September 11, 2008
How fast time flies. Seven years ago on this day a terrible, terrible terrorist attack—an act of war—was launched upon us. Quite frankly, we the people responded in a way that, while unsurprising and fully expected of us (the acts of nobility before and after, and yes, letting loose the dogs of war) I fully believe that had a similar event occured to a lesser folk (and yes, I said it, a lesser folk) the response may well have been more horrific.
Hurricane Katrina cemented the now-common wisdom that the world stands with us only when we are in the throes of great suffering. Four years earlier the world stood with us when so many of our own died in the 9/11 attacks. If the world stood with us only when Americans were dying I’d rather keep as many Americans alive and say “thanks, but no” to anyone who wants to say “we are all Americans now” at the expense of the lives of so many.
Seven years after the attacks, to some, it has become a source of national shame. In this polarized political environment, one side of the spectrum has used this event to remind us of the dangers of the world outside our borders. The other side would rather bury it, sanitized as a shameful excuse for spreading fear and war, a chill wind and a plague upon the land. Isn’t the truth almost always somewhere in between? “Yes” doesn’t apply in this case. After all the investigations and conclusions into the intelligence failures, after the War In Iraq which is nearly won, and the ongoing War In Afghanistan, which while challenged remains winnable, after the gross, oversimplified parody of the fearmongering use of 9/11 in Family Guy, after all that and more the truth is still that there remains a contingent of folk bent on marginalizing, not just our power or exceptionalism, but our country and the ideals it stands for. Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chavez, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad beat their drums about our decline. They are rabble-rousers, and their offensive nature lies not just in the real danger they present but in their complete lack of understanding of who we are.
Doctrinaire Libertarians, and I love you all in a way that some siblings would love bastards in their families (more on that later), have crowed about the already doomed state of our civil liberties. They ask: “what more is there to save about us if we’ve already lost it for everyone?” All it takes is look to the East, and look to the West, and see, that while the world may not turn around us, we are, for all our moral failures, still an example worth following.
I was less than three months an immigrant on that day. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself (even now I still don’t quite know) but when I saw that, when it happened, when I couldn’t help but stare and not react, when the fear and the dread and the anger and the doubt permeated me, I knew that one way or another I would like to make a mark and set a course, no matter how long the journey would take, to serve this country. Since that day, many more have heeded the call. We are not beaten into destitution, and we have not lost our identity as a people. It is far too easy to not want to think about today the way it was. But for this day, if but for a few minutes, remembering is important.
Before we fall into the comfort and the doldrum, this day is worth a moment of remembering. Never forget.