[I’m going to go ahead and use a writing crutch: I am going to warn that this post is rather bitter. And also long-winded. And poorly edited. And has little to do with 9/11 itself, but more my long view of the aftermath. For a better, more direct story, this one is really good.]
This post falls into the inevitable category. The 10th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks has been all I’ve heard about and read this past week. Frankly, I’ve been avoiding it almost entirely. Other than when I’ve needed to drive around and wound up listening to public radio, I have skipped over a large number of articles.
I was 18 at the time, waiting for a late start to college. I woke up to an email from my then girlfriend telling me to turn on the news. So I watched, shocked. My memories aren’t very vivid from that day. I do remember wondering what could be done, and realizing nothing, I tried to go about my day. I had slated to get a haircut, so that’s where I went.
It was just me and the old barber who owned the place. He cut my hair, slowly, while we watched the TV up above the doorway. We wound up sitting and watching for a couple of hours, I think. Again, my memory is hazy.
The most I remember is feeling very angry and vengeful, though rationality held back the vengeance response in me. After all, I was on the other side of the continent. And as more information came out about the attackers, I remember chatting with my friend, a Muslim from England. She asked if this would change my view of her, and I declared absolutely no. That fact has never changed.
Life continued on, and I started my studies at the university, eventually in politics no less. So that immediate history became viewed through a lens of me taking in a great deal of information about the event itself, as well as chains of events leading to and from.
So then I became angry again, but not at the terrorists. They were just criminals. Ruthless pawns of a pointless ideology bent on simply trying to hurt forces more powerful than it. And they should have been tried as such. We’ve dealt with internal and external terror before, so the legal proceedings would not have been beyond our means.
Just as big an issue: 9/11 led to us invading Iraq. Even just writing it down right now seems utterly insane. I remember the pressures leading to it that were falsely proposed and constantly changed by our Executive. I had long called bullshit before the fact (our criminal mastermind was hovering between Afghanistan and Pakistan, after all). And it only became worse, the stretching of justifications after the fact.
Worse yet, our insatiable need for security turned not only on our own citizenry, forced to be molested before boarding planes: it made us torturers. We became beyond the negative stereotype the Al-Qaeda members saw us as even back then.
Now we imprison and torture using the more invisible methods of the USSR and the Spanish Inquisition. Our fear turned us into bullies. Bullies who hang fellow humans in stress positions used by Nazis. It used to be the weapon of our enemies. A terrible, useless weapon we did not bother with as a society.
Now here we are. 10 years later and we haven’t rebuilt much. We still stand astride the world as the greatest power humanity has ever known. Supposedly still the pinnacle of a society based on human rationality and free enterprise.
Rather than use that goodwill and patriotism to better ourselves and others, it became a tool against us. It became unpatriotic to question our leadership, and now it is considered unpatriotic to think of alternate plans to pull ourselves out of our own economic cesspool.
We also now have entire media organizations who declare suspicious a billion far-flung people as “The Muslim World”. We don’t see the old Western powers as “The Christian World”. The term doesn’t exist. As well it never should, especially in our immigrant-built, free-believing, make-your-own-way pinnacle of human civilization.
Insecurity is a price we pay for it. Those who died, died for that reason. Because we believe people should move about our 50 states without issue or worry. Al-Qaeda never had a chance to bring that down. That possibility was never there. They are myopic criminals, bent on havoc, nothing more.
It was our greatest mistake to turn around and grant these thieves of lives the rank of Stalin or Hitler. They are hardly above Timothy McVeigh (oh yeah, that guy.) They deserved to be tried and imprisoned until their deaths. Not turned into comic book level evil masterminds.
Those people hurt us that day. All the pain since has been self-inflicted. I’ll always remember this as a day we turned into the weakest form of ourselves. A true tragedy it was.