Sunday, September 11, 2011

Yes, sir

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Tap that

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Dona nobis

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What we have lost

A lot of remembering is taking place in the United States right now, on the tenth anniversary of unimaginable horror. Unfortunately, experience has taught me that remembering is not always a good thing, particularly when it is mixed in a cocktail of deeply unstable emotions, some of them destructive.

Many remembrances of September 11, 2001, I've heard recently are positive and uplifting because they focus on the courage and selflessness of people who tried to save others -- in the Twin Towers in New York, in the Pentagon in Washington, and on United Flight 93 above Pennsylvania. It's a good thing we have these positive accounts, because in my opinion the reality of 9/11, even now, is grim and depressing. The accounts of those who died, and the stories of their loved ones, are harrowing and heart-breaking.

I am not asking anyone to agree with me, but I believe the aftermath of that awful day has done more harm than good.

All we have to fear: On the morning of 9/11, I was working on a high floor of an office building a thousand miles from New York, overlooking a huge national monument. I had a small television, so many co-workers had crowded into my office to watch what was happening. As the reality sunk in, my colleagues began to disperse, and I sat at my desk, looking out at a big, blue eastern sky, and fear swept over me. I began to imagine that a passenger jet could fly straight at my windows. By Noon I had left work and gone home.

Change the world: I remember saying to a colleague of mine as we watched TV, "Nothing will be the same after this." Just about everyone in the United States probably said something similar that day. Little did I anticipate that much of the change would be negative. Fear and anger descended on us like a plague. The United States had been exposed as unprepared, vulnerable, short-sighted, even foolish; we were absurdly open to vicious attacks from hateful, clever terrorists. We were easily outsmarted. Our expensive F-16s and F-18s were useless. Even today, the anger and vengefulness persist. Base emotions still provide feckless politicians with all kinds of partisan leverage points and opportunities for small-minded manipulation.

Scoundrels: Before 9/11, American politics had become messy, nasty and destructive. After 9/11, our politics became even worse. Less than a year before the attacks, an ideologically corrupt and intellectually bankrupt Supreme Court had installed George Bush in the Oval Office. With 9/11, this shallow, wayward rich boy acquired the distinction of being a "wartime President," which he promptly abused. Within months, that President and zealous, self-appointed "patriots" in his administration led the nation astray in a "patriotic" war that had nothing to do with 9/11 or Osama bin Laden. A partisan Congress easily rubber-stamped bad decisions, including the over-reaching "Patriot Act." Thousands of U.S. soldiers have been killed in a senseless war, untold billions of dollars have been wasted, all in the name of God and country. In my view, the past 10 years amply prove Dr. Johnson's statement (in 1775) that "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel." The saddest part is that the positive energies of genuine patriotism could have been put to constructive uses.

Silence: In the days following 9/11, I remember taking long walks and realizing how quiet the world seemed: no planes flew in the skies. I was accustomed to hearing jets descending in landing patterns from several directions, but the skies were empty. The airline industry had collapsed. The world is a lot noisier now, not for the better, and the airline industry is a gigantic hassle.

Absence: I think the National Memorial that opens today at Ground Zero speaks volumes about the social condition of the United States today. The key feature of architect Michael Arad's beautiful but disturbing design is the presence of voids, the presence of absence. To my mind, that's a remarkably true reflection of the state of our nation and our society. In the years following 9/11, we have lost even more than what the vicious attacks took away. Other things have seeped into the void, none of them ennobling or enriching.
For me, it helps to think of Mark Bingham, who died courageously on Flight 93, and the wonderful, generous heart of his mother, Alice Hoagland. . . . "9/11 Voices: Alice Hoagland, Mother of Mark Bingham"


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