Saturday, September 10, 2011

regarding 9/11.

In case you forgot, my fellow Americans, the tenth anniversary of 9/11 is coming up. I wish I could reflect on just how I felt on that single day, but I can’t. I have an English degree; I’m a context guy. But, I doubt my feelings vary much from those held by others, then or since.

Sep. 11 coincided with my political awakening. I was 15 when the Towers fell. Up to that point, I had vague notions of becoming a Democrat when I was old enough because that was my parents’ political affiliation. But that event became a catalyst for everything. Like a lot of people, I think of 9/11 as a loss of innocence. When terrorists plunged those planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania, it shook my confidence. I was scared about my safety and my country’s wellbeing. So, of course I backed the government’s decision to invade Afghanistan in search of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. They did this! We must stop them from ever doing this again!

But the Bush Administration lost its focus, and the war in Afghanistan became so confused that it hardly even gets discussed in the media anymore. But it did spin off into the Iraq War, even though the government led by Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or 9/11. By the time the Bush Administration declared war on Iraq, I had become politically aware enough to the point that I knew it was a mistake. I doubted the reports about Iraq having nuclear arms, let alone that they were giving those materials to terrorists. And I protested as best I could, not that it did much.

Iraq turned the international perception of America. We had a lot of sympathy after 9/11, and we squandered it within a few years. We embarrassed ourselves with our cocky “Bring ’em on” public image. Almost every time I’ve traveled abroad, I’ve had to answer for my government.

So when I think of 9/11, I think of a loss of innocence, just like everyone else, but for different reasons. I see 9/11 as a prelude to failure and pain. Three thousand people died in the attacks, but the effects of our decisions in response those deaths rippled out, hurting far more people. Sure, al-Qaeda had reasons for attacking us which need to be considered (We backed Israel, abused our power in the Middle East, and just generally represented bloated excess), but I still think of it as a beginning of something worse. I’m not afraid anymore, but I’m still plenty angry – at my own country.

When I think of 9/11, I think of three artists – System of a Down, Bruce Springsteen, and Joe Strummer. SoaD’s Toxicity came out a week before the attacks; an indictment of America, it retroactively became about 9/11. Springsteen, meanwhile, sought to sooth the damaged American psyche with his Rising album, although he eventually took the government to task on a trio of records, Devils & Dust, We Shall Overcome, and Magic. But Strummer is the one that weighs heavily on me right now. While he supported U.S. involvement in Afghanistan (and I can’t blame him, because I felt the same way and neither one of us could have known how badly botched the job would be), he died before the Iraqi invasion. I always wondered if Strummer would have gotten more conservative as he aged, but then, I have to believe he would have reacted pretty strongly when Bush’s warmongering became apparent.

I cannot and will not watch movies about 9/11. They never get the anger and the fear right. I’m not necessarily against the sloganeering that’s going on in my country – it was still a terrible event – but the real tragedy is what we did afterward, and that’s the real lesson. Remember that too.


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