(The Pentagon 9/11 Memorial. WP Photo.)
I. Anger and Fatigue
The only surprise about the most recent debasement of 9/11, at the Republican National Convention, breaking a long-standing, sensible taboo not to use 9/11 footage for political purposes, was that it stood as long as it did. Almost everything gets degraded over time. But that doesn't mean we have to like it.
Yeah, I'd like to keep 9/11 completely non-political. But it hasn't been for a long time. So I'd like to try to delve into what's urgent and important, but also to remember what's vital and essential.
Jeffrey Goldberg recently wrote an op-ed called "On Nov. 4, Remember 9/11." It's full of dangerous bullshit, such as the revisionist poppycock that 9/11 occurred because of a "law enforcement" approach to terrorism, as opposed to other factors Goldberg's apparently forgotten. But Jonathan Schwarz nails the most crucial point:
When You Die In The Nuclear Fireball, The Most Important Thing To Remember Is That Jeffrey Goldberg Bears No Responsibility
The New York Times gave Jeffrey Goldberg space today to make this critical point:The next president must do one thing, and one thing only, if he is to be judged a success: He must prevent Al Qaeda, or a Qaeda imitator, from gaining control of a nuclear device and detonating it in America...
Many proliferation experts I have spoken to judge the chance of such a detonation to be as high as 50 percent in the next 10 years...
We live, seven years after 9/11, in the age of the super-empowered, eschatologically minded terrorist. He is motivated by revolutionary and theological concerns rather than by nationalist grievances...
Thank goodness we know that—no matter what Al Qaeda says—they're not motivated by nationalist grievances. Because if they were, people who'd advocated the invasion of Iraq, like Jeffrey Goldberg, would certainly have increased the possibility we'll get nuked.
And that's not the end to the good news. As Goldberg says, our "paramount goal" is "pre-emption," so we're obviously going to have to invade lots more countries. If Arabs or Muslims did have nationalist grievances, then this would raise the chances of nuclear terrorism even higher than they are now. But since they're motivated purely by their bizarre sand-religion, we can kill as many of them as necessary without increasing the risk to ourselves.
Goldberg's rhetoric about "nationalist grievances" (perhaps better labeled "anger over American foreign policy") echoes the bullshit spewed by Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and others during the Republican primary debates. The message was: "Worry about the those evil Islamic demons, but don't worry about learning anything more about the world, your government or your party." Obviously, nothing excuses the evil perpetrated on 9/11, and like many other Americans and people around the world, I'm never going to forget my experiences that day. But lying about the motivations of terrorists doesn't help us any, and in fact makes us less safe. And let's be clear – Goldberg is lying to his audience, and perhaps himself, about potential blowback to the imperialism he so blithely advocates. He's lying about his own culpability. So as long as Goldberg feels entitled to invoke 9/11 as a reminder to launch pre-emptive invasions of other countries, I feel compelled to point out that he's an unrepentant warmonger who hasn't learned from his greatest public mistake, and we would be much safer if he and all those like-minded were given no heed. Challenging them is urgent and important. (Add in your own profanity; an earlier draft had plenty.)
There are indeed terrorist individuals and organizations bent on harming America. It would be foolish not to address that. But it's also not as if that's unexpected. And I think any basically competent government would work to address those threats, and do a decent job of it. I'm more wounded by betrayal from my own countrymen. It's more personal. At this point, seven years later, I'm more angry about the exploitation of fear and loyalty to push a radical, reckless, disastrous agenda, sold with lies while waving an American flag and denouncing anyone daring to speak truth as a traitor. I'm more pained wondering how the hell a generation who lived through Vietnam could possibly want to do it all over again. I'm appalled to hear those knaves and scoundrels who pushed for war with Iraq (who didn't attack us on 9/11, something Goldberg completely ignores) still insist they were right, and saber-rattle over Iran, and now Russia again. (The Cold War was like chicken soup for their shriveled souls.) I'm weary of hearing from the neocons and their ilk, and seeing people who should in some cases be in prison, or at least off the public stage, scold the public for not praising them for their continued, vain follies. It wounds me that my country still elevates men and women who have been so unfailingly, disastrously wrong. How wrong? Besides all the unnecessary loss of resources, prestige and human life, they're doing bin Laden's work for him. As Matthew Yglesias remind us:
Few people seem to appreciate it, but it's quite literally true that al-Qaeda's strategy is to cripple the U.S. economy by dragging us into quagmires abroad. Osama bin Laden himself has said this, and it's the only strategy that makes sense. A smallish number of people with no base of resources can't possibly defeat us unless we shoot ourselves in the foot repeatedly as Bush and McCain propose.
Steve Benen makes a number of good points in "Kagan's Firm Stand in Defense of Ignorance", but this may be the best:
One gets the distinct impression that if given a choice between a combat veteran who teaches international affairs at Georgetown after 12 years working in the State Department, and a high school junior who memorizes Bill Kristol columns, a surprising number of conservatives would prefer the latter be responsible for shaping U.S. foreign policy. And those same conservatives would make up a McCain/Palin administration.
War is simply good business for hawks. But say we grant some noble intentions to them, and also genuine anxiety over their loved ones. Fine. Regardless, at this point, I really don't care if any of them is sincere in their beliefs or not. I care that they're wrong. That's their right – but they still have an undeserved, huge megaphone, and their policies further harm America.
And that is why, on 9/11, the last thing I want to do is hear from Goldberg and his crew lecture me on what I should remember about 9/11. (And feel free to say the same of me, of course.) On Nov. 4, remember 9/11, but also remember the Iraq War - which had nothing to do with 9/11 - and that Jeffrey Goldberg still thinks was a swell idea.
For more tempered, mature and wry thoughts on 9/11, see Brilliant at Breakfast, Media Bloodhound, Cernig, Space Cowboy, and Fran, among others. (My more philosophical posts from past years are littered through this category.)
It's funny how it can creep up on you.
Last night, I stumbled on The Washington Post's series on the Pentagon 9/11 memorial. I visited one of several makeshift memorials a few times. The picture at the top of the post is from their striking photo gallery - "Elaine Donovan sits on a bench dedicated to her husband, Cmdr. William Howard Donovan." It looks like a graceful, thoughtful, well-designed memorial. I'd like to visit it when next I'm in D.C. I hope it gives the families and friends some solace and peace.
I won't go through all my memories of 9/11. We all have them. I will mention, though, that I was teaching in Connecticut at the time. Many of our students, faculty and staff had family and friends in New York City. A smaller number, including me, had the same in the D.C. area. The phone lines for both were overloaded. It took a long time to get through. Anxiety was pretty high at times. One of the receptionists, Susie, a spunky, upbeat woman and a real treasure, volunteered to stay at the desk into the night until every family had made contact in one direction or another. She had a master list, and a few teachers coordinated with her, checking in with other teachers and students, until everyone was accounted for. One of my students had a single parent, his mother, who worked at the towers. Luckily, she was late to work that day. We had a few stories like that. Luckily, no one lost anyone – among the students, at least. One of my colleagues used to work at the towers years ago, and he knew a fair number of people. For a close friend teaching a school in Brooklyn, it was madness. But they, too, even more fortunately, didn't have any losses among the families at their school. But these young adults, in some cases really just kids, had their whole world turned upside down. They were scared, stunned, angry, sad... and too overwhelmed to process it all, except for maybe a small piece at a time. We adults probably weren't that much better.
I gave a poem to my student from New York later on. It really, really resonated with him, as it did for quite a few people after those events. It's a fairly well known poem, "written from a hospital bed":
By William Ernest Henley
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.
III. Human Connection
To close with the vital and essential, first let's go to a Zen reflection (but feel free to substitute what you like for "Zen" and "Buddha"):
When you realize Zen, you will see yourself in all beings. The destitute oppressed and the cruel tyrant that oppresses them; a hungry child and a bloated landowner; a famous saint and a notorious rogue; a friend you meet in the market place and a person you pass while walking whose name you will never know. All share the one Buddha nature.
- Shen T'Sing
Finally, to end with a poem:
Variations on the Word "Sleep"
By Margaret Atwood
I would like to watch you sleeping,
which may not happen.
I would like to watch you,
sleeping. I would like to sleep
with you, to enter
your sleep as its smooth dark wave
slides over my head
and walk with you through that lucent
wavering forest of bluegreen leaves
with its watery sun & three moons
towards the cave where you must descend,
towards your worst fear
I would like to give you the silver
branch, the small white flower, the one
word that will protect you
from the grief at the center
of your dream, from the grief
at the center. I would like to follow
you up the long stairway
again & become
the boat that would row you back
carefully, a flame
in two cupped hands
to where your body lies
beside me, and you enter
it as easily as breathing in
I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
& that necessary.
Peace, pacem, mir, and as another poem goes, Shantih shantih shantih.
(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)