Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remembrance Of Things Past

This many years removed, I find myself with mixed feelings about remembering 9/11. Everyone recalls those fleeting moments of communality in the immediate aftermath; and how quickly they dissipated, like smoke. We woke up that day (literally, in my case) to the evil and immediacy of terrorism, the fact that it was actually possible here. It's something worth remembering.

But to me, now, with over a decade of hindsight, the message is another sort of warning: of how we reacted and overreacted; how easily we let go of fundamental legal principles, in the name of fear for our safety. How, even here in the US, the veneer of civilization is thin, the rule of law rationalized away with hardly a thought. A bipartisan failing.

It brought out our dark side, our tendency toward paranoia, the ease with which we look for scapegoats, resort to comforting hatreds. The war we justified has diminished us, our human capital (terrible term), our treasury, our self-respect, our standing in the world.

I said it then, and I say it now: the decision to invade Iraq, excused by the attacks of 9/11, gave Osama bin Laden more than he ever hoped for, even in his dreams of 72 virgins (or the dreams he foisted on his pawns, maybe not actually believing them himself.) The war polarized us more than we'd been, and that was a lot. The fractures it caused have grown like mushroom clouds, us against us, maybe past resolving, ever.

So if we're going to remember 9/11 every year, like Pearl Harbor (remember it?), it ought to be in a very different way, as a cautionary tale: a sober reminder of the danger around us, but -- maybe even more -- a time to reflect on who we once were and who we ought to be still. Play the hymns and shed the tears, quietly, for those who died; but louder, much louder, for how we reacted and what we've become.

[Let me add a link to this really touching speech, today, by Joe Biden, who's been through unfathomable losses of his own.]

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