[I think this is actually my first post about 9-11, but, yaknow, other people blog about it all of the time.]
I usually listen to NPR on the way in to work. I wasn’t listening to the radio 11 years ago today. I think I was in the middle of a media fast.
Of course everyone was talking about it when I got in to work.
I was content to not see any of the now-famous images for weeks.
But it affected me. In particular the man who had been my best male friend up to that point in my life was working in one of the towers. We looked for him frantically for a while. He’s fine and has a beautiful family now.
I won’t walk you through the process of arriving at my current emotional response to 9-11. Much of it was immediate. Some of it evolved slowly over time.
Obviously it’s tragic that so many lives were lost. My friend might have died that day.
Ultimately it’s that feeling of personal loss that makes the most sense to me. I’m sad for those who lost someone–many lost multiple someones. Death is always, in many ways, difficult and wrong. Whatever else I say, I want to be clear about that.
But other than the numbers, and aside from the horrible personal reality that many experienced (which, again, I don’t at all mean to dismiss or diminish), I don’t find the incident particularly tragic or unjust.
It was unjust and tragic, no question. 9-11 reminds me that the world is a wicked place, full of death and meaningless destruction.
And here’s where I start to have problems with–and depart from–the national response. Honestly I don’t think our nation or our people have suffered particularly. People talked about feeling violated that day. Maybe that’s true. Maybe we were violated. But our innocence was already lost.
Typically we don’t even think of the tens of thousands across the planet who die daily, not just of famine and disease, but from bullets and bombs–children and other innocents among them. We especially don’t want to think of the part that we play in that, both directly and, in multiple ways, indirectly.
We spend more on death in the name of defense than any other nation by far, more than several of the next biggest spenders combined. And we export weapons to our friends, however unfriendly they might be to their neighbors.
We’re at war right now. There’s national outrage over the soldiers killed in those battles–as there should be. But there’s noticeably less outrage over the children and other foreign civilians who get caught in the crossfire, let alone the soldiers we kill. Those foreign soldiers have families too. They believe they’re fighting for their loved ones, for their country, for their God; they believe that they’re fighting to survive, fighting because they have to. You’re sure that we’re right and they’re wrong just as they’re sure that they’re right and we’re wrong.
Then there’s the fact that we feel entitled to more of the planet’s resources, energy and prosperity than anyone else. And we don’t even think about how that affects everyone else, how much more difficult it makes their “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.” I wonder if we truly believe that those endowments are for them too or just for us.
Some folks stirred controversy by saying that 9-11 was God’s judgment. I’m not going to join them. But I will say that if you look at the death and tragedy across the globe and either ignore it, rationalize it or, indeed, claim in any way that it is God’s judgment, you have no right protesting when others speculate the same about 9-11.
I don’t know for sure what God’s judgment looks like. I don’t claim to be able to distinguish which deaths are divinely sanctioned and which are not. I’m pretty sure that one way or another they all are. So then it becomes a matter of which ones He really means. Yeah, you can think about that if you want. When I think about it, it just pisses me off.
I don’t begrudge folks their grieving over 9-11. It’s totally appropriate to grieve. In some way I think we all lost something that day.
What I don’t approve is the need for blood. It’s bad enough that we started a war in the name of vengeance. We can argue about whether the war in Afghanistan and the broader “war on terror” actually improve our national security or accomplish some other meaningful thing. Lots of folks seem to think (or seem to have thought) that they do. And their position is at least understandable.
That doesn’t mean that it’s not also motivated out of the “need,” as even its supporters have put it, to go kick someone’s ass. I don’t consider that patriotic. And if you want to call it patriotism, I don’t mind saying that I see no nobility in that kind of patriotism.
But we started another war in the wake of 9-11 on pretext and because we could put a villain’s face on it.
And though many Americans, I’m proud to say, have learned and/or exercised tolerance in the last eleven years and have grown in their appreciation for those different from them, far too many others have used 9-11 as an excuse to hate Muslims, Arabs, people of color, foreigners of any kind, anyone who’s different.
I started to say that that’s the thing that disgusts me most. It’s close.
Probably what disgusts me most is the upsurge of folks crying out “God Bless America.” Don’t get me wrong, I long for God’s blessing and grace upon us. But I notice that He’s blessed us plenty and we’re not much thankful for it. One of my favorite bumper stickers suggests what’s long overdue: “America Bless God.”
I also notice that we’re more than happy to sing “God Bless America” even as we’re whispering under our breath, “and to hell with those other bastards.”
We didn’t want God after 9-11; we wanted protection, we wanted to add His might to our acts of violence, we wanted to feel better about ourselves.
I don’t think Americans are especially evil; I just don’t think we’re especially good. I think we’re human. And I am sick to death of all of the talk of late about American Exceptionalism. I mind it a lot less when it’s a call to action, to sacrifice and hard work. I mind it more when it justifies our arrogance, indifference and sense of entitlement.