Friday, September 11, 2015

On 9/11, again

If NPR can do it, so can I: Herewith, an encore presentation of my post from 9/11/2011, a decade after terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center and took thousands of lives. If anything, my sentiments intensified.
We are celebrating that moment today, and I don't use the verb lightly. My city today is honoring three young men, raised here, credited with thwarting an attack last month by an alleged gunman on a French train. Surely you read about it.
The men will have a parade and of course it is a fine thing, and as I hear so often and agree with, they should get a free drink in whatever watering hole they pass for as long as they live. The story given is that today is the only day the three lifelong friends could be in town together. OK.

Maybe we are trying to take back 9/11, to rise from it, to shake it off, to reclaim it. My late dad-in-law's birthday is today. I never asked, but I imagine he relinquished something on this day in 2001, as people on occasion might have said, "Wow, you're birthday is 9/11? That must be tough." "Nine eleven" itself, a phrase never before spoken until 2001.

That's the only way I can fathom the organized barbecues I'm reading about for today. Otherwise, celebrations of this day ring hollow and flat and out of touch.

This day is still harnessed and pulled and prodded for ideological purposes. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush blames Obama, of course, for failures in Iraq and the Middle East, and leaves out what his brother wrought to exacerbate the terrible toll, the loss of trillions into somebodies' pockets and the desert sands, the deaths of tens of thousands, that his father started, on an ornate fabric of pretext and lies. Some of the engineers of that terrible toll serve among Jeb Bush's campaign advisers. And so it goes.

#neverforget means to me never forget the terrible cost wrought from that moment, that continues today in the long and terrible line of refugees from Iraq and Syria into Europe, the rotting bodies in a refrigerated truck trailer, the tiny bodies washed up onto Turkish beaches.

We are nation run more and more by ideology than substance and sense. We are, as critics said of George W. Bush, all hat and no cattle.

The rich get richer and the haves, to quote Eddie Vedder, have not a clue …
No superlatives can ever contain the horror and shock and sadness and disbelief of Sept. 11, 2001 — though we all will try in many and varied ways as the tenth anniversary approaches this weekend.

In the news media, the effort has already begun in earnest. News anchors introduce the myriad angles on the anniversary, their chins pointed slightly lower to their chests, their eyebrows arranged just so, conveying a calculated look of somber observation.

But we never truly grieved that impossible horror, never got a chance, even though the innumerable tributes under way say that we did. The Bush administration, helped by the mainstream media's lack of backbone, co-opted that day as a symbol to make us afraid of one another.

Our leaders used it to incite two protracted, misguided and ruinous wars we still wage against dubious enemies, begun on the basis of outright lies. Instead of having nothing to fear but fear itself, we have accepted the offer of fear by itself, which at first did frighten us but now has dulled and callused us, enabling the puppet masters of big oil, banking and military industry to profit mightily in our torpor.

Mission accomplished.

All the while, we still send women and men into the teeth of these wars — and will still, for years — yet barely receive them when they return damaged or dead, and the nation has fragmented.

The redemption and healing that should have followed those terrible events have been tainted by what followed instead. I can't consume any of the 9/11 remembrances and never-before-heard audiotapes, can't stop for a moment to regard that day for its own sake, without immediately linking it to the bloody horror of Iraq and Afghanistan. They are WTF? funhouse-mirror countermeasures in search of phantom WMDs. It's impossible to mourn because it's impossible not to be angry — at this absurd sequence of events, at myself for succumbing to indifference and impotence.

Those people who fell from the World Trade Center towers to their doom — such nightmarish visions! — might as well have disappeared into the desert sands around Fallujah, for all that we got to consider their horror and loss, to themselves, their families, their employers, their communities. They became fodder for what I still believe is George W. Bush's intent to salvage the legacy of his father.

Since 9/11/2001, we have become Lord of the Flies, reduced to our baser selves. Psychiatrist Justin Frank of Washington, D.C. holds a similar view, that we have become babies, viewing the world in black and white and Us versus Them.

Opposition to our nation's response — to war, to torture, to degradation, to community-endorsed hatred of Muslims, even to this strange semantic casting of ourselves as The Homeland — means being unpatriotic.

And patriots, as we know through the doublespeaky Patriot Act, willingly give up many of our freedoms in exchange for what we want to think is our comfort and safety. Air traveler with a Middle Eastern kinda name? Sure, haul him away without benefit of a doubt, just so long as I can stop feeling the fear you keep waving in front of me.

You can trace all of this to obvious outcomes, such as a divided, uncompromising Congress, and to the accepted notion now that compromise is bad (when in fact compromise is the nature of action in a representative government).

You can trace it to our economic crisis, to jobs lost at a bewildering rate, to the banks that took our money to stay in business despite being criminally bad at it, to us no longer having the money to teach our children well or keep our bridges up and pay people to do all of that.

Hand in glove, you can trace it to the artless propaganda that divides us. I'm not so naive as to believe propaganda hasn't always bedeviled us, but it used to be sophisticated. Now it's an open wound. Even before an idea rises into public view, haters of that idea create words to kill it and replace it with new ideas that make us afraid.

Propagandists repeat that simple anti-idea ad infinitum until the idea wilts in its dense shadow. So we have "Obamacare," "death panels," and the anti-ideas that President Obama is a "socialist" with designs to ruin this country, that he is Muslim (with the presumption that this is a bad thing), that he is not a citizen, that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, and on and on. Just shouted and bellowed over and over again, without regard to merit, until the shouts and bellows become the new normal.

Tell lies often enough, and they become the truth. 

If not for the path down the rabbit hole that we took after 9/11, we wouldn't have the Tea Party, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Fox News. Hey, you say, those are all right-leaning people and entities! Don't you like right-wingers? Love 'em, actually. We should be a people of diverse ideas working toward the pursuit of happiness. I hate that they exist solely because of the artless propaganda that the fallout from 9/11 made fashionable.

It has begotten the abysmal meanness in which our governments still deny and delay needed medical care to those who suffered from environmental toxins as they rescued the people from the World Trade Center collapse.

I trace it farther, to reality TV shows where we get to watch people re-enact Lord of the Flies in all manner of novel ways — on supposedly deserted islands, fashion runways, celebrity kitchens, New Jersey, wherever the Kardashians are.

I trace it even to last week's Fox Sports' idea of a funny bit in which a reporter interviewed only Asian students — preferably students still learning English — from USC (because that's the entire student body, right?) to have them give a "good old-fashioned, all-American" welcome to two universities that had joined the expanded Pac 12 football conference. They talk funny, get it? Some of them don't even know what the Pac 12 is — hilarious, right? Because all of us normal people do, or should. It's football, and that's American, see? Those people are different from Us, so we get to mock them.

Fox canceled that show, saying it resulted from a "breakdown in our internal processes," which I suspect is doublespeak for, "We couldn't possibly have envisioned, in the current cultural climate, this could be offensive." As is the custom in public apologies these days, Fox apologized only to those who found offense, rather than for its base cruelty.

I'm looking for signs — glimmers — that we still may truly heal from 9/11/2001. Maybe this show's cancellation is one glimmer, that time will come when all divisions cease, and our tragedy against ourselves and the world dim in memory.


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