Thursday, September 11, 2008

Random Americana: 9/11

Part 4 in an ongoing series.

When you get punched in the face, you have two choices. Play the victim or stand resolute in what you've always done and use that as a foundation from which to fight back. Everything else stems from those basic choices. You can play the victim and then fight, but you're still a victim. People will lose respect, but even more it will affect your own self-image.

Which do you think we chose to do once the initial shock of September 11, 2001, had worn off? There may have been an initial showing of patriotism -- flag t-shirts, car flags, etc. -- but I think that at some point we started feeling sorry for ourselves. Through the PATRIOT Act and the public's complicity in a nonsensical war, we changed the nature of America. Rather than standing strong and showing our enemies that we would not be afraid, we began to get scared of everything. Sure, we had never been attacked in that way before, but our fear handed the terrorists some modicum of victory and it left us paralyzed to stop the government from doing anything it damn well pleased.

To be a victim means that you don't understand why this bad thing has happened to you. But, let's step back and understand. Nothing is unprovoked. It's not like we were going along, minding our own business, when somebody decided to attack us for no reason whatsoever. This isn't to excuse anything, obviously. But we were attacked because Al Qaeda hated our presence in Saudi Arabia. We were in Saudi Arabia because Iraq was threatening the oil supply and Israel as well. Iraq was threatening Israel because (if we go all the way back) God told Abraham to pass his leadership to Isaac and to expel Ishmael. Nothing is unprovoked, nothing like this comes out of the blue.

We call it a "War on Terror", but you can't fight abstract ideas. We are fighting real people and they are fighting back. There are casualties on both sides. It just so happens that, unlike in Israel, those casualties had been generally kept to only our troops overseas. An attack on our soil was most likely only a matter of time.

The question is: Do you feel safer today than you did seven years ago? That also begs another question: Did you even feel unsafe on that day? I think about Israel, where terrorist attacks are, unfortunately, a regular occurence. They've never experienced anything near the scale of what we went through, but we were attacked once. They live with the threat being real and hanging over their heads at any moment. They live their lives. They don't fundamentally change their government or their rights. They don't (usually) act for the sake of action. More importantly, they don't look over their shoulders every second. They live their lives.

Instead, we do some of the same things that we condemn. We yell about Russia invading Georgia, but we invaded Iraq. We fret about American civilians being in danger, but how many civilians have been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Did we stand strong behind the notions -- our values and the Constitution -- that made our country great? Or did we curtail people's rights no matter what our Founding Fathers may have thought? We suspended habeaus corpus, we spied on our fellow Americans, we tortured our enemies. We changed everything about ourselves because we feared more than just fear itself, which was the real enemy all along. We've lost something we can't get back. We've become, to other countries, what we hate about our enemies. I can't help but think of the last sentence of Orwell's Animal Farm (a book that infuriates me more and more every time I read it, especially in the past seven years): "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

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