Why in the world does the United States celebrate the hijacking and flying of planes into the World Trade Centers through annual ritual and an enormously expensive memorial?
Why does it consider that the people who died heroically made a sacrifice for the rest of us?
Memorializing the World Trade Center bombings simply plays into the hands of the fanatics who perpetrated it. It’s time to shrug shoulders and forget. To get on with life and living. Whatever unity that was borne in the tragedy has long since dissipated. And the real tragedy wasn’t the 3,000 unfortunate souls who happened to be caught in the crossfire between America’s Middle Eastern imperialism and a fanatical religious movement that sought vengeance for its excesses. Almost three thousand people die on the highways in the US every month, but nobody considers it a national tragedy. The real tragedy was in the American response to the attack. America is much weaker now, economically, politically and militarily, as a result of the attacks, and the weakness is wholly self-inflicted.
The Bush Administration wasn’t about to let the crisis go to waste, and launched two endless wars, to what end—except perhaps a feckless attempt at imperial expansion—no one really knows. Several trillion dollars and the lives of thousands of American troops later, everything in both Iraq and Afghanistan is pretty much the same, or worse, as when the wars started, and nothing of the effort seems to have benefited the US. Iraq is a sectarian mess, just as it was in the late seventies, before the US tacitly and covertly encouraged a strong-man in the person of Saddam Hussein to rise to power and exert ruthless control. It now is a client state of Iran, its Shia Muslims having, at US encouragement, taken over from the Sunnis. Afghanistan has proved its reputation as the graveyard of empires. The US is actually now negotiating with the Taliban—the very group it invaded Afghanistan to depose—in the hopes of keeping the chaos of encroaching anarchy at bay. It was the Taliban that encouraged al Qaeda to use Afghanistan as its base of operations, and the destruction of al Qaeda’s safe haven and supporters in Afghanistan was the only justifiable reason for invading. In the process of deposing and then negotiating with the Taliban, The US has thoroughly infuriated its neighbor to the east, Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of 185 million souls.
For Bush to gain the people’s support for his wars, he turned the government money spigots full open, reversing the annual budget surpluses of the Clinton era, initiating the process that, magnified several times over by his successor, will ultimately yield American insolvency. Just today, Moody’s threatened a credit downgrade if political solutions to the fiscal cliff aren’t forthcoming. The national debt stands at roughly $16 trillion—over a hundred percent of Gross Domestic Product—and is growing in excess of one trillion dollars per year, with no end in sight. Though the last five trillion or so of debt can’t be directly attributable to the 9-11 response, it was after 9-11 that the federal Leviathan began its march to insolvency. 9-11 flipped the switch. 9-11 prompted the people to refigure their covenant with their government. The people chose to bargain their freedom for the security of a protective, paternalistic state. Now having lost their freedom, in another decade or so, neither will they have security, economic or otherwise. Collective security depends on the wealth and income of individuals. With over half of the country on the federal dole, insolvency looms, and there is no security—economically, politically or militarily–with insolvency.
In the process of sacrificing freedom for security, the American people allowed, perhaps even encouraged, the shredding of their Constitution, that brilliant document parceling the rights and responsibilities between the government and the governed that was 10,000 years of civilization in the making. They let the government usurup the most basic of constitutional protections, allowing it to deprive its citizens of life without legal process. Because the Obama Administration had promised to shut down Guantanamo and forswear torture, it decided to kill rather than capture, and became judge, jury and executioner for anyone, citizen or not, who was imagined to harbor sympathies for al Qaeda. And it did it with nary a peep from the people whose lives are protected by the due processes required of their taking. The US can no longer seriously claim to be a constitutional republic when one man can unilaterally decide who gets to live and who dies, and the sad thing is, no one seems to care or have noticed.
The victims of the bombings are not heroes. A hero is one who intentionally risks their life for another. The people who died were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. They had no choice in the matter. Heroism depends on a deliberate act. The firefighters who died trying to rescue the victims were heroes, but the victims were just that, victims. This principle of heroism is why Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman from Arizona, is not a hero or a patriot for taking a lunatic’s bullet. She’s a victim, and now a feel-good story, but not a hero. An athlete who overcomes cancer to play again is not a hero. As a victim of fate who made the best of the cards dealt him, he too is a feel-good story, but he’s not a hero. And a guy who showed up early for work on September 11 is not a hero. He is a victim. There is only fortuity to being in an office tower when a plane flies into it, or to getting cancer and being able to overcome it, or to being shot by a lunatic gunman. Had an earthquake brought the towers tumbling down, would the victims of the earthquake be considered heroes?
Flight 93 perhaps had some heroes, but only if it is considered that they didn’t know they would not make it out alive. If they knew all along they were certain to die, what they did in diverting the plane was just an admirable last act, kind of like what Clint Eastwood’s character in Gran Torino did at the end of the movie. (Eastwood’s character knew he was dying of cancer, and sacrificed his final few good days to rid his neighborhood of a gang menace by causing them to kill him just before the police arrived to make arrests.)
I doubt many people in flyover land pay much attention to the egocentric New York wailing and gnashing of teeth every year on September 11. I certainly don’t. I didn’t know anyone in New York who died in the towers, and it is only the people we personally know for whom we can genuinely grieve, which is why all those highway fatalities aren’t national tragedies. They are personal tragedies, yes, but not national tragedies. I can empathize, but trying to show grief would be pretentious. On September 11, 2001, my son was battling for his life in a hospital bed. Which of the two, a terrorist attack or my son’s battle for his life, do you suppose is seared more clearly and poignantly into my memory?
But it is high time that everyone, New Yorkers included, put aside their grief and quit dwelling on the attacks, and instead begin dwelling on the wayward path the US has taken since the attacks. When those planes flew into the World Trade Centers that bright September morning in 2001, the US was so economically, politically and militarily strong that it faced no real or viable threats to its worldwide hegemony, let alone its existence. It could only be weakened by its own hand. 9-11 provided the catalyst for a decade and more of self-destructive behavior that has left it immeasurably weaker, as an absolute matter, and in relation to its global competitors.
If the US doesn’t quit its self-immolation over 9-11, one day that shiny new memorial will stand for something much graver than 3,000 souls lost to a band of lunatics. It will stand for the day the republic began crumbling to pieces like the rubble of the towers it replaced.