Call me distracted, but when a note appeared on my computer screen from the editor of this newspaper reminding me that the 9/11 anniversary approached, it caught me by surprise. Was I intending to write about the tenth anniversary of the attack? For a week, I’ve been trying to muster some insight, some sense that this past decade requires summing up. I was invited to use the event as an Archimedean point, a lens through which to view the world.
Respectfully, I decline.
Osama bin Laden hated America and all for which it stands. So do plenty of other people around the world. So some of them want to destroy us. On 9/11 a well-planned attack killed several thousand people, and destroyed billions of dollars worth of property. This was followed by the anthrax scare, which killed fewer but was even more frightening. Since then, we’ve declared unending war on those who hate us and seek our destruction. These things speak for themselves.
But I can’t muster the necessary sentimental gore to attend a commemorative ceremony and shed the mandatory tears over the attacks. Were we really naive enough to think that the world owed us accolades merely for being ourselves? What narcissistic bubbles burst when we came to realize, in cold-blooded fury, that the chaos we read about in other lands can actually occur here? American exceptionalism took a beating on 9/11. This effort to blow patriotic smoke into memories of the day suggest it has not quite been beaten to death.
I look back on the decade and marvel at how peaceful it has been on these shores, at least in terms of the sort of terrorism we were told the global jihad would deliver. If there are sleeper cells in out midst, they remain somnolent.
Yes, 9/11 was terrible. But worse things have happened, and are happening, in our midst. Rather than shed tears over Osama bin Laden’s blood-red wet dream, I’d rather focus on new causes for tears.
The American century is over. Our economy is in a free fall. The middle class is disappearing. The poor, who, as Jesus reminds, are always with us, remain a silent, festering wound. Plutocrats govern. The rich finance campaigns in which political puppets sprint from one coast to another to purchase political ads designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Congress can’t pass a budget, but it can bail out bankers. Foreclosure rates are at an all time high, even though many of the mortgage notes used to press these claims are out-and-out fraudulent.
These facts terrify me. A decade after the 9/11 attacks, we still have not rebuilt on the site of the former towers. That is not because the ground is somehow hallowed. It is because we cannot muster the political and economic will to attend to the basics. Thomas Friedman reports in his recent book that in China, massive new buildings are erected in a matter of months. We’ve hit a wall in the United States. Just how many millions of Americans have stopped looking for work?
Hating al Qaeda is easy. Calling those who hate us evil returns one form of idolatry for another. Something died in this country in the past decade. Osama bin Laden did not kill it. I am not sure what did. But I don’t think making a national day of mourning over an isolated act of terror accomplishes much. Why cry over old graves when we dig new ones daily?
So forgive me if I let the anniversary of 9/11 pass in comparative silence. I was lucky not to lose a loved one in the attack. Had I done so, the day would carry special meaning, and I would stop to shed a tear over love lost. I would do so without the expectation that the world stop to behold my grief. I am no longer confident that the rhetoric I learned as a child to celebrate this country matches the reality I see around me. Even the audacity of hope is sounding like tinny posturing just now. The last thing we need in this country is another Hallmark holiday, this one festooned with black garlands.
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.