In the days following Sept. 11, 2001, when the nation’s shock and despair at witnessing the massive loss of life and destruction of physical and psychological identity turned to resolve in some and furor in others, our leaders planned. The terror attacks on American landmarks were an act of war, they said. America would respond in kind. One week later, with the heap of concrete, rebar, and glass to which the World Trade Center had been reduced still smoldering — and many Americans’ rage along with it — the president authorized the use of force against those responsible. We would get our retribution. Not even a month later, Americans erupted in cheers watching U.S. B-52s pepper Afghanistan with bombs. Such were the consequences — swift, decisive, and devastating — for inflicting pain upon our nation.
In the months following May 31, 1921, when black Tulsans’ disappointment and outrage at witnessing the massive loss of life and destruction of physical and psychological identity turned into despondency in some and determination in others, our leaders did nothing. The looting of businesses and massacre of citizens during the Tulsa Race Riot were par for the course, they seemed to say. Black Wall Street was on its own. One year later — with no help from the city, state, nor federal government — those who remained in Greenwood, Okla., rebuilt and, over decades, would continue to do so. But, there would be no retribution. No convictions and no charges for the white perpetrators, nor reparations, apology, or even, for a long while, acknowledgement for the blacks perpetrated against. Such were and remain the consequences for inflicting pain upon black Americans — nonexistent.
In the America of HBO’s Watchmen, however, where vengeance is king, it’s those who’ve endured homegrown horrors who torment their enemies, right or wrong, while the victims of perceived foreign atrocities must suffer in silence. Key members of the first group, notably, are black and those of the second are white. What results is a mind-bending about-face that forces viewers to reexamine the norms of our American society and question how life feels from the other side.