Like everyone else, I have felt compelled to reflect on what happened on September 11, 2001 on this 10th anniversary of that event.
I had gotten to work on an otherwise uneventful morning. Someone mentioned that an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center. There was a lot of speculation as to what happened. While nobody at that time openly considered that this was an intentional act, I felt right away that this was done on purpose. A short time later the second airplane hit the other tower, and then the news came in that there was some kind of an explosion at The Pentagon (it was a while before it was confirmed that it, too, had been a suicide mission using an airplane). By then, it was pretty much felt that this was an intentional attack. Was it a domestic attack like what Timothy McVeigh did in Oklahoma City, or was it an attack from an extremist group like Al Qaeda? Of course, we now know it's the latter.
My brother had been interning at a business in the WTC only a few weeks earlier, and my sister-in-law worked near the towers in Manhattan. I remember calling my parents to find out whether they were OK. It was a stressful time. Thankfully everyone in my immediate family were safe, but I know of people who weren't as lucky. To me, it was a horrific and needless way for over 3,000 people to die. Immediately following the attack, I shared the sentiments of most Americans who wanted to see the people responsible brought to justice (the definition of "justice" at the time meaning "just desserts").
A few weeks later I flew to New York to visit my family, and while I was in New York I took a trip out to Manhattan to see the wreckage. The air was thick from the dust and smoke, and it was hard to breathe. There were piles of dust and debris on the visors on the traffic lights in the area. It was sad to see the remains of a building that once stood proud and where business was conducted every day. It was even more sad to consider that the people who worked in these buildings were no longer with us.
They say to never forget, and these images and experiences will be forever engraved in my memory.
What followed was, in my opinion, some of the worst handling of such an event that I could have ever imagined. Out of one side of their mouths, our government said that the best way to tell "the terrorists" that this didn't stop us was to carry-on as usual and show them that our liberty and way of life could not be stopped like this. Then the same government carried out some of the most intrusive abuses of the liberties of its own citizens that I have ever seen. They used the event and political spin to justify a war with Iraq that, while it probably needed to happen, had nothing to do with the events of September 11. It spawned two terms that I have come to detest: "weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)" and "war on terror."
As I have discussed in a past blog entry, there is no such thing as a war on terror. "Terror" is a tactical way of fighting an enemy. You can't wage war against a tactic. You can only wage war against a specific group of people or ideology. In my opinion this so-called "war on terror" is just a big political snow-job that is a justification to do things that a government has no business doing without a much stronger justification. All I want is the U.S. government to tell us, the people who they represent, the truth. If you're fighting Al Qaeda, then that makes sense. If you're waging war against a dangerous dictator (Saddam Hussein) who used chemical weapons against his own citizens, then just say so. Using September 11 and "the war on terror" as justification for such actions is dishonest and just cheapens the lives that were lost. As much as I love this country, I feel that our government has sacrificed much of our liberties that our forefathers fought so hard to gain for a false sense of security that has really moved our political system away from a representative republic and toward a more authoritarian system. This needs to be fixed.
This week I also saw an episode of NOVA on PBS that was about the usage of the land where the former WTC was located. There is a large memorial and museum to respect those who lost their lives, and a new, modern, and safe office building is also being erected. In the program they mentioned that some of the materials for the memorial and/or building were manufactured in other countries (one portion specifically in China). I find it very ironic and almost insulting that the materials to build at this location cannot be entirely of U.S. manufacture and supplies. You'd think that the best way to honor those who lost their lives would be to show that the United States still can stand on its own. I would rather have seen a smaller memorial with the materials being all of U.S. origin than to have a large memorial with foreign materials (particularly from China). The program also glossed-over the bitching session that has taken place over the previous 9 years over what was going on the WTC site and what the memorial and new building would consist of.
There was also recent talk about a Christian cross being placed on the site of the WTC memorial. This has come under criticism because it leaves-out other faiths of the people who died on September 11. The memorial is not a religious symbol, but rather a way for we, those who survived September 11, to honor and respect those who lost their lives that day. It seems that people have forgotten the motivations for the attack on September 11. The attack was perpetrated by a group of Muslim extremists who feel, in the eyes of their belief system, that the United States and its people are evil since they do not subscribe to what is in the Qur'an and they feel that our influence in the Middle East has interfered with their culture. Their beliefs are a justification to work toward eliminating us and our society. Our strength comes from our political system being overall neutral to personal religious practices. When our government starts respecting a single religion more than others, no matter what the prevailing majority practices, it starts us on the slippery slope toward becoming a theocracy, much like the one our forefathers also fought to break-away from. Worse, though, is that we are promulgating the same kind of behavior that fueled the acts of September 11, Basically it's an "our god is better than your god" argument.
To me, it's not enough to just say, "Never surrender...Never forget." Yes, we all experienced September 11, 2001 in our own way. Those experiences are important to history, for sure. However, if we are to learn anything from the tragedy that happened 10 years ago, then it requires that we understand the motivations involved. It means we don't just feel sad for those who lost their lives, but we also understand what it means to be American and the value of the liberties we have as a result.