With today being 9/11 once again, I wanted to take a bit of a different approach than many in the media and political sphere and remember not only the event itself, but the legacy it has left in its wake over the last twelve years.
I’ll start out with a statement some in America might find shocking or even offensive. Osama Bin Laden did more damage to both the “America” that lives inside each of our minds as an ideal, and that exists in reality as a country, than anyone else in history. He committed the one singularly most effective, and successful, act of destruction ever wrought on this country, and the effects of it still reverberate today. Osama Bin Laden’s stated goal, with the attacks on 9/11 along with the attacks that preceded them, was the destruction of not only buildings, lives and infrastructure, but our very way of life as Americans. He wanted to destroy the system of freedom and liberty and individual rights to self-determination that we endeavor to build and preserve in this country. In this, his “act of cowardice” as it was called on 9/11/2001, was actually an extremely successful gut punch, a hugely damaging body blow that this country is still staggering around dealing with today. One cannot look logically at the last twelve years and come to any other rational conclusion, in my opinion. Try as I might, I cannot manage it.
I still remember my own feelings and emotions on that day. I remember, for one fleeting second, feeling good that we had George W. Bush in the White House and not the cerebral Al Gore. Certainly Gore would have some limp-wristed, ineffectual response meant to spread diplomacy instead of fear or recrimination, right? I, in that moment after I first learned of the attacks, knew for sure Bush would find whoever did this and rain heavy ordnance on their head for daring to commit such an act against us. And then, I figured, it would be over. My misguided and youthful preference for violent “justice” aside, my naiveté was such that I never saw the next 12 years coming. Afghanistan, when it happened, made sense, and I supported the president on that action. But when days turned to weeks and then to months, I began to question our tactics and openly wonder what the hell was taking so long. When Iraq came along, I knew then that what I had suspected all along was true: Bush had no idea what he was doing, and was simply carelessly using the American desire for justice, and security, to wage wars of convenience around the world. Saddam was a previous pawn of the US, and had nothing to do with 9/11 at all. Going there was a signal: that war for the sake of war was more important to the administration than any notion of justice. A few years later, Bush would comment that he “hardly spent any time” thinking about capturing or killing Osama anymore. That, I believe, said it all.
And in the light of day, twelve years later, what have we learned? We have learned that there is no length, no hurdle and no moral chasm the government will not go to or jump over to spy on its own citizens, both here and abroad, in the name of “preventing terrorism.” We have learned that closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, a prison holding foreign nationals indefinitely without trial or access to their families, is a hornet’s nest that our politicians are content to simply ignore rather than deal with. We have learned that the NSA, in the years since 9/11, can and does track every single thing you say or do online or on the phone, and frequently with the full and complete (and silent) cooperation of the companies that professed to have your security and privacy as its sole concern. We have learned that encryption is dead. We have learned that American citizens can be indefinitely detailed without trial or warrant, or killed by a drone strike, for any offense the president deems worthy of such a punishment. We have learned that a D or an R next to a name means nothing when that person links arms with fellow supporters of the military police state of the new America. And after Benghazi last September 11, we have learned that the world has long ago forgotten to give America some sort of “credit” for 9/11 having happened, and that we are fair game wherever we choose to locate our citizens in the world.
But the recent troubles in Syria, and our government’s desire to start a brand new war over them, have taught us something else. It has taught us that we the people are finally waking up to the America we have, not the America we would want. We are not OK with using emotion politics to start wars abroad or to ban things at home. We are not OK with killing or detaining citizens indefinitely without cause and at the president’s sole behest. We are not OK with tanks and soldiers with flak jackets marching down our streets in ever-increasing numbers. We are not OK with making wars around the world for dubious, arbitrary, and frequently false reasons. We are not OK with being tracked and watched in everything we do by Big Brother, just because of the lingering specter of “terrorism.” I have seen with my own eyes the gradual realization amongst my fellow Americans that we have gone down a dark road over these last twelve years, and that it is not OK. And I am starting to also see the outrage that accompanies such a realization. Military action in Syria was shouted down by the legislative bodies of both the US and UK amongst huge swaths of disapproval amongst the citizens of both countries. And in upcoming elections, it is likely more of the establishment types that support and commit these violations of our rights as citizens will be sent packing, hopefully with their corporatist lobbyist friends alongside them. These things give me hope for a better tomorrow. For if we embrace the freedom, liberty and self-determination our founding fathers envisioned, if we declare in one voice that we the people ought NOT be treated as common criminals to be watched and tracked in everything we do lest we step out of line in some way, if we remember that being Americans means having certain inalienable rights than cannot and should not be infringed on a whim by bureaucratic despots, then and only then will we have remembered and learned the true lessons of 9/11.