Two Sundays hence, in a frantic paroxysm of that particularly garish nationalism we Americans like to identify as "Patriotism", coupled with our endless capacity for angry victimhood, the entire country will come together in an outpouring of overwrought emotion, jingoistic bigotry and tribal hatred to once again revel in our one and only homeland experience of the horror and brutality of warfare.
For a few hours that bright summer morning ten years ago, we endured a bloody attack by a foreign enemy, not in any meaningful way dissimilar to the kinds of raids, invasions, incursions and "security operations" regularly experienced by the largest percentage of the human population, endlessly and repeatedly, for thousands of years. For us, it happened once in 200 years. We lost some buildings, something just over three thousand lives, and our collective minds that morning. In many other places in the world, they call that a pretty good month.
It’s hard to even begin to grasp the worst outcome of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but there is little doubt now, with the perspective of a decade lived in their shadow, that the least of them is the death and destruction suffered at the hands of Mohammed Atta and his gang of murderers. But I think we can make a fairly clear judgement now that, of all the misguided reactions, widespread destruction and abject cowardice Americans have demonstrated in the face of what, to much of the world’s population, was nothing more than just another violent convulsion of a world ruled by madmen with powerful weapons, our utter capitulation in the face of a single al Quaeda provocation is by far the worst.
In spite of the horrors and loss of that day, all the very worst damage to America and everything it means to be an American has been entirely self-inflicted. Indeed, the outcome could not have been worse if it were none other than Osama bin Laden himself directing the American response. The pointless destruction and bloodletting of a virtually random military response. An opportunistic and manipulative political response that played on its own citizens' fear and anger. A collective willingness to run away from all the best American values in a pathetic cowardly demand that our government KEEP US SAFE! A government, for that matter, that seemed only too eager to embrace the worst instincts of police states since Torquemada. None of this even to mention the trillions of dollars wasted destroying Iraq, propping up dictators, creating the appallingly named Homeland Security infrastructure - the loss of those funds now especially scandalous in our current dismal economic straights. Virtually every step of the way we had a chance to act thoughtfully and effectively, and every time we quickly and with minimal deliberation decided to follow bin Laden’s playbook. That is the original sin, the root cause underlying our shame.
Was 9/11 a tragedy of the first order? Certainly, to the extent that thousands of innocent lives taken in a tantrum of hubris and hate are all tragic. But every response, any act of commemoration at this point seems simultaneously petty and excessive. With trillions of dollars wasted, more than a hundred thousand humans dead, millions more lives ruined and entire cities destroyed with no ‘victory’ to show for any of it, it’s very hard to understand what it is we’re marking. We showed the world our fear and tribal bigotry, we unleashed a massive war machine on many more innocent civilians than were in New York and Washington that day, we ran away from our unique American values in sobbing terror - our response to that tragedy was to kill, to torture, to imprison, to destroy, and most of all, to cower is mindless fear. And for all that, the overarching message you’ll see repeated not just Sunday but over and over through the week? Pride.
We’ll stand up and say how proud we are to be Americans, and how special a people we must be to have survived this dreadful attack. At no time will we notice that a woman in Darfur, or a child in Kandahar, or an old man in the Congo, along with millions of others, has stoically and courageously withstood orders of magnitude more. We’ll beat our chests and tell each other how we beat back the existential threat of Islamic terrorism, for you see, as Americans we are bred to believe that violence is a perfectly reasonable and effective way to solve disagreements. We’ll exchange breathless “where were you that day?” stories and never notice that for almost ALL of us, not only were we nowhere near the attacks, but we have suffered not the slightest from them.
Well, not me. I’d like to mourn the dead, I suppose, but their loss seems somehow distant and even trivial at this point. And today, every thought of that September morning a decade ago merely evokes disgust and loathing. For the perpetrators, certainly, but also for the ugly, venal, manipulative, stupid and misguided who found a way to turn a spasm of tribal hatred and political violence into an unspeakable, global human tragedy unmatched in recent history. There’s nothing to mark, nothing to ‘honor’, nothing to commemorate, just a dark decade wherein we came to see the outline of our own decline and fall. There is much to mourn, for much has been lost. But as for 9/11? You can count me out... ...