James Mitchell is a Patriot. A Dangerous one.

I can’t get this James Mitchell interview out of my head. He’s so likable yet so wrong. And I don’t think his likability is superficial either. I think it’s a likability that proceeds from a fundamental goodness. Here’s a man who seems to have joined up initially for all the right (if naive) reasons — as a matter of patriotic duty and social responsibility. What’s more, he seemed to volunteer his services after 9-11 from a similar place of empathy and obligation. I believe him when he says he couldn’t “do nothing” after witnessing so many in the two towers forced to pick between death by fire or death by fall. I experienced an identical reaction. What’s so tragic about Mitchell and patriots like him (and I do consider him a genuine patriot) isn’t that he joined up or volunteered his services after 9-11. It’s that he never managed to expand his moral imagination and sympathies beyond our borders, beyond the awful fates of “our own.” He never really got around (from what I can tell, anyhow) to recognizing the sufferings of The Other, rather than just American others. Whether or not this amounts to a sin at the individual register is a question just as interesting and painful as it is irrelevant. The pertinent question is what it has added up to at the plane of state policy and execution. And at that level, the answer is clear.

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