feels more deeply, speaks more eloquently, and knows the country far better than the smug patricians of the reigning Western elite who have neither music nor love in their souls. And who have, regrettably, no country in them either.


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