Saturday, September 11, 2021

20 Years Later and What Have We Learned?

Sara K. Schwittek/Reuters
(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari)
It's been 20 years. Journalists, bloggers and pundits are writing their own articles, secretly vying for the prestige of having the last word on 9/11 for at least the next five years when the quarter century retrospectives get trotted out in 2026. This will not be one of them. My memory of what had happened on that initially faultless Tuesday morning is just one of hundreds of millions that is but a single teardrop in the still-filling ocean of national grief.
     I'd first found out what had happened in lower Manhattan while at work. I was barely on my second cup of coffee when a coworker and friend of mine announced that a jumbo jetliner had hit the north tower. I peered over her shoulder and saw on her bulky monitor one of the first photographs of the impact, posted online before any of the videotapes were hastily sent to and broadcast by news networks.
     Watching those videotapes for the first time was a numb, almost what one could call an out of body experience. It was like watching something out of a vividly horrible and well-made action movie, perhaps the sort of thing Michael Bay would dream up. But it wasn't impeccable, state of the art CGI. Real planes had actually struck both the north and south towers of the World Trade Center. Real people perished.
     The entire morning and part of the afternoon was a seemingly never-ending domino effect. First the north tower was struck. Then, just over 15 minutes later, the south tower. Then we heard the Pentagon was struck. And where the hell was Shanksville, Pennsylvania? Then the north tower fell neatly in its own footprint. Then the south tower followed suit. Then, inexplicably, WTC 7, even though it wasn't on fire nor had been struck by a plane.
    Then there was the ceaseless news coverage on a cruelly endless loop, witnessing the towers getting struck over and over, then falling in enormous clouds of pulverized concrete that billowed across Manhattan Island that lasted for days. News reports that didn't quite jibe with the hastily erected official narrative quickly fell into the memory hole, never to be broadcast again. Donald Trump quickly hunted down a cameraman and pretended to help the victims while bragging he now had the tallest building in lower Manhattan (he didn't).
     9/11, obviously, was one of those world-altering events that, like the Kennedy assassination, made it possible for people to indelibly and faultlessly remember what they were doing the moment they heard the news. I was in the shipping department of my employer. The boss showed up minutes later and told everyone to get back to work, although we were, vocationally, directly affected by this tragedy. That is my story.
     The official death toll from 9/11 stands at 2977 human beings. They were passengers and airline crew from all walks of life, military personnel, office workers, police officers, firefighters, EMS and people of countless other professions. Some of the victims were foreign nationals and citizens from other countries but most of them were our people. Our fellow Americans. And in my subjective opinion, if you weren't and still aren't hit in the gut on an atavistic level, if you're not still outraged and shamed by how easily we were knocked to our knees, then you weren't then nor are now a real American.

That Still Stands For Something.
Thomas E. Franklin/The Bergen Record/AP
However critical you, I or anyone else is or has been about the government, it ought to be compartmentalized and kept separate from the love every American must feel for this country. A government is a temporary steward. Patriotism is eternal, at least in intent. Looking at the photos again, even if it's been two decades or seeing them for the first time is a heavyweight punch to the psychic solar plexus. And, again, if you don't feel that, then you're simply not an American. And, yes, I mean that as an imprecation, aimed directly at those who call themselves "patriots" while engaging in activity that would be or will be eagerly co-opted by ISIS and Taliban terrorists to show how much this nation has fallen.
    And, just as the Germans of the Weimar Republic had after Hitler "temporarily" took away their rights and civil liberties after the February 1933 Reichstag fire, so we let George W. Bush do the same thing. We meekly acquiesced as security measures were swiftly put in place that involved undressing at the airport and getting groped, walking through metal detectors, having our bags searched at stadiums, etc. Americans made a fetish of personal and national security. "Well, if it keeps us safe...", we  muttered and never once asked when we'd get those civil liberties back.
     Those who'd lived through those scared and cowed years don't need to be historians to realize those subtracted rights were never given back by the Bush administration. Getting them back was conditional on the Bushies winning the war on terror, even though they knew damned good and well that was unfeasible at best, impossible at worst. It was to quash dissent in the certainty the illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would begin to sour among those with "Bush Derangement Syndrome." Because back then, it just wasn't patriotic, Goddamnit, to criticize the government.
    But this is not a condemnation of the Bush administration. We've heard and read enough of that in the last three or so weeks since the withdrawal from Afghanistan was ramped up August 16th. This is about the mindset of roughly half of this nation of 330,000,000 people. Despite living with an ever-present daily danger (which didn't exist 20 years ago), Americans have suddenly found their spine and rugged individualism by rebelling against masks and the vaccines. During the deadliest pandemic, perhaps, since the Black Plague that had decimated a third of Europe in the 14th century.
   The same people who'd obediently removed their shoes in our nation's airports are now literally screaming bloody murder over being asked to wear masks and get the vaccine that has been proven time and again to be highly efficacious at mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and its better than one dozen variants. They tried to figuratively and literally tear down the government on January 6th. Then the feds set over 90% of them free. The same people who'd given their silent, ongoing consent to allow their civil liberties to be indefinitely suspended in the face of Islamic terrorism are now literally siding with the Taliban and adopting their retaking of Afghanistan as a template to overthrow their own government. 
    This is still my country but I'm less and less sure each day if I remain a citizen of it. 20 years ago today and for a good while afterwards, we were united as a nation. We grieved as a nation, as a people. Now, we cannot seem to agree on anything to the point where one side (and I'll leave it to you to judge which it is) manufactures an alternate reality to jibe with their world view. We stood united against the terrorists even as two innocent countries got bombed into the Stone Age. Now, half the nation are the terrorists and we're loath to treat them as such.
     To quote Pogo, we have met the enemy and it is us. So, the question remains, what have we learned? Well, the answer, of course, is worse than "Nothing." Far from learning anything or nothing, half of us seem to have forgotten what it's like to be American.


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