As we reach the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a part of me wants to just avoid the topic entirely. After all, over the past six years, I’ve devoted a seemingly endless amount of time to the topic, whether through personal reflection, 9/11 films, or public discourse of one form or another. Even so, a part of me can’t resist seizing this opportunity to talk about it yet again. Why? Because the events of that day are still having an impact on our lives, and there is still so much that needs to be said and done about it.
On September 11, 2001, I was awakened early by a phone call from my mother. As a roommate handed me the phone, I was surprised to hear a trembling sadness in her voice, as though she had been crying or was just about to. I don’t remember exactly what was said, but she basically told me that we had been attacked and that I should turn on the news to see what was happening.
Due to her early morning call, I was actually awake in time to hear the first reports of a plane hitting the second tower. From this point forward, I spent most of the day in my living room, watching the reports on TV and talking with my roommates and friends about what was happening.
It’s hard to describe my feelings on that day. And I mean that both in the sense of “difficult to explain” and “difficult to talk about.” I’d spent the past five years of my life being extremely critical of the social, economic, and political systems that those towers and that Pentagon embodied. Even on that day, the symbolism of attacking a major center of global capitalism and a major center of global militarism was not lost on me. Therefore, part of me wondered why it had taken so long for someone, somewhere to commit such an attack.
And yet, I myself have never had a love for violence. In fact, I have long had a love for peace. Intellectually, I was not surprised by this attack… but in my heart, I was shocked. No matter how often I see violence, especially mass violence, it never ceases to amaze me that anyone could be so wantonly destructive.
And so, on September 11, my fellow anti-authoritarians and I spent long hours talking about the tragedy, stewing in an odd mix of sorrow, fear, and cynicism. As the Pentagon was hit, I personally began wondering if there were hijacked planes in the air on the West Coast, or even in Chicago, where my stepfather was working a few short blocks from the Sears Tower. I also started wondering about friends in New York City who I hadn’t seen in a while but still cared about deeply. Were they one of those nameless faces covered in soot, running around trying to avoid the unthinkable collapse of another steel tower?
For perhaps the first time, I felt the reality of political violence as a personal experience. I’ve always been an empath, and thus violence has always felt very real to me even when I wasn’t the one experiencing it firsthand. This, though, was a moment when I felt a very real threat to my loved ones, and indirectly to myself. I’d seen friends subject to political arrest, surveillance, and abuse before, but that seemed to pale in comparison to the thought of people I know personally being injured or killed because someone decided to blow up towers in NYC, or LA, or Chicago, because of some political conflict.
In the days after 9/11, there were moments when I had a naive hope that this tragedy would give the majority of Americans a greater empathy for the survivors of war and terror in other nations. For a moment, maybe it did. But then, the moment passed, and our grief was twisted into a thirst for vengeance by our nation’s “leaders.” America’s sacred soil had been soaked in the blood of the innocent, and the evildoers must be punished for this unholy act.
I can’t even sit still as I think about the outrage of it all! The bodies of the victims weren’t even cold when politicians and pundits started singing their battle cries, using transparent but powerful propaganda techniques to twist national grief into nationalist war. Thankfully, most of the people I saw on the TV screen on 9/11 itself showed a genuine mix of sorrowful human emotions rather than any tendency towards war-mongering or spin-doctoring. But as day wore into night, and night slipped into morning, these genuine human emotions were pushed back into whatever dank dungeon they’re usually locked away in. Instead, as days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, I found myself surrounded by a bazillion American flags and a bazillion people calling for war.
In the end, the cynic in me realized that a lot of this had to do with the way that many Americans were framing these events in their own heads even as they unfolded. It’s not that war, or terror, wasn’t supposed to happen anywhere… but rather, that it wasn’t supposed to happen HERE. Not on American soil to American citizens. Watching it happen elsewhere may have been sad… but watching it happen HERE made it an UNTHINKABLE TRAGEDY.
As I watched all of the lovely artwork sprout up depicting angels mourning and caring for the victims and survivors of 9/11, I wondered when I would see the artwork of angels comforting the targets of US imperialism, ecological destruction, and the like. Do the angels not weep for children who die in Palestine? Do the angels not weep for those tortured and killed by the Contras in Nicaragua? Do the angels not weep for the children who make our clothing in distant Wal-Mart sweatshops? Do the angels not weep for the gutting of the forests, choking of the air, and poisoning of the oceans?
Do the angels not weep for those tortured in American custody, or killed by Americans in Iraq?
I for one believe that the angels DO weep for these things too. I believe in angels, and I believe that many of them weep at the sight of such suffering. But looking at Fox News, you’d never guess that an angel is watching over anyone other than the supporters of George Bush.
I want to be clear about the fact that I do mourn the tragedies of 9/11. Like many people, I felt myself change on that day in ways that are hard to describe and likely to last a lifetime. The sorrow and grief that I felt on that day changed my perspective on the entire world. But in part because of that grief and that sorrow, I also feel an intense commitment to ensuring that the madness of war and terror doesn’t claim any further victims. And the only way we can do that is by understanding the logic of war and terror, and doing our best to eliminate it.
Therefore, I would like to conclude this 9/11 reflection with two questions. By striving to answer these questions, I feel that we as Americans and we as citizens of the world can hope to uncover new truths and discover new paths towards peace.
(1) What really happened on 9/11? I’m going to an event tonight at 7pm at the Big Muddy IMC which raises this question. What I know for certain is that the “official story” is one of the most absurd theories I’ve heard so far. For example, I’ve heard all sorts of arguments and counter-arguments about the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, but I still haven’t heard a reasonable “official” explanation for the fall of WTC 7. If we truly want to ensure that we never have another 9/11, then our first step must be to examine the events of that day. Once we understand what really happened, we’ll be better able to stop it from happening again.
(2) What would be some real solutions to the problems of war and terror? Seeing 3,000 people die in NYC sparked tremendous grief in me, but so does watching tens of thousands die in Iraq, and millions die elsewhere from war, terror, genocide, hunger, and the like. It seems pretty clear to me that invading Iraq and blowing a bunch of things up hasn’t done much to win this “War on Terror.” In fact, it seems to me like we’ve been using terror domestically in order to psyche up the American people for causing terror abroad. But if we’re going to say that the Iraq war is bogus, and that the War on Terror is bogus, then we need to come up with our own strategies for ending terror, be it state-sponsored or freelance. Maybe we can set up our own grassroots “Department of Peace” and launch a different sort of “War on Terror.”
Anyway, these reflections have been a bit unfocused due to a mix of the complexity of the topic and my lingering hints of flu. If you’d like to talk more about it, though, I am eager to hear what you have to say. Since 9/11 is still being used as a justification for an endless War on Terror, we all have a lot to talk about…