& I sit here on a Sunday morning with the tv on, listening, sort of, to the seemingly unending recollections of the day a decade ago when the United States was attacked by a band of religious extremists. There are many memories being recalled and re-lived, honors being paid, and details being explained — again and again, over and over, as if the simple retelling of those horrendous events may, in some way, change the fact of what happened: We were blindsided and beaten, our vaunted trillion-dollar defenses decimated by a few fanatics wielding upgraded razor blades; thousands died; our national pride was deeply wounded; and our national mood changed, almost overnight and perhaps forever, from a sense of strength and security to one of suspicion and fear.
From some of those I hear and see on television this morning, there seems to be a sense of national holiday celebration. The media wallows in it. I wonder why. Certainly we should honor, and always remember, the memory of those who died and the actions of those who tried to save them, and their families, friends and loved ones should celebrate their individual accomplishments as they continue to mourn their eternal absence. But, is there anything to celebrate about what happened to this nation? Is this a new national holiday?
Should we honor the politicians and their lackeys who ignored the warnings? (Why are they being treated as delegations of Divines at Shanksville in Pennsylvania, Ground-Zero in NY, and The Pentagon in Virginia?)
Should we honor the militarists who got snookered? (Why haven’t we hung Shame-On-You medals on their puffed-up chests with the other icons of their questionable careers?)
Should we celebrate our shredded defenses? I don’t think so.
We were whipped. We should face that fact and remember it. But we should not celebrate it. We should forget this day, or at the very least remember it only as we remember December 7, 1941, when the Japanese destroyed Pearl Harbor. We should be angry about our failure on 9/11 to stop the attacks, and our failure since to take all of the steps necessary to make sure our defenses are impenetrable (we haven’t). We should take serious stock of the reaction we had — and still have — in places like Afghanistan, where we are mired in the longest war in our history, with results showing only in a mounting number of dead and injured young Americans and a treasury raided of billions of dollars that could have been used for the advance of humanity in thousands of ways but went instead to prop up a corrupt government.
September 11 is not the Fourth of July. It is another December 7. And it should be treated as such.
After today, as a nation we should leave the mourning to those who genuinely need to mourn and support them in their eternal grief. But no longer should we wallow in a sort of horror holiday called 9/11. We should regard the memories only as bitter lessons, set our minds to the fact that we live in a new world, and determine how we best can live safely, securely and, most importantly, peacefully in it. We’ve got a long way to go, and celebrations will not get us there.
& I’m outta here.
(After I’d written what’s above, I wondered how I was feeling that day, ten years ago.
So I went searching in my computer for something I had written. I found it, and have reposted it below.
Funny thing: As I read my thoughts of 10 years ago, I realize I still have most of the questions I had on that day,
and I still feel about the same way today as I did then.)
LAKEWOOD, Colo. — Sept. 11, 2001
The terror of 9-One-One: Will our response match the passion of the crime?
& Some initial thoughts on Day of Infamy II, or, as our son has dubbed it, “9-One-One”:
At our dinner table tonight the three of us held hands and took a moment to sit in silence in honor of the thousands of dead in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, and to contemplate the enormity of the crime committed by unknown villains against civilized humanity. Many families, of course, make it a regular practice to hold hands around the dinner table. We don’t. It is our unwritten, unspoken practice to hold hands over dinner only when we need to. Tonight we needed to.
Now that the television set is off, I realize I’m drenched from a daylong waterfall of emotions, questions, opinions, fears and realities.
I’ve cried a little, when I think of thousands of people – each alone with their deepest emotions — hoping the best for their loved ones who may well be lying in a temporary morgue in Pennsylvania or under tons of gray rubble in New York, or entombed in wet ashes of the Pentagon in Virginia. I cried a little at the sight of a black woman, turned totally white by the dust of the World Trade Center. I cried a little at a scene of nuclear winter – gray dust and aimlessly moving scraps of paper, surreally reminiscent of a New York parade. But the only marcher in the picture was a lone, dazed man, still attired in a suit and nattily knotted tie, walking slowly through the dust carrying his briefcase.
I cried a little when members of Congress stood on the steps and sang God Bless America.
But the tears have welled only to temporarily displace the hardness of my anger or depths of my gloom. Although one member of our family shuns the idea of retaliation – we must rise above the level of terror to deal with terrorism, she says – I am tonight in the camp of those who would strike back. The response should come as quickly as we can determine the proper target, not for the purpose of retaliation, but for the purpose of ridding the world, at least for awhile, of these cockroaches who crawl out from the darkest corners of the world.
- How bad is our security? Several people got on several airplanes with several weapons at the same time. How did that happen?
- How weak is our intelligence? We obviously knew nothing of an obviously intricate operation designed by plotters who tonight laugh at our cluelessness.
- How inept is our defense response mechanism? Apparently, four airliners were flying for at least an hour – off-course, at low levels, with transponders turned off and pilots who failed to respond to air traffic controllers. Our air defenses did nothing. How bizarre must it become before we scramble our jets to at least take a look?
It seems to me that while we try to determine who done us wrong, we’ve also got to answer some major questions about what we didn’t do right.
Among my many opinions is one that is in full agreement with those who have said that America is changed forever by today’s events. But how we have changed? That, it seems to me, will depend on how we respond. Will we respond as we are entitled to respond — with passion, with our emotions and anger on our sleeves, with a certain degree of unpredictable wildness in our eyes and hair-trigger volatility in our intent? Or will we respond as if we are tethered to the thoughtful, considerate and measured responses of gentlemanly combat?
I agree that we should remain cool, and calculating and clever, and that we should act only when we are certain we have identified the criminals and the countries that harbor them. But: There is nothing that requires us to publicly proclaim an allegiance to the rules of the Marquis of Queensbury.
We are dealing with fanatics. There is nothing that requires us to curb our anger, there is nothing to prevent us from flashing our steel, flexing our might and generally presenting ourselves to the world as an angry, unpredictable, determined swarm of hornets. We have been the victims of passionate criminals. Our response must be more passionate.
For that reason, I am of the opinion that our Commander in Chief has failed his first test of leadership in this crisis. In his remarks tonight, he spoke of a steel will, but exuded a disturbing softness. He pulled his punches. There was no fire, no passion, no anger, no clenching of fists. There was no person sitting there in the chair of the Commander in Chief. There was only a package – a Presidential package – of carefully constructed, passionless words. Those words, I suspect, were put together by cautious advisers who are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the requirements of a leader of a wounded people.
As I watched the President tonight, I looked for a hint of the resolve of FDR, the passion of Churchill, the brazenness of Patton. There was none. Of steel will, Mr. Bush needs to speak less and exhibit more. The President should never forget that he, not his advisors, must lead, and he must do so with his own resolve, his own passion, and even his own brazenness.
My fear tonight is that he won’t.
The reality? It struck me clearly during a televised interview with James Baker, one of the crafters of America’s foreign policy, who referred to “a lack of progress” in bringing peace to the Middle East, as if such deficit was something new, something abnormal. The reality is there has never been any progress in the Middle East. The reality is that this world – and its progress – is, and for too long has been, held hostage by religious wars, and will continue to be shackled by the lunacy of supposed Men of God – fanatics and non-fanatics alike. The reality is that we are no closer to world peace now than we were when Attila battled the Visigoths. We are no closer to progress in the Middle East than we were when the Crusaders scythed through the Holy Land.
“The whole world is festering with unhappy souls,” (sang the Kingston Trio four decades ago)
“the French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles.
“Italians hate the Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch,
“and I don’t like anybody very much.”
Nothing has changed.
The reality is that the world is not at peace, and us wishing it so will not make it so. The reality is that we are at war, and we must gather our allies and prepare to do battle in the name of freedom, peace and civilized behavior. For the clearest reality of all is that we knew it would happen. When, or where, or how it would happen weren’t clear. Now we know. And we also can be certain that unless we do something – something that we’ve never done before – it will happen again.
& I’m outta here.