Everyone over the age of 40 remembers where they were on November 22, 1963 when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Everyone over the age of 15 remembers where they were on September 11, 2001 when the Pentagon and the World Trade Center were attacked by Al Qaeda terrorists. Today’s Weekend Edition of Point of View provides a retrospective as to the meaning of that terrible day.
Where America Was. Where is America Now?
On the evening of September 10, 2001 Michael Jackson performed at Madison Square Garden in New York City, providing the 18,000 people in attendance with a brief and shining demonstration of true genius. At least one young woman attended that concert and partied afterwards. As a result she was too tired (and hung over) to go to work the next day.
She worked in an office near the top of one of the Twin Towers. Going to see Michael Jackson saved her life.
A young man had a job interview with a firm in an office near the top of one of the Twin Towers. His appointment was for 9 a.m. He wanted to make a good impression so he got to his appoint about 15 minutes early. He was killed trying to make a good impression on his prospective employer.
The stories of 9/11 are full of pain, grief, sorrow, anger and the realization of the random nature of life on this planet. The smallest change in routine could have resulted in life or death that day – as is the case every other day of our lives.
But it was the random nature of the unknown rage from an unknown land that troubled and tortured Americans in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. It was beyond belief that there were people in this world who hated the greatest country in the world so much. It was beyond belief that we were so vulnerable.
And after the cries of pain had been silenced and the tears of grief and sorrow had dried anger took center stage. We had been attacked by enemies. The enemies must be slain.
But these enemies wore no uniform, had no nationality and carried no flag. Al Qaeda doesn’t even have a motto. We learned that Osama bin Laden was in Afghanistan, sheltered by the Taliban – so there was a target for the cold steel of anger that had been forged in the fires of 9/11. Except……
Except that, in going after bin Laden it became to kill many thousands of Afghan men, women and children. Some were enemies of this country. Many more fell into the awfully banal category of “collateral damage”. And then…..
The government of the United States decided that this was an opportune time to ramp up the Big Lie. A key plotter in the 9/11 tragedy was Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi despot. It wasn’t enough to pursue bin Laden, the downfall of Hussein was critical to the safety of the United States and was important in avenging 9/11.
And so 9/11 and the so-called War on Terror became the password that unlocked all of the horrors of war. “Collateral damage” claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocents in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and so too many other places. The War on Terror excused the suspension of constitutional rights for Americans and human rights for suspects who were subjected to torture in black holes around the world through a process called rendition.
In times of tragedy friends, families and communities come together. Differences were forgotten in the aftermath of 9/11 as we realized that the terrorists were didn’t care about our color, religion or national origin. We were targets and that was enough. And for a while, it seemed that silver lining on the cloud of 9/11 would be a different sense of a national community.
But the anger morphed into war and the war morphed into horror. And then there was revulsion and shame. And those who were expressed revulsion at water boarding and torture and rendition and mindless war found their patriotism questioned by those who felt shame in their heart of hearts.
For the first time since the American Revolution the United States pursued war(s) without raising funds for the war through taxes. Combined with the Bush tax cuts, the wars drained the national treasury and turned a multi-billion dollar surplus into a multi-trillion dollar deficit.
The wars created a schism in this country as it became clear that both wars were pathways into a bloody morass with no way out – the fact that the war in Iraq was based on pure fabrication made matters worse. The schism resulted in Americans questioning the patriotism of other Americans and this schism set the stage for the Tea Party radicalization of American politics who now want to “take America back”.
We know now that the goal of Osama bin Laden was not to simply destroy the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. His real goal was to destabilize the United States.
It remains to be seen if that goal will be achieved. We still have the ability to prevent that goal from being achieved – but it will require will as well as power.
Have a great weekend!