I'm not one for anniversaries of significant historical events. Hell, I'm not one for birthdays and anniversaries of significant personal events. But I realize that, at least in the public sphere, anniversaries serve as a nice point for us as a society to look back and reflect, hopefully impassionately, at key moments from our collective past and how, if at all, those moments charted the course of history, for better or for worse.
And ten year anniversaries mystify me even more. The number ten is significant only because, evolutionary-wise, we were born with that many digits on our hands. If we had only four fingers per hand, we would be using base 8 and this 9/11 rememberance overkill would have happened two years ago.
But that's not how we evolved. So now, everyone was required to talk about 9/11 for a day or so.
Well, I'll just come out and say it….
Ten years out, 9/11 marks the time when the United States of America got ugly.
Bin Laden/Al Qaeda took innocent human lives. Those who perished that day ten years ago should be honored and commemorated. It is fitting and right that we do so.
But bin Laden, in knocking over those towers, exposed — probably unintentionally — the ugly underbelly of maggots that lie just underneath the fabric of America. I'm talking about those who have exploited, and continue to exploit, 9/11.
When the towers were first knocked down, the nation's focus was on them. "Who were those people?" "Where did they come from?" And the biggest question: "Why do they hate us?"
And suddenly, it was as if the nation — and the government — woke up to discover there were bad people in this world.
I was at the World Trade Center during the first al Qaeda attack. The one people forget. The terrorists drove a van containing a 1,500-pound urea-nitrate bomb into the basement area of the World Trade Center and then set the timer and left. The explosion rocked the World Trade Center killing six people and injuring over a thousand others. (I recount this and my 9/11/01 story in this post from 2006)
So I didn't "wake up" to a "new world" on September 11, 2001 (and if the Bush government did… well, it is only because they were asleep at the wheel). The world did NOT change on that day.
What changed was that some people and institutions got scared. Terrorized. Which, if you think about it, is what terrorism is supposed to do.
And what did those terrorized people and institutions do? They obsessed over the "them".
And we, as a country, became divided and ugly.
Institutionally, 9/11 provided the justification for infringement on our liberties. We (or rather, our government) condoned torture, indefinite detention, targeted assassinations, surveillance absent a warrent, profiling, data mining, and (some would say) overgroping TSA agents.
Our government, which was supposed to protect us by protecting the Constitution, started chipping away at it. And much of this continues under Obama. So much for change.
Worse still was the fact that our government took complete advantage of the terror caused by Islamic terrorism, and channeled it into an unnecessary war that simply had nothing to do with 9/11 or its causes. The Bush White House didn't merely lie about the non-existence of WMDS in Iraq — they simply didn't CARE. They were going to invade Iraq, and fear was just one convenient reason allowing them to do so. The human decency and common purpose that swept over the country in the aftermath of 9/11 was quickly supplanted by a cynical political strategy to manipulate man's desire for revenge in order to advance a long held agenda.
Sure, the world is well rid of Saddam Hussein. But knowing as we now do the exaggeration of Hussein’s threat, the cost in Iraqi and American lives and the fact that none of this great splurge has bought us confidence in Iraq’s future or advanced the cause of freedom elsewhere — I think Operation Iraqi Freedom was a monumental blunder. Furthermore, I remain convinced that had our government NOT gone after Hussein, we wouldn't find our deficit and economy so back-breaking.
But so far, I've been speaking of our institutional (governmental response) to 9/11. To me, there has been another ugly consequence. When al Qaeda attacked those towers, he exposed the wormy maggots that lie at the underbelly of our society: the bigots. Sure, for a brief moment, the country was united, but it wasn't long before bigots and racists realized that they were able to openly express their hatred for Islamic people.
No, I'm not talking about the bigots and racists of the 1950's, those hooded monstrosities. I'm talking about contemporary bigots and racists — those who speak openly and freely on the rightwing blogosphere and AM talk radio.
And once their fora were established, they were able to expand the targets of their hatred. Not content to bash Islamics and Koran-readers, they turned to other cultures. And suddenly, immigration is a huge issue. And gays. And anyone who isn't like them.
Sure, this has always been a divided country, and these people have always existed in one form or another. But 9/11, I suggest, allowed these people to come out in great numbers and cloak themselves with the American flag. Suddenly, hating "them" (whoever "them" happens to be at any given time) was patriotic. Well, faux patriotic.
But you know what I'm talking about. Remember the Dixie Chicks? They spoke out against the Bush Administration, and were branded as "unpatriotic" by the right — the same right wing whose presumptive nominee for President in 2012 is a governor who once advocated that his state secede from the Union.
Divide the country into "us" and "them" is what they did. Ironically, these were (and are) people who HATE New York and D.C., where the events of 9/11 actually took place. Ironically, the victims of 9/11 were and are a testament to multiculturalism, the very things that the wingers railed against in the months and years to come.
And with yellow ribbon bumper stickers boldly placed on bumpers, the War on Terror (a stupid name if there ever was one) became a comic book epic in their collective mind, where the forces of good fight the forces of evil, and there is no nuance, no deep explanations, no attempt to understand the causes of terrorism.
To me, that's all that 9/11 brought about: shame. What could have served as a Great National Unification became something, as Krugman puts it, "irrevocably poisoned" about our society and country, as the forces of division and hatred took center stage.
Bin Laden unwittingly opened the doors for Ugly American. Now THAT hurt.