Where was I?
In my office in downtown Pittsburgh speaking by phone with the Manhattan-based chief financial officer of a Fortune 500 company whose habit was to have a financial TV station on in his office constantly for the stock ticker. Suddenly he cuts me off mid-sentence and screams, “Oh, s—t, on the TV, right now, an airplane is crashing into the Twin Towers.”
September 11, 2001 has been the ultimate “where were you” moment in my lifetime. The other contenders would be the assassinations of President Kennedy and John Lennon and the resignation of President Nixon.
An extraordinary number of people remember where they were and what they were doing when they first learned that two airplanes had crashed into the Twin Towers on September 11, causing it to topple. Many, like me, have two or three anecdotes to tell about that day or about people they know survived. For example, I heard that my cousin’s husband was in his car on the way to work at the Twin Towers when he saw the building crumble before his eyes and realized that if he had not returned home halfway in his trip to drive his daughter to school that morning because she had forgotten her homework, he would be underneath the rubble.
During the weekend of ceremonies and news reports, most Americans over the age of 14 will remember where they were and what they were doing when they first heard or saw the horror.
And they’ll remember, and be reminded of, the nearly 3,000 victims of the attacks and the valiant efforts of the New York City police and fire departments to help them. And they’ll remember, and be reminded of, the passengers of Flight 93 who fought back and thereby prevented another plane from crashing in our nation’s capital. And they’ll remember the soldiers who have died and those who have returned from the two wars that we have fought since then in the name of defeating terrorism.
But we will we remember that the wars themselves were foolish and useless?
More broadly, will we remember that 9/11 plunged the country into a temporary madness that allowed us to accept the dark premises of the Bush II regime? Will we remember that the country and the world still suffer because of the actions that our government chose to make in the names of all of us in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks?
Let’s do a quick tally of what the United States has wrought since 9/11:
- Waged two long, bloody but completely aimless wars that we began because the Bush II regime lied to us about basic facts and we are still fighting because the Obama regime is too gutless to abandon them. The recent study titled Costs of War by researchers at Brown University’s Watson Institute tells the story here:
- 225,000 people killed (low estimate), including 6,051 U.S. soldiers and 2,300 U.S. contractors.
- $3.2-$4 trillion already spent or obligated for future spending, and counting.
- These wars have drained our country of much-needed funds for job creation and infrastructure rebuilding and are the single biggest reason we face a debt crisis (no matter how much the anti-Social Security/Medicare crowd may lie about it!)
- We created a hidden worldwide gulag in which we degraded ourselves by stooping to the level of the Torquemadas, Himmlers and Stalins of the world to illegally torture prisoners, despite the fact that that torture is immoral and all reputable research proves that it does not work.
- We established a security state that can too easily pry into our lives and abridge our individual freedoms.
- We have fostered a new wave of discrimination, this time against Muslims and immigrants.
- We have lost a lot of respect in the world, especially among developing countries.
In a sense, we have allowed Osama bin Laden to win, because so many of us, including national (Republican) leaders, have bought into his idea of a holy war between the West and Islam. The torture policy and security apparatus make us much less the “land of the free” than we were on September 10, 2011. The financial burden of the war and our sullied reputation in the world have weakened us and made us less capable of sustaining a (hypothetically) necessary war or addressing our economic problems.
I’m convinced that a President Al Gore would have had a more measured reaction that would not have included the Iraqi War or torture and would not have cost the country so much money and caused so much misery both here and in the places we have leveled. But we’ll never know.
I don’t expect George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, John Yoo, Eric Prince and their ilk to feel any shame at what they wrought. But during the sadness of the day, I hope the rest of us take a moment to also contemplate our guilt. Since our leaders act in our name, all of us are responsible for their actions.