I suppose it is to be expected that the media would spend lots of air time memorializing the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. After all, much of the national media are based out of New York. For them, this is not simply something which happened, but a deeply traumatic event in their own lives. Different communities have different shared experiences. I remember watching the towers fall while stationed far away in South Dakota. Somehow, everybody knew we were going to war, even though, as I pointed out, we didn’t yet know who was behind the attack. Somehow, the media immediately grabbed the name Osama bin Laden and ran with it as the most likely perpetrator, given his history of attacking U.S. targets. And somehow it didn’t matter either way. There would be blood. We’d figure out whose shortly.
There was a moment in which it seemed as though the nation was coming together, united by our common shock. Pundits like to refer to it as a lost opportunity to improve ourselves, to build an even more perfect union. Let us be candid about this point: that was fear, not some sort of new-found love for our fellow Americans. These were petrified Americans, not patriotic Americans. President Bush accurately measured the national mood. While there was some desire to turn the nation’s attention toward a higher purpose, the nation mostly reacted like a wounded animal. Their President was happy to stoke the bloodthirsty mob toward his ends… and then tell them to go shopping.
See, we had a volunteer military to handle the dirty work. No need for tax increases, we would simply borrow the money to pay for our great national bloodletting. No need for a draft, we have enough volunteers willing to risk their lives. Thank them for their service, listen to country music, slap a (magnetic, we don’t want to damage the paint job) yellow ribbon on your SUV, max out your credit cards, and vote Republican! This is what was asked of most Americans. No call to service, not even something domestic like Americorps. Indulge all your consumer desires, and don’t worry: statistically speaking, most of you probably don’t know anybody in the military, anyway.
Vietnam syndrome, thwarted.
The Iraq campaign eventually became deeply unpopular, especially after it had dragged on for over a year (imagine!) and it was revealed that, oops, guess they weren’t stocking WMD and didn’t have anything to do with 9/11 and really weren’t a threat to us at all and our military has been stacking prisoners in naked pyramids and menacing them with dogs and all this tough talk about how it would be good if we had a long, bloody campaign to prove our mettle typed up by courageous keyboard warriors were just so much bluster and that even if we could “take it”, the price we were paying for… what again?... wasn’t worth it anymore. Never was. But somehow, in their heart of hearts, the electorate remained deeply, deeply afraid… of gay marriage. And as such, they gave the unelected buffoon who oversaw the greatest terrorist attack on U.S. soil and dragged us into a costly and unnecessary war his first electoral mandate as President, saying with conviction, “four more years”.
Hurricane Katrina finally awakened the portion of the American people who know that the earth revolves around the sun that President Bush did not have the people’s interests in mind when making policy decisions. He had set us on a path to self-destruction which would ultimately be realized when the economy collapsed in the final months of his presidency, and he mostly treated it like a big joke. Our dopey, impetuous President, grinning like the Cheshire Cat with blood dripping from his teeth, was finally revealed for the fraud he was. The stubborn partisans who had cheered his war mongering mostly went into hiding until tax day in 2009, in which they rebranded themselves “Tea Party Patriots”, shifting the discussion entirely to the economic policies of the new administration, one of the most huge and successful acts of changing the subject I’ve ever seen.
The subject has been changed. The page has been turned. After President Obama took office, we heard nary a word about Osama bin Laden until President Obama’s May 2, 2011 announcement of his death. We no longer endure a barrage of transparently political “terror alerts”, always timed to distract from news which would be embarrassing to the administration.
And yet, some of us haven’t moved on… haven’t turned the page. The sound of rocket fire is a distant four year-old memory for me, but the barrage of 9/11 coverage has called back the rage and frustration I felt over the senseless destruction and loss of life. The alchemy of war is to turn blood into gold. KBR and Blackwater knew how to do that with ease. Rifle fire, explosions, and helicopter blades were my lullaby, but defense contractors couldn’t hear it over the sound of their coffers filling up. “Thank you for your service,” they said with a grin and a Scrooge McDuck money bin. And as a nation, we have yet to come to grips with what we did. Neo-conservatives mostly keep their heads down, although Dick Cheney has been making the rounds. Charles Krauthammer, in his characteristically pompous manner, has recently tried to renew the old and discredited justifications. Liberals occasionally mention Iraq as one of the wrong-headed policy decisions of the last administration, but only ever in a detached, academic way, not with the passion of those who remember 9/11 personally.
And the average American citizen would just as soon forget it ever happened. To them, electing Obama was their mea culpa. He promised to end the war. He was black and had a Muslim name. No more was required.
Please don’t thank me for my service any more. Instead, go to a veterans’ cemetery, look for a grave with the words, “Operation Iraqi Freedom” inscribed on it, lay a rose next to it and very quietly and quite sincerely say, “I’m sorry.”