15 years on

Alright, alright. I’ll quickly give you this Daily News piece noting that the Trump theme of “never give a sucker an even break” applies to the supposed reason that he received $150,000 in state funds following 9-11 for “business loss” (which may actually have been legitimate business loss at the time) which, being the compulsive liar that he is, he insisted on the campaign trail was for “charitable purposes” of some kind… and like virtually everything purportedly “good” that Mr. Trump says he did… the evidence seems scant. And so I can only say… damn it… even on 9-11 + XV, that bastard has stolen the spotlight. And worse, unlike that bastard, who was almost certainly in Florida on 9-11-01, I was actually at work a block north of the World Trade Center, with a front row seat from my 16th floor office (an office so close that I lost my job because the building was put out of commission for months)…
What I actually wanted to talk about was the broader implication of that day. The consensus is that the September 11th attacks (whatever their origins) killed 2,996 people and injured over 6,000. In response to those attacks, which were brazen to be sure, the United States mobilized a massive war effort (once described as “the Global War on Terror”), first in Afghanistan (and conjointly, in Pakistan) and then in Iraq (the latter with no established connection to the 9-11 events, the former in harboring the perpetrators rather than in orchestrating the attacks themselves), which, by one published report, resulted in at least 1.3 million deaths in those countries (another suggestion is that the GWOT caused at least 4 million deaths, all of Muslims).
Even if the American response to 9-11 — the GWOT– was not itself per se overkill (it even got more American military personnel killed than were victims of 9-11), given just the cost in American blood and treasure, given that at least some (such as those noted in this WaPo piece) insist that the world is now more vulnerable to “the jihadist threat” than it was 15 years ago… , we can only say wtf? And so, in plain old human terms, we engaged in a vast enterprise that resulted in the deaths of many more people than were lost on Sept. 11th itself (and perhaps hundreds of times as many, although, as with so much, non-American, let alone non-White, lives don’t seem to register here)… and it seems, there is a consensus that this effort has not made us particularly “safer.”
So where are we now? As I write this, preparations are in their final stages for the usual annual memorial ceremony, where I’m pretty sure the names of the only people that matter, will be publicly read out, usually by surviving spouses, children, parents or other loved ones, in a rather poignant and moving ceremony, that, were it the sole response to the 9-11 events, would actually be remarkably human (and indeed, beautiful, as is the 9-11 memorial, all things told.) Naturally, the victims of that awful day are, rather than used to inspire us to something better (such as invoking the selfless spirit of the hundreds of first responders who gave their lives that day trying to save others or the heroic passengers of Flight 93), instead, used first to evoke a strong emotional response… and then, with collective reason duly suppressed, the events of 9-11 have been used to do what the powerful really want, which is the unaccountable consolidation of state power (including the spending of untold vast amounts of money).
Virtually all forms of centralized power consolidation have advanced dramatically over the past 15 years, from income inequality (which, admittedly, was increasing anyway), to the government’s ability to spy on you (admittedly, assisted by helpful technology in that area), to the government’s ability to, without accountability, engage in torture, or outright homicide. As I’ve noted before, my daughter, who wasn’t quite two as of 9-11, has grown up in a world where it is perfectly normal for the American state to arbitrarily hold people in our own Devil’s Island, or to (remotely no less) liquidate its enemies extra-judicially even if those enemies are American citizens, or to expect their communications, whether by telephone (assuming anyone even uses their telephones for talking rather than texting or social media) or all computer or wireless communications, to be monitored by the government, and to expect their local police forces to be a heavily armed military occupation force (as well as the spearhead of a system that incarcerates more people than any other country in the history of the world).
To be sure, given how helpful these trends are to the powerful, it is easy enough to imagine that they would have gone forward anyway even without September 11th as an oh so useful catalyst (or that a lesser event might have been seized upon, of course), but we have 9-11 as an oh so helpful focal point. And while the American public was, in the days and weeks following 9-11 looking for its opportunity to achieve meaning in their lives and to do things greater than themselves (i.e., to be our own version of a “greatest generation”), the President more or less told us to go shopping. The point being, that, just as recipients of public benefits are told that they are “entitlements,” lest they have the dignity of, if able-bodied, performing meaningful work (even if not directly compensated by wages), or indeed, any dignity at all… the public was told that there was no need for their collective sacrifice… their betters had this one.
And that has more or less been the collective spirit of the last fifteen years, it seems, with no small assist from technologies that allow a veritable zombie apocalypse of oblivious people walking through our streets (or all too often driving) while transfixed by bouncing electronic images on tiny apparatuses in their hands. The spirit of the time has become one of ever more self-obsession, because, of course, we are told in no uncertain terms that there is no we… only individual selfishness (any wonder that “the selfie” has become so significant?). This collective selfishness allows our nation-state to trash the rest of the planet, whether by direct violence unleashed by our military or intelligence services… or by the effects (direct and indirect) of our out-sized economic influence (as well as military, cultural, etc.)
And so, here we are. What 9-11 should have taught us, had we been listening, was a spirit of humility: even the vast might of master-of-the-universe financiers operating 100 stories in the air, or military officers in the Pentagon, would not prevent instant death inflicted by a not-particularly-well-funded but extremely determined small group… because, in the end, nothing can… Not the illusion of “security”… not spending all the money in the world on said security, not trashing the Constitution in the interest of “security”… nothing.
We could have, collectively, had some genuine introspection about, say, why it is necessary for our nation to operate nearly 800 military bases in over 70 countries (and that’s just what we know about), or to consume a wildly disproportionate share of the world’s resources. Instead, appeals to emotion trumped (as it were) all forms of reason, and, despite significant internal and external opposition, the American war machine went into full speed, and we have been “at war” for… the last fifteen years, with no foreseeable end.
All I can do at this point is, as I’ve tried to do these last fifteen years, is try to lead by example from behind metaphorically… or something… or at least make suggestions… as to how to get through an ever more fraught world, in which, if trends continue, I see nothing particularly good coming down the pike. But this is on a collective scale… individuals can, and do, still make differences. For one thing, we can remember the spirit of Richard Pearlman, a volunteer paramedic who perished after running into the WTC on 9-11, even though it wasn’t his job… and we can use that as a point of inspiration. His sense of service and volunteerism. Or of Abraham Zelmanowitz, who stayed behind with a paraplegic friend Ed Beyea on the 27th floor of the WTC, rather than save himself and leave his friend to his fate. Lessons of the ultimate heroism– quiet service, not violent revenge. Neither man wore a uniform… but both were heroes.
And Americans wanted inspiration from their heroic spirit… and instead, for the last fifteen years, we have gotten military flyovers at football games and the ever-more-common presence of military personnel in combat fatigues… as the new normal. Well, it ain’t normal. I want normal. I’m begging for normal. A normal of the aspirations of this country, and of our species. An aspiration of the better, the beautiful… the heroic. That means ordinariness… no perpetual war, no internal military occupation and Orwellian oversight… just ordinary.
If that means forgetting 9-11– the heroes and the killers alike– then I say we forget it. I can live with that. People have died tragically before and since; indeed, our homicide rate reflects the murders of several times the 9-11 toll every year before and since. But anything that results in a supposed justification for being at war with the entire planet, for torture, for Orwellian surveillance, for murder-by-drone, and for the countless other bad things that have happened since 9-11… is best forgotten.
Not to worry… the powerful won’t let us. But we do have a choice: we can turn off our emotional response to the jingoism (including the xenophobia), and realize that, as residents of this nation and this planet, we’re all in this together (even if we don’t think so), and behave accordingly. That, and start growing (and cooking) your own food, making sure you get enough exercise, try to minimize your involvement with the medical industrial complex, and, ideally, minimize your “consumption” of media, and just go outside and smell the flowers… seriously. Improve yourself… not out of selfishness or narcissism but out of the complete opposite… and… with luck, fifteen years from now 9-11 will be a tragedy to be sure, but not one that has resulted in the complete hijacking (as it were) of our entire existence.