9/11: An Observation

| September 11, 2009 | 5 Replies

Comparisons of the disaster of 9/11 to Pearl Harbor break down in the aftermath.  What I remember is getting a phone call from my wife to turn on the news, any news, and then seeing the images on CNN.  I then called several people, including some on the west coast, early as it was.

It was a binding experience.

Then the silence of the skies for next few days.  All planes grounded.  We don’t pay attention to all that background noise until it disappears.

And I remember wanting to strike back.

But at who?

Image: Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons)

Image: Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons)

I am not a reflex pacifist.  I do not believe in turning the other cheek as an automatic gesture.  The world, in the aggregate, does not yield to such gestures until much blood is spent, and disgust comes to the aid of the peaceful intent.  Strike at me,  hurt my family and friends, threaten my home, I have no compunction about the use of violence.

But not thoughtless lashing out, flailing, blind retaliation.  That does less good than the habitual use of peaceful surrender.  If we were to find these people, we needed to be smart about it, and move carefully.  When caught, punishment must be determined accordingly.

That was not to be.  I watched our so-called leaders turn this event into a justification for major abuse globally.  The sympathy we had from the entire world evaporated as the United States began stomping around acting like a pissed off child whose lunch money had been taken by a bully.  But we were not small and weak, so embracing the automatic response of schoolyard tactics resulted in calamity.  I was horrified by the unfolding nightmare of the Bush years, all done supposedly in my name as a citizen.

The aftermath of Pearl Harbor was horrible but not cause for self-loathing and shame.  We rose to an occasion that demanded sacrifice and we came to the aid of a  world gone mad.  The enemy was clear, the stakes enormous, the calculations easy enough.  Ugly as WWII was, our response was as close to noble as war can bestow, and we have carried ourselves with pride born out of that period for going on 70 years now.

Not so after 9/11.

We were struck in 1941 by a nation that officially declared war upon us.  We knew who they were, what they stood for, and where to find them.  It was a conflict of clear adversaries fighting as nations.

The 9/11 aggressors were a band of people more like the mafia, with no nation, no formal declaration of war, and no clear face.  We had a few names, a few associations.  We didn’t know how to deal with this, so we pretended it was just like any other war, shoved the awkward details into the box called War, and attacked as if nations could be blamed.

After WWII we could expect and received formal surrenders from nations authorized to sign such instruments.  Rebuilding began, and it could be argued that THAT was the real victory.

Who will sign a surrender in this conflict?  Who can?  What would it look like?  And how do you rebuild something these very same enemies keep knocking down and by so doing make us knock them down as well, along with all the innocent people who just get in the way?

There was a time hatred could not act on its own in such a vast theater—it required nations to enable it and give it reach.  That’s changed.

It seems to me we need to start figuring out how to rid ourselves of hate.  We can’t do that if we keep hurting the very people we need to help.

Our job has been made infinitely harder because of the schoolyard bully mentality of the administration that dragged us into this fray in the aftermath of national tragedy.  We may never regain the credibility needed to address the real issues.  That is the loss I continue to mourn on this day.

The dead cannot be blamed for the acts of the living, and revenge is a cold legacy for the sacrifice of the honorable.

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Category: American Culture, Culture, Current Events, History, Politics, War

About the Author ()

Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.

Comments (5)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Mark: I keep thinking about writing a post on a certain widespread prejudice: "Movement is Progress." Maybe your well-written post is a good excuse to sketch out my concerns about this highly destructive and highly misleading prejudice.

    After we were attacked on 9/11, many Americans, driven on by our conflict-addicted media, insisted that we needed to DO SOMETHING. There are several corollaries to the prejudice: A) Doing something is better than doing nothing: B)Thinking is not very important, because it is not movement and, in fact, thinking DELAYS movement.

    Planes taking off and bombs dropping toward vague "targets" constitute the kind of movement we like to see. War viscerally hits the spot, especially since we see everything through the confirmation bias. We screen out all the bad stuff, both psychologically and actually (no photos of dead children or dead American soldiers!).

    What's left is hope, because we shield ourselves from the carnage. Al-Jazeera, despised by so many conservatives, shows these terrible images. We'd rather look at more planes taking off–there's no blood on those runways. To bomb whom? "Terrorists" and "insurgents", of course. How do we know that we're actually killing "terrorists" and "insurgents"? Our media tells us that we need to trust our military leaders to reassure us that we are killing the right people. And what do we hear, time after time? That we are always winning the war, until 8 years later, we leave, defeated. Just like Vietnam. As a boy, I always watched those literally incredible body count reports. Week after week, we killed 452 of the bad guys and they only killed 147 of our soldiers. Until we were run out of Vietnam. Maybe that's another lesson we don't get: the body count has nothing to do with who is winning.

    Here's another civics lesson we are taught: we need to trust the roughest toughest looking chicken-hawk politicians we can round up to feed our bloodthirst. We insist on chicken-hawks, of course, because politicians with real military experience would ask inconvenient questions, such as A) Do we really have any military objectives? and B) Are they achievable? and C) Are we really killing the people who were trying to kill us?

    Bad things don't just happen to us, because we are good, by definition. Therefore, when bad things happen, it's because someone else is bad, and they need to be punished. And the best way to punish them is to DO SOMETHING. And movement is progress. And those who want to stop long enough to ask if we know what the hell we are really doing are unpatriotic and they need to shut up. These are all lessons we should have learned long ago. They were illustrated vividly in Norman Solomon's documentary, "War Made Easy."

    It feels terrible to walk away from a fight, but we must do it unless we have real military objectives that are achievable. We need to be a lot smarter than we've been for the past 8 years (or is it the past 50 years?) or we're going to squander our way of life by chasing ghosts. We need to stop being so susceptible to the drumbeats of war emanating from opportunistic media outlets and shallow-minded xenophobic politicians.

  2. Jay Fraz says:

    Great article all around.

    Erich: You deserve an award for that post. Your movement theory is spot on.

  3. Dan Klarmann says:

    Ernest Hemingway: "Never mistake motion for action."

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