Note: This essay first appeared on Stonekettle Station on September 11, 2011. Two more years have passed and I find that I don’t have anything to add //Jim
It’s been ten years now.
A decade today.
And frankly, I think that’s about enough.
There comes a point where you have to stop reliving horror over and over.
There comes a point where you have to say enough, this and no more.
I think a decade is enough time.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the events of September 11th, 2001 were traumatic on a national scale. 911 was a shock like no other in American history, hell, maybe even in world history. The modern Information Age saw to that, bringing it right into our living rooms without any delay to soften the impact, live and in horrifying color.
All of us remember where we were and what we were doing on that terrible morning, I know I certainly do.
I’m not in any way saying that we should forget, but there comes a point where you have to allow history to become history.
There comes a point where you have to move on.
Today marks a decade now, since 911. In that time, we went to war and seven thousand more Americans, some of our very best, died. Tens of thousands more were maimed and scarred and damaged forever. Hundreds of thousands of innocents died. Entire countries were laid waste and we became a callous people who could look upon those devastated lands and say, well, you know they had it coming, all of those bastards had it coming including their goddamned children. We became a nation that tortures people and disappears people and detains people, including our citizens, indefinitely without trial or recourse in abject repudiation of the very spirit of our nation’s own founding – and we are unashamed of that and unrepentant. We have become a nation where, as an American, you must put aside your freedom a dozen times a day. You must show your papers. You must submit to naked body scanners and you must allow unsmiling uniformed men with the force of secret laws behind them to grope the most intimate areas of your children and yourselves. Such has become the price of freedom in America. We have become a nation where you – as an American – can be detained for a glance or a gesture or a careless word or for checking out the wrong book from the library or for worshipping the wrong God. We have become a nation where the only acceptable response to uniformed authority is immediate and polite submission, talk back, question, stand pat on the rights of previous generations and you’ll be branded an enemy. We have become a nation that claims to revere liberty and justice, but believes those things can only be had when secret agencies monitor our every email and our every communication without warrant or probable cause.
The day after 911, September 12th, 2001, Congress stood upon the steps of the Capitol with the smoke of the burning Pentagon still hanging in the air above their heads and solemnly pledged to the American people that they would put aside their partisanship and their personal agendas and work together for the sake of our nation. And in the decade since we have become a nation divided instead, a nation of partisan rancor writ large – and those who stubbornly proclaim their patriotism loudest are the very ones who would lead us into civil war and secession. They would destroy what terrorists could not.
In the decade since 911, we have found those responsible, rooted them out, and ground them into dust. It took ten years, but Osama bin Laden is dead at the hands of Americans. So is his successor. So are hundreds of his lieutenants. So are thousands of his foot soldiers. So are many, many others, including Americans.
But it has not brought us closure.
It has not brought us peace.
It has not healed us as a nation.
911 was horrifying. It was personal to us all, every single American. It left us scarred, as a nation, traumatized.
And we keep using that horror as an excuse to lash out in a massive case of collective post traumatic stress disorder.
The wounds of that event run deep and are still raw a decade later – but those wounds will not heal so long as we keep picking at the scab over and over and over.
Today, we will relive the horror yet again – a fevered nightmare that simply won’t go away because we will not allow it to go away.
Again, don’t get me wrong, we should always remember the events of September 11th, 2001, just as we remember Pearl Harbor or the assassination of John F. Kennedy or the hundred other events that shocked and traumatized our nation. But if we are to heal, if we are to move on, we have to stop reliving that horror over and over.
Certainly we should build the memorials and lay the wreaths.
We should always remember the names of the fallen and hold them sacred.
But we need to stop covering ourselves in the blood of that day.
Today, right now as I write this, hundreds of media channels will play the recordings of those trapped in the towers. They’ll play those recordings over and over and over again. Recordings of the tortured calls to emergency services and the final calls to loved one. And we’ll listen, yet again, to the intimate agony of those dying people. They will play on endless loop the videos of those who jumped seventy stories to their death, lingering lovingly on their faces, speculating about their last moments, reveling in the horror. They’ll interview those who witnessed the death and destruction and horror and they’ll beg, “Tell us what you were thinking. Tell us what you were feeling at that very moment.” We don’t need to know what they were feeling, what they were thinking, because we felt the same exact thing. We’re still feeling it. But we’ll listen anyway. And we’ll watch the towers fall. We’ll see the Pentagon crumple and explode. We’ll hear the tapes of the air traffic controllers, of the horrified confusion in the towers, and the phone calls of those Americans who fought back above the corn fields of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
I hear those tortured voices, I see those dying faces, and I don’t feel hate. I don’t feel a need for revenge. Instead I feel revulsion. There is something obscene about listening to 911 calls, any 911 call. While those records may have value to history, it is nothing but a voyeuristic grotesquery to broadcast those intimate communications to a public jaded by reality TV and violent slasher flicks.
It serves no purpose whatsoever but to keep open festering wounds that should be long scabbed over.
Today, pundits and politicians will use this anniversary to drive us further apart, to reopen the wounds, for their own selfish agendas, to further inflame partisan fervor and to brand their neighbors as enemies and un-American.
And we will let them do it, because in the decade since 911 we’ve become a nation of cutters who hack at our own flesh with mean abandon.
Since 911, an entire generation has been born and grown to self-awareness.
Those young Americans have never known their nation at peace.
They have never known a nation that is not divided.
They have never had a single day where they weren’t told to hate their neighbors and to report them if they don’t seem patriotic enough.
They have never lived a single day in a nation that wasn’t bent to the terrible business of revenge.
They have never known a nation that didn’t roil in fear and cringe in terror every single day.
They have never flown on an airplane without having been treated like a criminal.
They have never checked out a book from the library without having been subject to secret scrutiny.
They never sent an unmonitored email or made an unmonitored phone call.
They have never lived in a house that isn’t subject to unwarranted search.
They have never had the right to redress or legal challenge when their name is placed on secret lists – and in point of fact, they don’t even have the right to know if their name is on that list at all.
They have never lived in a nation where they have the right to confront their accuser and demand proof of more than just suspicion.
They have never lived without the threat, however unlikely, of being disappeared.
They have never lived in a nation that didn’t regard the torture of human beings as an acceptable option.
This new generation has lived under the shadow of those falling towers every single minute of every single day since the moment they were born.
The terrorists didn’t do that.
We did it to them.