Ten years after 9-11: the road not taken

I remember the strong feeling of national unity we in the weeks following the 9-11 attacks.  The tragedy was a common experience that bound us all together, like the assassination of President John F. Kennedy or the Challenger disaster.  It seemed like every second or third house in my neighborhood flew an American flag.

WTC wreckage

All the world sympathized with our American tragedy.  Le Monde, the French newspaper, published an editorial saying, “We are all Americans now.”  There were pro-American demonstrations all over the world, including the Muslim world; one of the largest was in Tehran, Iran.

I did not vote for George W. Bush for President, but in those weeks I admired his strong but measured statements and, in particular, the care he took to distinguish terrorists from Muslims in general.

What a great opportunity this would have been to bring the nation and the world together, to begin to address the problems of the United States, and to deal with the crime of international terrorism on a realistic basis.

Alas, this was not to be.  Instead the Bush administration used the 9-11 attacks as an excuse to implement pre-existing plans to invade Iraq and to give the Presidency the powers of a dictator.

I had the same feeling of hope and unity in the weeks following the inauguration of Barack Obama as President.  He, too, followed a different road than he might have.

War correspondent Chris Hedges wrote this yesterday:

Predator drone wreckage

We have still not woken up to whom we have become, to the fatal erosion of domestic and international law and the senseless waste of lives, resources and trillions of dollars to wage wars that ultimately we can never win.  We do not see that our own faces have become as contorted as the faces of the demented hijackers who seized the three commercial jetliners a decade ago.  We do not grasp that Osama bin Laden’s twisted vision of a world of indiscriminate violence and terror has triumphed.  The attacks turned us into monsters, grotesque ghouls, sadists and killers who drop bombs on village children and waterboard those we kidnap, strip of their rights and hold for years without due process.  We acted before we were able to think.  And it is the satanic lust of violence that has us locked in its grip.

We could have gone another route.  We could have built on the profound sympathy and empathy that swept through the world following the attacks.  The revulsion over the crimes that took place 10 years ago, including in the Muslim world, where I was working in the weeks and months after 9/11, was nearly universal.  The attacks, if we had turned them over to intelligence agencies and diplomats, might have opened possibilities not of war and death but ultimately reconciliation and communication, of redressing the wrongs that we commit in the Middle East and that are committed by Israel with our blessing.  It was a moment we squandered.  Our brutality and triumphalism, the byproducts of nationalism and our infantile pride, revived the jihadist movement.  We became the radical Islamist movement’s most effective recruiting tool.  We descended to its barbarity.  We became terrorists too.

Click on A Decade After 9/11: We Become What We Loathe for the whole article.  [I thank my friend Anne for e-mailing me the link.]

We still can admire the heroism of the firefighters, police, emergency medical technicians and other first responders on that day, and for that matter every day.  We still can admire the heroism of the passengers on Flight 93 who successfully defended their country.  We can admire the patriotism of those who enlisted in the armed forces or sought other ways to serve their country in the weeks following the 9/11 attacks.  Their patriotism should not have been abused.

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