Editor’s Note: I wasn’t going to publish this because things seemed better after watching bits of the memorials (see “The American People — Better Than Their Leaders and the Media”, which I published instead). Then the unfathomable happened. Some idiots — plural — proved me wrong at the Republican/Tea Party Express debate. No, apparently, we are not better than our leaders. We have hired the people we want to run this country because they do the things we want done. We are all things I thought we were becoming in this piece. Have we no shame?
I know it’s unpatriotic to say, but I don’t want to remember 9/11. I don’t want it to become a sacred moment in our history. I don’t want bells to toll in memory of it. I don’t want NBC News and CBS News and ABC News and certainly not Fox News to show the footage of planes crashing into the buildings and be told — for the 1,000th time — that this was the day that everything changed! I don’t want to hear how it was sorrowful (I know that.) I don’t want to hear how tragic it was (I know that, too. I was about 100 or 200 miles away from Ground Zero, in Rhode Island, when it happened). I heard it on the radio. I saw it on TV, and I thought then that it was presumptuous to say –as they did on that fateful day — America will forever be changed by this!” We didn’t even know what was going on yet, but we knew this day was going to change everything?! We were going to be like the rest of the world now — dealing with, and hateful of, and afraid of terrorists — forever?!
I saw George Bush on the Today Show the other morning with his memories of that day, and I thought to myself, “He’s not remembering it right”. In the interview he said, after hearing that a second plane had hit the towers, he thought “How dare they! Those terrorists!”. I don’t remember in what order planes crashed, but I remember thinking “What in hell is going on?” The first plane hitting the towers I assumed (I think like everybody else) that a plane had some sort of accident and accidentally fallen into the towers. What else could it have been? The second one made it seem like there was an attack –by somebody, about something — another country, perhaps. Maybe Russia or Cuba or China or who knows? By the time all the planes had crashed, it was clear that there was some symbolism behind it — banking, defense, and what was in Pennsylvania — the Liberty Bell? Terrorists wouldn’t have even crossed my mind. And I don’t think it should have crossed his, yet. So, let’s correct that piece of revisionism now.
More than that, though… the reason I hate 9/11 is what we, as a country, did with it, or what we let happen with it.
We were a big nation then. As horrible as it was and is, we could have survived it with a scar and a wound to our psyche and we could have found the people that did this and brought them to trial and justice and shown that we were impervious to this cheap shot by a bunch of thugs. Instead, we wasted the next ten years of our history — and more importantly — our people — plus our resources, our days, our economy– looking for terrorists or not, depending on who you ask.
Most people won’t remember them, but somehow I ended with recorded versions of two specials held near 9/11. One was a telethon to raise money for survivor’s families and the other was a tribute to John Lennon. I remember thinking we had raised billions for the however-many died in the towers and that many of those folks probably had insurance of one sort or another and that our need to do something was greater than what actually needed to be done, but there were worse things to be said about us as a people. It was the second of the two, the Lennon tribute which was oddly closer to my thoughts — let’s not kill over religion, (Imagine), a working class hero is something to be (Working Class Hero), there are people to be remembered, all different kinds, who impacted my life (In My Life), and the self-explanatory title of (all we are saying is) “Give Peace A Chance”. In short, we had choices after 9/11, and we chose poorly. We could focus on the tragedy’s victims, we rise above it and learn something about why anybody hated anybody this much, or we could get angry. Somehow our government, which represents us, chose all of the worse things we could be, and all of them started with anger about 9/11.
George Bush is there saying something about, how “they” better watch out when we find them. People cheered back. When that same Bush said “they” were supported by Iraq and made some vague connection between them, we gave him the benefit of the doubt. Even when we knew they were lies, and there were no “Weapons of Mass Destruction” — one of the UN inspectors told us so in a New York Times editorial, even then we went to war. His wife was outed as a CIA agent by people friendly with the president — an actual act of treason, I think — and we let it go. The peace movement didn’t stop it and the war movement didn’t want to stop it. The country didn’t want us being “unpatriotic” and speaking badly about “warriors”. “Liberals” — that horrible thing to be at the time– tried for awhile to say something meekly, but away went the country to war. And there we stayed for the next ten years. After we had decimated the country with “shock and awe”, we became torturers at Abu Ghraib and were checking into people’s library use without a warrant at home. The American people — who had once been so caring around the world — were now abusive and paranoid and absurdly proud of ourselves for being it. But before we could quit that war, we started another one. Our new president (yes, the one in office now) said we should increase our efforts there. He made a better case — looking for the people who committed 9/11 –for a lousy war — at a time when we were already overbooked and exhausted. We were too exhausted and stretched with yet another crisis to say “no”.
That “other” crisis? — the collapse of our economy brought on by the soul-sick people we had become, combined with the “buy things to save America” idea championed by Mr. Bush, combined with all our money going to war. We had lost our moral compass as a nation, were engaged in things we didn’t believe in on a daily basis as a country, egged on by our leaders. Why would we suddenly become moral with each other? We didn’t and it came back to bite us as it always does. Abusive, paranoid, exhausted and without a will that could do anything to stop ourselves as a country, we simply collapsed economically, and emotionally until a man with a vision came along and we voted him in. Many of us still wait for that man to show up for work. Others of us liked the taste of conflict so much, we now engage in it just for “fun”. Frederick Buechner once said something to the effect that “anger tastes delightfully delicious — until you realize that what you’ve been feasting on is you”. I think, for the most part, we’re done with that “feast” and are now sick because of how it turned out, but there are still people who want to “Win!” at all costs — to other people and themselves. And they want to win against other Americans, all while denying that the impulse to conquer others for hurting us is what got us to here.
We have now killed far more Americans in the name of 9/11 than “they” killed on 9/11. We have now destroyed our economy far more deeply than “they” did at the Towers that day — and ever could have imagined. We have a government is has spent the last six months destroying itself in ways that the Pentagon bombing pales in comparison to. So, 10 years after 9/11 we have used every means at our disposal to kill … ourselves.
But why do we do it? Because we as a nation keep focusing on our hurt. The press coverage I have seen (and I can’t\won’t watch too much of it) is stories of the towers being hit. It’s about how badly people were hurt and how brave they were to still be here. It’s about how this newsman or that woman anchor expressed emotion or went into shock and covered the whole thing for 24 hours. It’s not about the fireman or policeman who were heroic. Somehow they’ve gotten left out of it. Remember that Jon Stewart — a comedian by trade — had to shame Congress into paying for ongoing care for first responders. Shows our priorities, doesn’t it?. We don’t focus on our higher ideals like heroism, we focus on our victim status. Watching video of the planes hit the towers over and over and over is like a traumatized woman watching films of her rape over and over. The hurt fuels our anger and our anger kills not only the other people, but ourselves as we stay in that stuck place — and somehow we’re supposed to “celebrate” this? I can’t. I’m not saying people don’t have the right to grieve. I would never say that. In fact, I think they have to. But over and over and over again isn’t healthy. People who spend all of their time viewing evil become personality disordered — that is, their character itself — who they are — becomes disturbed. If we ever want to become America again, we have to stop re-victimizing ourselves and acting on that hurt. We have to get over 9/11.
Now, I would love to have a National First Responders Day every year where we celebrate the best we have been and can be. I would love to celebrate people caring for others, sacrificing for each other every day. I’d love to celebrate real bravery, not the bravado of some politician’s talking points. I’d love to celebrate those who transcend the horrible moment to still be decent human beings. That I could go for as an American holiday, because those things truly are holy — the root of the word “holiday”. But 9/11 as we celebrate it now? No thanks.
Peace to all — on so many levels, in so many ways,