I fear for this anniversary. Like everyone else, my memories of 9/11 are vivid. It is a shared experience for Americans, but as time goes on, it is losing its shared meaning. Some of this meaning will, I’m sure, continue to be shunted into political ends, even more so with the election coming up.
I have no interest in 9/11 “Troofers”, the conspiracy theorists who have all kinds of outlandish ideas about the attacks. I don’t need them—the real truth is more frightening.
9/11 wasn’t Pearl Harbor. We didn’t wake up on the 12th to find ourselves at war, despite what the president may have said. When we entered a real war in ’41, we sacrificed. We gave up material goods, we stopped driving, we grew vegetables. I have a box full of ration coupons that my grandfather refused to use as he thought is would be even more patriotic to increase his sacrifice beyond what was asked. After the 11th, we weren’t asked to sacrifice—quite the opposite—we were told the best way to fight was to keep our way of life unchanged, to show the terrorists we cannot be cowed out of our cars by a few thousand murders.
What we weren’t told was that even though we would not be asked to sacrifice, we would anyway. By becoming entangled in unwise military engagements, diplomatic fuck ups, and petrocracy, we’ve played right into the hands of those who attacked us.
You see, with this so-called “asymmetry”, Islamic extremists can do very little to harm us physically. One mass murder can’t destroy our economy, our values, or our way of life.
Unless we let it.
And we did let it. What we sacrificed was our Constitution, our privacy rights, our economy, and our souls. We imprisoned people without due process, we tortured, we extraordinarily rendered, we wire-tapped. We didn’t fight terrorism by showing the example of our constitutional democracy, we gave in to terrorism by diminishing it. We fucked up.
As the GOP runs a campaign on the need for strength, I hope both parties remember an important lesson from American history. Our peace hasn’t only come through our strength; our strength has come through peace—a peace that has allowed us to prosper, build, innovate. The prosperity engendered by peace has allowed us to retool for war when necessary, and to fight these wars with little damage to our home soil.
Wars of choice don’t show the world our willingness to win, they show the world our willingness to be duped into playing by someone else’s rules. The rhetoric spouted by both candidates is ultimately meaningless. Either one will be faced with a world where American power and wealth has been diminished by reactionary decisions. Whomever takes the helm will have to find the strength to face the world based on our core values as a nation, and based on deliberate thought, and by action rather than re-action. We still have a chance to learn from 9/11. Let’s use this anniversary to start doing it right.