Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Remembering 9/13/2001

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Note that I, too, disagree with the atheists suing over that 9/11 "cross." As I understand it, this is just going to be part of a museum exhibition. It's not going to be given any specific significance.

Of course, many Christians consider it to be significant and will continue to do so. Indeed, that's the only reason it will be in the museum in the first place. But so what? Removing a symbol of a religion just because it's a symbol of a religion would seem to be discrimination.

And note that this is far different from Christian symbols on government buildings, which are meant to proselytize and demonstrate the preeminence of Christianity in America. Those create an environment where non-Christians are made to feel they're not "real" Americans (and deliberately so, in fact).

I don't think that's the case with the planned 9/11 museum. But I could be wrong about that.


When it comes to 9/11, I'm quite frankly tired of all the hype. Yes, we get more of that this year than usual, since it's the tenth anniversary. But it's always been hyped pretty badly.

It was a terrible, terrible event. But for the nation as a whole, we've done ourselves more damage in our response to it than the terrorists themselves caused. Think about the past ten years. Did we have to do this to ourselves, just because a handful of religious nuts attacked us?

Out of all the commentary on 9/11 I've seen this past week, I think I agree most with this column by E.J. Dionne, Jr. in The Washington Post:
After we honor the 10th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we need to leave the day behind. As a nation we have looked back for too long. We learned lessons from the attacks, but so many of them were wrong. The last decade was a detour that left our nation weaker, more divided and less certain of itself. ...

[I]f we continue to place 9/11 at the center of our national consciousness, we will keep making the same mistakes. Our nation’s future depended on far more than the outcome of a vaguely defined “war on terrorism,” and it still does. Al-Qaeda is a dangerous enemy. But our country and the world were never threatened by the caliphate of its mad fantasies. ...

It was often said that terrorism could not be dealt with through “police work,” as if the difficult and unheralded labor involved was not grand or bold enough to satisfy our longing for clarity in what was largely a struggle in the shadows.

Forgive me, but I find it hard to forget former president George W. Bush’s 2004 response to Sen. John Kerry’s comment that “the war on terror is less of a military operation and far more of an intelligence-gathering and law-enforcement operation.”

Bush retorted: “I disagree — strongly disagree. . . . After the chaos and carnage of September the 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers. With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States of America, and war is what they got.” What The Washington Post called “an era of endless war” is what we got, too.

Bush, of course, understood the importance of “intelligence gathering” and “law enforcement.” His administration presided over a great deal of both, and his supporters spoke, with justice, of his success in staving off further acts of terror. Yet he could not resist the temptation to turn on Kerry’s statement of the obvious. Thus was an event that initially united the nation used, over and over, to aggravate our political disharmony. This is also why we must put it behind us.

In the flood of anniversary commentary, notice how often the term “the lost decade” has been invoked. We know now, as we should have known all along, that American strength always depends first on our strength at home — on a vibrant, innovative and sensibly regulated economy, on levelheaded fiscal policies, on the ability of our citizens to find useful work, on the justice of our social arrangements.

This is not “isolationism.” It is a common sense that was pushed aside by the talk of “glory” and “honor,” by utopian schemes to transform the world by abruptly reordering the Middle East — and by our fears. While we worried that we would be destroyed by terrorists, we ignored the larger danger of weakening ourselves by forgetting what made us great.

America was never seriously threatened by al-Qaeda. They could kill people, and that's terrible. But to seriously harm America, we had to do it to ourselves. And we did.

Instead of thinking of this as a police matter, as we did with Timothy McVeigh's bombing of Oklahoma City in 1995 (and, indeed, the earlier bombing of the World Trade Center), we decide to wage war. Our president, who had carefully avoided the Vietnam War himself, was eager to play "Commander-in-Chief."

Republicans in general were overjoyed at the prospect of war (as long as they were in no danger themselves). Well, with a volunteer army, there was no danger of that, right? So who cared? The military-industrial complex was ecstatic. The media saw ratings increases. Democrats scrambled to put themselves on the popular side of the matter, as they pretty much always do. Few spoke against it.

So we invaded Afghanistan for no good reason. And when that proved too boring, we made up the flimsiest of excuses to invade Iraq, too, despite the fact that they had nothing to do with 9/11 and that they were no danger to America whatsoever. And that we were already bogged down in one war.

Of course, none of that got us Osama bin Laden, which was supposedly the whole point. Ten years later, Barack Obama showed us how we should have done it in the first place. There was no need for war. There was certainly no need to wage war on credit.

For the first time in our history, we waged war - two wars, in fact - without raising taxes to pay for it. But war wouldn't have been nearly so popular then, would it? And it wouldn't have been so popular if we'd still had a draft, either. I wonder if that wasn't a huge mistake, to go to a volunteer army.

After all, as this column indicates, we asked for sacrifice from a very small proportion of our population. Our men and women in uniform have done superb work in a very difficult situation. Over and over again, they've gone back to horror and pain.

But they and their families were the only Americans asked to sacrifice anything at all. As they bled and died, the rest of us weren't even willing to pay a few more dollars in taxes (or even ask the wealthy to do so). Yeah, war is popular when it's just a spectator sport, huh? Especially when the broadcast is free.

In a way, the 9/11 attacks were a huge success for our enemies, not because of what they did, but because of what we did in response. We weakened America ourselves. Of course, many of these things were what the Bush administration wanted to do in the first place. But would we have let them happen otherwise?

Ten years later, we're deep in debt. We've shown the world that America isn't that "shining light on a hill," but merely another country willing to torture prisoners of war. We've shown that we'll invade even an innocent country if it has something we want. We've shown, to a truly terrible extent, that America has turned into its enemies.

And we've shown that we're not willing to pay for anything. We've shown that we'll believe pure fantasy if that's what we want to believe. We've shown the ugly side of democracy, so other nations are increasingly wary of adopting it. We haven't just weakened America, we've weakened the very concept of America. We've weakened what America stands for.

It's time to put 9/11 behind us. No, we shouldn't forget it. We shouldn't forget our past at all. But we shouldn't wallow in it. We desperately need to acknowledge our mistakes and move forward. Because, if we can't acknowledge our errors, how can we ever fix them?

And these days, we've got a lot of things to fix.

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