Ten Years Later
For a brief and beautiful time after the attack, we were united. We regarded our fellow Americans with respect and courtesy and kindness, with a commonality of purpose befitting our country’s name. In the aftermath of a national calamity, we were brothers and sisters.
For an even briefer time, the rest of the world – most of it, anyway — comforted us. “We are all Americans,” they said.
Our tragedy was profoundly painful, a suppurating wound, a trauma that, we assured one another, would eventually heal. We would be scarred, of course, but we would recover, because we’re Americans and that’s what resilient and resourceful folks born of the pioneer spirit do. If this was a fight against unseen enemies who hated us because we were free, we would win.Ten years later, it feels like we’re losing.
In the decade since September 11, 2001, we’ve looted our national treasure conducting badly conceived and horribly executed wars – wars on foreign soil, wars on terrorism, wars on drugs, wars on fellow citizens whose ideologies don’t align with ours. The homeland security industry, one of the few growth sectors in our dying economy, costs the federal and state governments $75 billion annually. Sure, communities like Glendale, California, a suburb of Los Angeles next to Burbank, now have $200,000 BearCat armored vehicles to keep the DreamWorks Animation offices safe from terrorists, and thousands of previously unemployable people have handsome blue shirts and Transportation Security Administration jobs at the airport, where they remind you to remove your shoes and belt before walking through the body scanner. But anyone who flies frequently understands that we’re playing a massive (and massively expensive) game of charades, that sometimes your 4-ounce bottle of shampoo slips through the elaborate safety net and sometimes it doesn’t, and it really doesn’t matter either way. India has their sacred cows. We have our protection racket. Polite people don’t discuss either. The point is to appear to be doing something, since that allows us the luxury of not actually doing anything to address the troublesome question of why most of the world has gone back to their pre-9/11 stance of hating us.
These follies – the myriad wars — will never be paid for unless our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren have the temerity and ruthlessness to steal from their future Chinese overlords or re-institute some form of legalized slavery. We’re not just broke, we’re broken.
Leading candidates for the highest office in our land characterize our evolving views on healthcare – namely, that all citizens should have access to it – as a pernicious strain of “socialism,” as though taking care of each other, particularly the least of us, were a sin, not a mandate expressly ordered by their divine prophet Jesus Christ. The majority of the residents of a republic built on the principles of liberty and justice for all are convinced (or have been brainwashed into believing) that it’s a terrific idea for the top 1% of us to control more than 80% of the national wealth. And almost everyone, liberal and conservative alike, thinks that everyone who doesn’t hold their views is irretrievably stupid. Today, just ten years after the towers fell and the Pentagon burned, we’re as divided and mistrustful of the mythical “other” as we’ve ever been since the Civil War. No, we don’t yet have Confederate Armies forming along States Rights dogma, but our Us vs. Them mentality is the ideological first step in rending our United States apart.
Much ink has been spilled wondering what exactly it is that the terrorists want. I don’t know. But inspiring in us a state of constant fear and dread seems like a reasonable guess.
We were once the world’s leading bully. Then we got slapped. Then we vowed to stand together and be better than ever and work as a team and revisit whatever it was that made us great and good in the first place. Now we’re back to bullying, here and there overseas but mainly each other.
If I were a religious man, I would pray that the United States of America not require another 9/11 for us to be kind to strangers, to lead the rest of the imprisoned world with a beacon of freedom. We can fly our flags and fighter jets at football games. We can march our military down Main Street and onto our movie screens. We can sing Irving Berlin songs and bandy about whatever symbolic imagery brings a catch in our throat and a tear to our eye. But until we start behaving like a nation that cares about something more than separating winners from losers, the events of September 11, 2001 shall always be the abiding tragedy of a country that lost its way.