Poland: Over Before it Starts

The 20th century was a time of unspeakable crimes. As it was coming to an end, we wondered what could come close to those horrors in the new century, what could surpass them. It seemed that the repertoire of evil had been exhausted in the 20th century. But it turned out that the invention of the evil spirit is inexhaustible, and those who do not believe in the devil can now see that they were wrong after all.

What happened on Tuesday in America is for me the end of the illusion that the 21st century would be more serene and positive, as was expected by those who had lived through the previous one. Oh, well, we will have to reconcile ourselves to this lack of serenity.

What will be the consequences of this dreadful act of terror? I have lived long enough to know that all predictions about the future are extremely dubious. I prefer not to be the one to predict what will come....Nevertheless, I do not expect any structural alterations in the basics of the American state as a result of this vile act. The changes in the American mind will occur very gradually. I would like to point out that the upheaval of the Civil War was absorbed very quickly and even forgotten to some degree.

The first reaction to evil is tremendous anger and the demand that something spectacular be done. But I believe that there are many reasonable people in America who hold the opinion that restraint is in order and that the country should not succumb to impulse.

I do not count myself among the “catastrophists”—although I was perhaps one in my youth—and I believe that all tendencies toward panic and anticipation of catastrophe or even economic collapse are most inadvisable and even dangerous. I would also be opposed to reducing this act of terror to a conflict with the Arab world. This would be downright racist.

Czeslaw Milosz, a poet, won the 1980 Nobel Prize.