As each year, I reflect on this event. This being the tenth anniversary, I may write a bit more.
Ten years ago, I woke up and walked into the living room where everyone was gathered around the TV watching something that looked like a disaster movie. My wife said that a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers.
At about that point a SECOND plane came in and smashed into the other tower, and I knew it was not a coincidence.
Little did I know that the destruction of the Twin Towers, the loss of thousands of lives, and the horrors of their families would be the SMALLER casualty of that day. How COULD it be? Thousands of people dead on American soil, victims of a terrorist attack the likes of which we had never seen? Hundreds of the dead firemen, policemen, other people trying desperately to RESCUE people? A smoking, reeking hole in the center of the most iconic city in the world? How could that possibly be the smaller casualty?
For the individuals involved, it couldn't be, and wasn't. If you lost your father, your mother, your sister, your friend, your beloved in that disaster, there truly could not be a greater casualty. And for many of the families immediately in contact with those who lost, they, too suffered greatly.
But for the country? That WAS the smaller casualty.
I got a good idea of what was going to happen with the passage of the PATRIOT act -- an obscenity worse than RICO, claiming to give the government the authority to, in essence, do ANYTHING IT WANTED as long as it was to fight against "terrorism".
I hoped against hope that this was a temporary measure.
Ha. Even Obama signed it right back into law; this was one of the few things I'd actually thought he MIGHT do right.
I hoped the initial jingoism and fear of "Muslims" would fade away. No. My boss, who IS a Muslim, has done very little travelling in the years I have been with the company; I have a strong suspicion that much of that is because meeting with U.S. military people when you're a dark-skinned man with a foreign name speaking with a Pakistani accent ... could go poorly for your job. Note that my boss is a naturalized American citizen, has been for decades, and is in many ways a quintessential American. It should not be POSSIBLE for me to be concerned that he might be subject to suspicion just because he "talks funny" -- but I am concerned about that.
I hoped that people would recognize that the Security Theater at airports is useless, a humiliating and pointless waste of people's time which was a fine exhibition of closing the barn door long after all the equines have exited the burning building.
I had hoped that we would at least stick to our goal: Get Bin Laden. No. We diverted to an irrelevant war, that we are still extricating ourselves from, and it was left to another President, nine YEARS later, to finally announce the mastermind behind the attacks was dead.
The worst casualty that day was America. Oh, the America I believe in had never really existed, I suppose, but PARTS of it did. Flashes and moments, events of heroism, shining examples of what a country COULD do. Words on paper that MEANT something. A country that was supposed to exist as an answer to oppression, to fear, to prejudice.
Go ahead, laugh at me. Or sneer at the privileged existence I must have had, to ever believe in such a thing. But there were pieces of that still living before 9/11, and I watched them start dying that day.
I watched FEAR become the watchword. I saw us change the way we lived in a flash, out of fear. I watched the ENTIRE U.S. GOVERNMENT reorganize itself within a matter of a year or so, purely out of Fear. I watched people who MUST have known what they were doing USE that fear, orchestrate the changes. Bin Laden must have been LAUGHING. I think after nine years he must have had a permanent pain in his gut from laughing at us, for the damage that he'd done to the United States, or -- more precisely -- the damage he'd managed to get us to do to ourselves.
I watched the ripple effect go through our society. Recent studies show that news HAS in fact become more negative, and with more fear comes more negativity. There are many forces that feed on that, and if you show your society that the right way to face fear is to withdraw, to barricade, to direct suspicion towards all, then that's what the rest of society does. I don't think things like PATRIOT and paranoia about all outsiders are unrelated to other societal control things, like internet monitoring, massive IP control legislation, and so on. It's part and parcel of the same overwhelming need for control, combined with fear, and orchestrated by people who are shortsightedly stupid enough to think that controlling such a society means something, that killing the middle-class goose that lays your golden eggs can end in anything but disaster.
The U. S. Government is its own enemy, and our fear is what makes it so. "The Muslims" aren't our enemy. Even "The Terrorists" aren't, really. Our FEAR of them is our enemy. Your enemy can hurt you REGARDLESS of your fear. You can't defend everyone, at all times, in all places. Past a certain fairly general level of protection, any attempts to monitor crime or external threats become just as dangerous to any professed freedoms of your society as they might be to the supposed targets.
Ben Franklin's words are as true, or MORE true, to day than they were when first he wrote them: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
Yes, terrorists might attack us again. They might do so NO MATTER WHAT PRECAUTIONS WE TAKE. The current precautions do virtually nothing to prevent significant attacks; it's not as though any attempt to hijack a plane would ever work again ANYWAY. It's a well-known basic principle: if someone really, really wants to hurt you, not all the bodyguards in the world will protect you forever. And how much will you be enjoying life while cowering in your reinforced basement with your 50 trained bodyguards outside? There's a REASON the President almost always looks vastly older when leaving office, and it's not just the pressures of leadership.
Do we want them to attack a paranoid America, lashing out at anyone whenever they see a potential provocation, one that acts like a beaten animal, or one that takes the shot, shrugs it off, and stands up again, to still be kind to those in need, and terrible only to those who really, truly deserve it?
I want to live in the America I believe in. Truth, Justice, and the American Way, where that means that it doesn't matter what your religion is, what color your skin is, what sex you are, what country your ancestors called home, or what the sins OF your ancestors or relatives were. I want the America in which a poor black girl can rise to be a wealthy businesswoman, where a rich white man who betrays the trust of the people he works for will pay a heavy price instead of get a slap on the wrist, where someone doing something that doesn't hurt anyone else isn't subject to hate.
I want an America that recognizes that wealth ISN'T a zero-sum game, where the rich don't fear other people succeeding because ALL of us can succeed. I want the America that says "we're still the wealthiest country in the world, and that means that we should take care of our own people -- that it costs us less to make sure everyone's healthy from the start than to make them fear to go to the doctor because they can't afford the cost, so that the only time they go to a doctor is when the condition is almost beyond treatment... or perhaps JUST beyond."
Maybe that America can't ever really exist. But damn it, I don't want the America that *does* exist to keep turning its back on the dream, accepting the drug of fear and hate while deluding itself into thinking that it hasn't changed at all.
And I'll still believe in the SYMBOL of America, where everyone is innocent until proven guilty, where the poor child can become the rich adult, where it doesn't matter where you came from or who you were before, if you just work hard you can be anything you want to be, where there's nothing that can scare us enough to make us back down, where we never give up our liberty for safety, and where our government knows when to act to do what's right, and when not to act.
Because no terrorist -- and no failure of my government, or even the failure in fear of so many of my fellow citizens -- can kill that dream.
And that's it for tonight.