Saturday, September 11, 2010

Nine Eleven


On September 11th, Americans take time to reflect on the tragic deaths in New York and Washington, and to honor the courage and sacrifice of the emergency workers who responded, risking and losing life and limb because they saw their duty and they never hesitated.  It is altogether fitting that we should hold dear this tragic anniversary, even as the years scab over the bleeding sore torn open on that bright morning all those years ago.

And yet.  I’m not sure I want to take part in this anymore.  Mired in a grand confluence of greed, exploitation, tribal hatred and geopolitical ignorance, it all seems a bit self-serving, an ostentatious demonstration of mourning and anger directed not only at the guilty, but at vast swaths of humanity who have been punished in the most horrific fashion for nothing other than the nation they lived in.

First, there was the heartless, calculated exploitation of the attacks by the Bush/Cheney administration.  Two years after the event, the cruel political and media manipulation had already rendered it something different, something ugly.  They took the righteous anger that smoldered in all Americans and turned it into a murderous rage, and then unleashed it on innocent victims all over the world.  In a series of methodical steps they played on the fear and anger of the American population, driving them to throw away much of the values and guarantees that formed the basis for the American form of governance.  It is hard, now, to truly honor the pain and sacrifice without closing our eyes to the events that followed.  If we can no longer embrace the loss without accepting the guilt, it becomes a completely different kind of day of recognition.  

In terms of lives wasted, of blood spilled and treasure squandered, of widespread destruction of not just buildings and bridges and schools and all the things that make a modern nation, but of lives and families and whole populations, 9/11 was truly a pittance.  It is hard to imagine what must someone in Gaza, or Beirut, or Congo or Sudan or Columbia or Mexico must think when they see us prostrate with sadness, spluttering with anger and cowering in fear over this one tragic event from a decade ago.  How pampered we must appear, how insulated from the arbitrary, almost random violence and destruction that characterizes so much of the world outside our borders.  After the attacks, America went on a rampage, lashing out in mindless anger and hatred like a spoiled child who received a rare, unanticipated punishment.  We destroyed two countries, and are well on our way to the destruction of a third (not surprisingly, all overwhelmingly Muslim nations), we killed hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, and destroyed the lives and livelihoods of millions more.  And still we mourn, crying hot tears of anger, lashing out at people distantly removed from the original attackers, neatly plugging new names (Taliban, AQAP, TTP) when we can find nothing of the original al Quaeda to grind into dust.  

The legacy of 9/11 is a foul history of a wealthy, pampered society who refused to understand they must continue to live in the very world they dominate.  From a perfectly cold, geo-strategic analysis, al Quaeda, Iran, China and Russia were the winners, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan were the losers, and the rest of the world can only watch in rapt fascination as we tear ourselves apart, rendering all of the values and beliefs that made America a special place and time a sad, quaint historical anachronism.  While the rest of the world goes on about its business, building trade and negotiating broadly beneficial agreements, America continues to harden itself, locking down borders, building not just a gigantic military capability but a security apparatus and national security state that already makes the old eastern bloc pale in comparison.  We imprison more people than any other nation, and now we do so without due process.  We wiretap, we surveil, we infiltrate, we watch everyone.  And we hate.  Americans have no corner on hate, but we have a special gift for it, a kind of hyper-nationalist tribal fear of ‘the other’ that allows many of us to revere our constitution even as we seek to deny it’s universality.  

The attacks of nine years ago were tragic, a crime of huge proportions and it’s own horrific demonstration of the effects of mindless hate.  But like all tragedies, the attacks had within them the possibility of growth, a lesson to be learned, a way to find some bits of value in the ashes.  Sadly, it appears we looked backward, learning the wrong lessons, choosing to match barbarity with barbarity, blood and fire with even more blood and fire. On this anniversary of that sad, violent day, there is much to be mourned.  But there is nothing to be celebrated.

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