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Thoughts on 9/11

by David Soul

Now that the initial horror of those first few days has past and we have begun to clear the rubble and mourn our loved ones, I feel the need to write down some thoughts surrounding what happened in New York. Thankfully, no one close to me or mine (that I am aware of) was involved, but like you, my heart and prayers go out to the thousands of families that were directly affected by these dark and deadly acts. I’d also like to say some things that I believe and I believe need to be said. Some of what I have to say you may not like. You may not agree. All I ask is that before our country does something stupid, all of us think carefully about why this happened and before we act too quickly to avenge the deaths and our pride as Americans, that we think clearly about the consequences of such action.

In the aftermath, past the initial shock and anger over the savagery of the attack and the sufferings and deaths of so many thousands of innocents, I am deeply disturbed and find myself ambivalent about what I hear as Rambo-like rhetoric coming from our leadership. “Let’s get the sonsofbitches … WANTED: DEAD or ALIVE” is not an appropriate response considering the consequences. My greatest fear is that the actions taken by our government will be as clumsy as they would be foolhardy.

September 11, 2001

What gnaws at me from out of the smoldering ashes of the WTC is the question “What does this mean?” I find very few thoughtful answers in the press or the television reports … they are still trying to sell papers or vie to be the number one network for news. While I understand that television and the press must report the event, I am not comfortable with the bombardment of big colored pictures and glaring headlines that mindlessly parrot presidents and premiers who are looking to woo and build international coalitions while trying to lay blame on a single culprit … or television reports that quote titillating phrases emanating from the mouth of George ‘Dubya.’ I ask myself: doesn’t the press have any responsibility at this hugely critical moment in HISTORY to challenge the sanity of a pronouncement that suggests we blow somebody off the face of the planet? Now more than ever is the time to think clearly and to question our leaders. And it’s time for the press to investigate and report back to us the significance of what this act means and why it happened. But, the press is in there whipping up a frenzy, squabbling over who will be first with late-breaking news. Get it fast, but get it first! It’s almost as if the broadcasters have the attitude that events happen for them and, if nothing happens, they would create it.

How carelessly history gets forgotten in the rush to sell papers. Doesn’t the press or TV remember any of the stories it covered 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago? Can’t they see any connection between what they wrote then and what is happening now? Isn’t part of objective reportage to remind people of what happened yesterday? Or is it all just about “the moment?” Goddamnit, there are reasons for what happened on September 11 and those reasons have been festering for many, many years, whoever the current “culprit” may be and whatever the “cause.”

As for the reaction from the States, our government has had a super-power ego for some time … and we, the people, too often dutifully follow the party line. “If it doesn’t happen here, it doesn’t happen,” followed quickly by … “anyway, it can’t happen here.” Well, it did happen and it came upon us from within our own borders and seemingly out of nowhere. Our own commercial airliners were the bombs and the result was devastating. We Americans are not prepared for the kind of action we witnessed and suffered through last Tuesday. And why should we be? We have been raised to think that freedom was discovered in America and that it is our right and that the consumer is King! On the other hand, the fanatics who perpetrated this horrendous act believe that in death, life has its significance. They believe that death for their ‘cause’ is the ultimate and most blessed act of sacrifice. We also witnessed an act perpetrated by those who see the U.S. as Satanic and the cause of their people’s suffering. They may believe they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. So, when are we going to grow up and see things the way they really are? An American flag covering an entire football stadium is not what I’m talking about. That is a cheap response to what happened on Tuesday.

Do we need to be reminded that neither our “way of life,” our worship of freedom and democracy and the American Dream … the so-called rights of the individual or his or her value … nor our vaunted economic power … nor our military might … nor the security agencies … nor our star wars program … nor our belief in God (in whom the fanatics on the other side believe as well) provided us protection from the onslaught? We grieve, but we are not humbled.

See how quickly the initial impact, the shock, the horror of what happened in human terms has now given way to positing, pretense and rhetoric. Where is our knowledge and understanding of history? It seems our memory is limited to the wars we fight on other people’s soil in the name of “freedom and democracy,” or it’s limited to America’s “humanitarian” responses in the aftermath of war or disaster… giving money for reconstruction and food and clothing to the victims. While that is to be commended, in the long run, has our government ever given anything to anyone without strings being attached, without wanting something in return … assurances, commitment, access, loyalty … or that the recipient embrace “democratic” values along with our economic system?

We play both ends against the middle. The fact is, we can justify doing business with anyone, as long as the assholes are ours and what we are doing can be justified in the name of freedom and democracy. That’s pretty much the extent of what we have learned from history.

And by the same token when our government didn’t get what it paid for, did we not change the rules and name a culprit … and then “up the rhetoric” and seek (mostly successfully) to undermine the ungrateful, offending or incorrigible leader, country or system? My thoughts go to Cuba and South and Central America and Vietnam, Cambodia … and of course the Middle East. Isn’t that what the Iraq war was all about, our interests? Hadn’t we supported Iraq against Iran before then? Don’t we now support Turkey that uses our weapons to destroy Kurdish villages in eastern Turkey, while at the same time we support the Iraqi Kurds and use them in our vendetta against Saddam Hussein? How quickly we forget our government’s support of Afghanistan in the years of the Soviet invasion. Have we forgotten that the “culprit” bin Laden worked alongside the CIA to undermine the Soviets? We give billions in military aid to Israel, but say we want peace in the Middle East and a homeland for the Palestinians. We play both ends against the middle. The fact is, we can justify doing business with anyone, as long as the assholes are ours and what we are doing can be justified in the name of freedom and democracy. That’s pretty much the extent of what we have learned from history.

This incredible act of New York terror lies totally outside our national understanding and no amount of flag-waving or saber-rattling is going to change what we don’t understand. Why, when we have so little real knowledge or interest in the billions of people living outside our borders who may be different from us or who don’t share our values, could we have any clue as to why someone might perpetrate this act? And why, after our naïveté, arrogance, and complacency has been so painfully exposed, does our leadership shoot from the lip and threaten war? No one, not even our enemies, can afford to live with terrorism. But we are not going to solve anything by killing a lot of innocent people. Revenge would lead to a backlash that will carry hugely dangerous consequences. You don’t kill innocent people because innocent people died in the WTC. If we bomb the shit out of Afghanistan … we will commit ourselves to a war that will spread and that cannot and will not be won. We must isolate the man who did this horrendous thing and eradicate him and his network. That action will be respected.

The WTC and the Pentagon were carefully chosen targets representing everything that millions in the world fear and hate. Aside from the innocent people who died, POWER was also the victim … our military and economic power. They are vulnerable. We have met our match … and the enemy is not Nazism, not Communism, not a dictatorship, and this is not the Cold War … it is terrorism. It abides by no rules that we in America are familiar with and, though it operates counter to everything we may believe, we have to realize that from another’s perspective, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” Do we even remember that’s how America came about? Well, in the aftermath of New York, our freedoms will be limited as well.

The diabolical nature of these criminal acts and the horrendous loss of life cannot be underestimated; their deaths demand retribution and justice in the name of humanity. But whatever form that retribution takes, it must be specific. It cannot be done to get even and it cannot be limited to justice only for America. If we want to be the champion of freedom in the world, then now is the time for us to act specifically and then sit down, strong in the knowledge of who we are and respectfully listen and learn from the rest of the world. That is what will make our country great. With the same fervor that the economic concept of “globalization” has been foisted on a world where billions of people live in poverty and have no voice; whatever decisions are made in the near future must be acted on in the interests of that same global community.

For the moment, our power to control has been silenced. In the silence, let us pray that that power doesn’t become primitive in its reaction, because if it does, it will surely exacerbate the situation and I fear we will be no better than terrorists ourselves. I think mostly about the children, including my own, whose lives have yet to be lived.

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