Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life: Four years of aftermath and counting - 9/11 revisited .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Four years of aftermath and counting - 9/11 revisited

Four years ago today, our world shook. Life as we knew it, along with the lives of thousands who thought they were safe, was gone. The perception that terrorism was something that took place far away was shattered.

As this blog is relatively new, I've not yet written my thoughts on 9/11 other than the occasional mention of how politicians use the memory of those horrific events to promote their own agendas. Now that I have my own forum, and four years worth of perspective, I'll use the anniversary of these events to attempt to wax eloquently, or at least at length, on how those events changed the world as viewed from my cheap seat.

For me, the day began normally enough. I remember the receptionist at work making a rather racy sign from poster board to take with her to Wrestlemania that night at the Astrodome, an event that was later canceled. I was talking to a contractor on the phone, and he mentioned that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I thought, "well, that's something that doesn't happen everyday". I pictured some novice in a Cessna that didn't know how to fly, or had a heart attack or something.

When I turned on a TV, I thought I was seeing the re-running of a tape of the crash. Except it wasn't a small private plane, it was a commercial airliner! And the tower next to the one being crashed into was already smoking. WTF?

Of course, by the time I gathered my wits, I realized that what I had witnessed was the second plane being flown into the second tower and I understood, as did everyone else by now, that we were under attack. When the planes crashed into the Pentagon the field in Pennsylvania, fear became our new national pastime.

Across the country, airports and financial markets were closed, sporting events were canceled and high-rises evacuated. But I don't think we responded quite the way that the terrorists expected us to. Instead of cowering under our beds, we mobilized.

Many a hero was born that day, and many a hero died. Law enforcers, firefighters, medical personnel and civilians all rushed to the scenes to help attempt to evacuate and assist those immediately affected by the attacks. Many people who were safely out of harm's way were crushed when the towers collapsed because they could not stand idly by and watch others in danger without at least trying to help, regardless of the risk to their own lives.

Those were the people that embodied what America is supposed to stand for. Their sacrifice was nothing short of Christlike - giving their own lives to save others - and I will honor their memory forever.

Likewise the group of people on Flight 93 that rushed the cockpit and forced the plane to crash, fortunately in an unpopulated area, because they had heard the news and realized what was happening. Again, sacrificing themselves to save others. Heroes all.

Once the dust settled and realization set it, America united as it never had before. Unprecedented cooperation between political parties saw quick action to attempt to restore order, honor the dead and begin prevention measures against future attacks. Patriotism was alive, and flag sales went through the roof.

President Bush achieved the highest approval rating of his presidency following the disaster, although it was later reported that he sat stunned for several minutes after being informed of it at a photo op in Florida. He was later put on Air Force One and flown around for the rest of the day, while Vice President Cheney was whisked away to his infamous 'undisclosed location'.

America received the full support and sympathy of almost the entire world, with the exception of radical Islamics, who danced and chanted "God is great" and passed out candy, thus giving us someone to hate.

Bush wanted to blame Saddam Hussein, but when it became apparent that Al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks and was being given asylum by the Taliban in Afghanistan, that's where we went. But only after we secretly evacuated all of the bin Ladens that were in the United States without bothering to question them first.

We attacked Afganistan, which had already been pounded into rubble by the Soviets back in the '80s when we supported the Taliban. We quashed the Taliban (temporarily) and chased bin Laden into the hills. We never did find, capture or kill him, though, so Bush and company decided to use the momentum to move onto Iraq.

Although we had (most of) the rest of the world's approval to attack Afghanistan, we didn't for Iraq, so the Bush administration invented evidence of weapons of mass destruction and managed to convince a majority of Americans that Iraq was somehow involved in 9/11, and off to war we went.

Meanwhile on the home front the powers-that-be began to use the power of fear and the specter of terrorism to push legislation disguised as "war on terror" tools like the Patriot Act, which actually removes the protections and constitutional rights of ordinary citizens. They also declared that the tenets of the Geneva Convention, which lay down ground rules for treatment of prisoners, don't apply to us, because "we're "murica, by God!" This led to atrocities conducted and tolerated at Guantanimo Bay and Abu Graib.

When the WMDs didn't materialize in Iraq, we said we were at war "to fight terrorism over there so we don't have to fight it here". Even though we're still fighting it here, this turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, as Bush's actions have done more for Al-Qaida recruitment efforts than bin Laden ever could, and Al-Qaida recruits continue to pour into Iraq and American soldiers continue to die almost two years after our Commander-in-Chief declared "mission accomplished".

Yet still, those who disagree with our government's decisions are called traitors, ridiculed and discredited. Division between ideologies is greater than it has been since the Red Scare of the 50s. Fear has been used effectively to deny basic rights to those deemed not to be ideal citizens based on standards set by right wing zealots.

And now, four years after the horrific events of 9/11, we are faced with yet another great catastrophe. Only this time, there is no enemy to hate. Unlike the aftermath of 9/11, this event has polarized America, driving us further apart as we attempt to blame each other for the failure to prepare and respond to this most basic of natural phenomenon.

The Department of Homeland Defense, created after 9/11 to prevent catastrophes of this kind, has focused mostly on preventing terrorism, and not preparing us for natural disasters, even though it absorbed the Federal Emergency Management Agency whose function it is to respond to just such an emergency. The National Guard, which was created to respond to disasters in their home state, did not have the manpower or equipment to respond because a good third of their manpower and half of their equipment were unavailable, being used in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And unlike the response of the world after 9/11, much of the internationally offered aid came with strings attached. Iran offered oil, but only if we agreed to lift trade sanctions. Venezuela offered aid, but we refused because we're currently trying to discredit - and some say depose - their leader because of his ideology. We also refused Canada's offer of their crack urban rescue teams because, well, they're Canadian.

After 9/11 Americans were willing to make sacrifices. Now, they panic because gas prices went up, and sat in lines for hours to pay exorbitant prices (up to $6 per gallon) so they wouldn't be stuck with half a tank if prices went up further.

One thing American's did do right, however, was in responding to the victims of the disaster. Although a few of them expressed their opinion that those who were displaced got what they deserved, using as justification the looting and violence that followed in the wake of their abandonment, the majority of Americans opened their hearts and wallets to provide aid in the form of food, water and shelter and other basic necessities for those who lost everything.

This alone gives me hope for the future of this country. Amid all the finger pointing and blustering about who was to blame in the absence of an actual enemy, the good people of the country - America's heartland, whether it be rural Iowa or urban Houston - stepped up to the plate and swung away for the home team.

Let's hope the effort helps win the game. Because when it's all said and done, if America survives this disaster with its integrity intact, we will have won. If not, we'll degenerate into the chaos that characterizes those regimes that we so love to despise, and given the success of the political spin machines that have worked so much overtime lately, we'd never even know it.

That would make us the losers, and the worst kind of loser is one who doesn't know it.

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