Thursday, September 11, 2008

Why Not Revisit 9/11 Seven Years Later?

Messages and lessons we must not neglect.
The 9/11 Attack seen through the eyes in three faces. 56

On the seventh anniversary of the attack of 9/11, 2001, only the most callous can avoid the inevitable mix of both consolation and cause. There were causes which precipitated the attack. There were causes which precipitated the responses to it. Are we finally, after seven years, prepared to examine this again in the cold -- and far less emotional -- light of the present day?

Perhaps the clearest view can be expressed by attempting to place ourselves in the momentary place of players far closer to the event. Let us indulge ourselves with speculation as to the thoughts of three people. First, of course, ourselves; next, a nondescript, common citizen of Baghdad and, finally, Osama Bin Laden.

As we watched the catastrophe in New York and, minutes later, at the Pentagon, we took the moment to invest in an uneducated but comforting question. “Why is this happening? Why are ‘they’ doing this to us?”

We have a certain sickening feeling when we recall the answer to that question, an answer which seemed to fulfill all the requirements of common sense and non-nutritious nationalism. “They hate our freedom.” That “sickening feeling” can, more constructively, be called objective remorse. After all this time we have come to know much more about why that attack was possible, and probably, even inevitable.

There were reasons which explained it, but now we realize that those were reasons we had never considered. Our intellectual curiosity, prior to the attack, was never sufficient to explore just exactly what we had done to them, or, at least, what we had done to them as it appeared through their eyes.

The matter called me to revisit the chilling admonition of a certain Marine officer. He said, “If you find yourself in the midst of a shooting match, and, if you have no clear idea of why the other guy is shooting at you, that is, no idea of what he wants, leave. You have no business there.” My conclusion: “If those are the facts of the moment, the matter has no meaning and no possible constructive outcome.”

Next, a visit -- some months after 9/11 -- to Baghdad. “Shock and awe,” evaluated by the military command of Sadam Hussein’s army had one interpretation, possibly a tactical one, devoid of very much legitimate or popular social politics. “Shock and awe” interpreted by the man walking home in the streets of that distant city has another. Unavoidably, we must assume that he had certain questions in his mind as he ran for his life. “Why is this happening? Why are ‘they’ doing this to us?”

Finally, we stop over for a moment in some chilly cave, the uncomfortable refuge of the perpetrator and planner of the attacks in New York and Washington. Osama Bin Laden is not wondering “Why is this happening? Why are ‘they’ doing this to us?” at all. He has either had reasons or made reasons to answer those questions already. His reasons and his answers had already served to inspire all those young men who were willing to sacrifice everything to carry out his deathly mission in the United States.

Could there have been more to that remote conversation and planning than a “hatred of our freedom?” Did the “wrongs and injuries” that convinced those boys of the necessity of this, amount to something more substantial? Something we missed in the history of our own behavior? Or, at least, something we had assiduously avoided ever noticing?

Here in the United States, we were not allowed to even offer a conjecture that their suicidal passion had any meaning whatsoever. Far be it from us to even speculate, much less investigate, the possibility that we found ourselves involved in an exchange of consequences instead of a crazed act of psychopathic killing frenzy.

History makes its future concrete not from sand and cement, but from details and subtleties. It also makes strange bed fellows. It pays wages to the unlikely in currencies which have value only as a result of their moment of existence. Through this dark chapter, the least deserving, that is, Bin Laden and his counterpart, George Bush, have reaped unanticipated, synergistic extra profits.

Osama Bin Laden had little interest in military success. His satisfaction came from the fear he created. Injuring the United States, for him, could be far more substantial if he could degrade our Constitution and our social fabric. He, undoubtedly, celebrated in whatever way was correct to his religion, when the Americans made “shock and awe” over Baghdad, a serendipitous and unplanned extra benefit to his initial ambitions with the jet liners.

George Bush, likewise, was handed a birthday cake without a birthday. Those falling buildings could be converted by his servant, Carl Rove, into political octane of a stratospheric quality he never imagined. Out came “cut and run” and “stay the course,” all hypnotic invitations to endorse his oil wars and his morbid, domestic machinations and propaganda. If his rich friends made their fortunes drilling out petroleum made by ancient swamps, Bush made his by ruthlessly harvesting the unexpected opportunities of this modern moment.

9/11 calls us to our own inner thoughts. What, exactly, have we as individuals concluded about the facts of this tragic matter? Are we able, or, are we willing, to attempt to examine the unmanipulated reality of this whole affair, now, with clearer heads seven years later?

Perhaps, we are simply too busy or too shallow or too comfortable in this current cess pool of nationalistic drivel and fear. Perhaps, we will need to repeat what we have done previously, experience more “baffling” consequences of it, before we are motivated to consider changing ourselves and our national behavior. This improved destiny will probably never be the result of our fear. It will much more likely be an honest return from our rediscovered honor.

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