Remembering Eight Years and Beyond
Sometimes it seems that life is just a process of losing things: innocence, youth, dreams, health, time and life itself. One might wax mystical about it and say that it is the way we achieve freedom from all that binds us to this temporary existence. It sounds good on paper, but it’s a drag when it’s happening.
Days tick by like minutes. They say that old men spend their time looking back. I’m getting older, and I don’t want to slip into that trap, but it’s hard sometimes to stay out of the past, to forget the rush of time and stay focused on what yet needs to be done.
A friend sent me a picture of her daughter who is starting the fourth grade this year. As I looked at the child’s picture, it occurred to me that, in the year I was in the fourth grade, John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Whoa. Talk about “seeing your life flash before your eyes.”
Today we remember another day as traumatic as the Kennedy Assassination, the 9-11 attack. Eight years ago, 19 religious fanatics hijacked commercial airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and into a field in Pennsylvania. I can’t add much to what has already been said about the searing wound this act did to the national psyche. I suppose we will commemorate it for the next fifty years or so, until the memory slowly fades from the collective psyche, in the same way the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 is fading today.
The 9-11 attack essentially destroyed the Bush presidency. The administration was quick to declare the attack to be “an act of war” and to define itself as a “wartime presidency.” I believe that this was a profound error. In my opinion, the 9-11 attack was a crime perpetrated by a group of suicidal lunatics. When an event is determined to be “an act of war” there are legal implications to such a definition. Civil rights are handled differently during wartime than in peacetime. The president has certain powers during wartime that are not available to peacetime presidents. These include the authority to commit the armed forces to battle and the suspension of habeas corpus. The Bush administration was too quick to seize the opportunity and use 9-11 as the raison d’être to settle old scores in Iraq. It would prove to be their undoing. It resulted in the most unpopular presidency since Reconstruction.
Today, Al Qaeda is a shattered band of renegades scurrying around the tribal areas of Pakistan; Saddam is dead; the Bush presidency is just a bad memory, but the trauma of 9-11 remains. Troops are still deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan and we’re still arguing about it. There is still just a big hole where the World Trade Center used to be. We still prattle about “the war on terror.” Has anything been learned, or are we pretty much where we started out, but with a Texas-sized grudge toward all things Islamic?
One thing we obviously haven’t learned is that you cannot wage war against an idea. You can only wage war against people and their governments. You can’t shoot an idea or carpet bomb a concept. It just doesn’t work. We also haven’t seemed to learn that you don’t make friends with people by shooting at them. These things seem like no-brainers to me, but some folks still don’t get it.
I hope we have learned that we can never allow the United States to be governed by fear. Also, I hope we have learned that not all Islamic people share the same ideology with the Al Qaeda nut cases. We’ll see. I’m not at all sure.
A moment of silence for all of those who died in the attack and the wars that followed.
A moment of somber reflection on how stupid we can be.
A moment of hope that good will ultimately triumph over evil, and that maybe, through it all, we will come through it wiser, steadier, and maybe even better.