This past Sunday marked a painful anniversary for the United States. The image included today is Marcus Halevy's iconic photo from the week after; this image gave me hope. It still does. For me, the 9/11 experience can be summed up in three songs: “Three Little Birds,” by Bob Marley; “Times Like These” (live version, not studio) by The Foo Fighters; and “The Rising” by Bruce Springsteen.
I really wanted to ignore the tenth anniversary for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, I hate how the fascist corporate whores who were running the country into the ground at the time used and abused the incident to justify an unjust war that has claimed millions of lives. Second, how 9/11 was used to destroy our Constitutional freedoms; third, how it was used to justify prejudice and has helped to create a movement towards the elimination of the First Amendment and a push towards turning the U.S. into a Christo-fascist dictatorship. I wish I was joking or exaggerating. Fourth, the fact that the cocksucking politico whores didn’t invite NYPD, FDNY, and rescue workers to the memorial… yeah. Fifth, after sending troops into Afghanistan 10 years ago, Draft Dodger/Retard Bush* and his corporate masters passed legislation cutting benefits for veterans and their survivors… Sixth, the survivors can’t get decent health coverage (and have been coming up with lovely forms of cancer) or benefits because, hey, why the fuck should the ungrateful legislative whores in the pockets of the insurance companies defy their corporate masters? Seventh, the Bush administration allowed the Saudi royal family and friends to fly out of the US on the day after, when all other private and commercial jets were grounded. Eighth, shall we discuss the Patriot Act? Christ, I just want to spit—September 11, 2001 – the day used as an excuse to destroy America.
And then, yesterday, while I was driving down the Lynn Fells Parkway on a glorious, beautiful, stunning September Sunday morning, I happened to flip the radio and come upon Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising.” I wept like a broken child because Bruce’s voice and lyrics captured the reality of the day for me—both anthem and hymn, praise and mourning, defiance and acceptance, and it flooded back—that horrible, awful day… coming out into the doctor’s waiting room from my appointment before 10 a.m. to have this couple who had just driven up from The Cape tell me what they’d heard on the radio, and me saying it couldn’t be true… and then… then the news. Frantically trying to reach the guy I had been casually dating because he’d been driving down to NYC every Tuesday for business. Calling former students and emailing and making sure everyone was accounted for because a few of our kids had gone to grad school down there (and I was never so thankful that I’d listened to my instincts and NOT gone to the Actor’s Studio for the MFA—it was in the same block as St. Vincent’s, one of the front line hospitals)… that horrible, empty feeling that something so ugly, so stupid, so evil could be done in the name of ideology.
Ever notice that “ideology” sounds a lot like “idiotology” when pronounced out loud?
All the dead. All those emergency personal. All of the ordinary people who did extraordinary things that day. All of those families, those children…
That was what was the good thing about that horrible day—we all were a little kinder, a little gentler to each other. As a nation, we’d been punched in the gut and realized for a few days what was really important—each other.
A few days after, I heard the Bob Marley song “Three Little Birds,” and I wept, grieving and knowing that somehow, it would get better.
I flew to Philly a couple of weeks later to see my best friend, KJ. My Mum didn’t want me to go—she was terrified of me flying so close to the time, and those planes… those planes had originated at Logan. Going through Logan wasn’t pleasant—seeing Staties in riot gear and automatic weapons was as shocking as it was the first time I went through DeGaulle in Paris. I had asked the people I’d been talking to on the plane if there had been a terrorist attack and was told, “Oh, no, this is normal.” It was painful to see it become normal here. Understand that I love to fly—I live for the moment of take off, when the plane “slips the surly bonds of earth.” It’s a magical moment. What transformed the experience for me that night was looking out of the plane and seeing lights—the Eastern Seaboard was lit up completely, shining in the night. I leaned my head against the glass, tears on my cheeks, proud, so proud to be an American at that moment—they had wounded us, but by the Gods, they had not extinguished our light—the nation founded on the principles of “government by the people, for the people” would not fall.
I don’t remember the first time I heard the live version of “Times Like These,” just the raw emotion of Davy Grohl’s voice transforming a nice song into a soul wrenching testimony of survival, and weeping because it was so fucking true: “it’s times like these you learn to live again; it’s times like these you give and give again; it’s times like these you learn to love again.”**
And then the morons started waving flags and chanting, “USA! USA!” on street corners. And people wonder why other countries hate us; why even our allies are disappointed in us. Could it be we allowed a functionally illiterate draft-dodging corporate failure, backed by an unethical, amoral, consciousless corporate tycoon to be the titular head of this country for eight years? Could it be that we, as a nation, have acted like a bunch of bullying, uneducated, ill-bred hooligans? Could be it be that we have forgotten our real history and instead believe in the government-censored fairytale the least-enlightened state in the Union approves of for the rest of us?*** (Christ, I wish I was making this shit up.)
That is what has made the past decade so painful for me—the destruction of the light of America. When our country was founded, it was by men profoundly influenced by the French Enlightenment and from families deeply affected by the English Civil War, not to mention the Reformation. This nation began as a commercial venture and penal colony, and when the time came and independence was earned, the law code those leaders codified was a direct reflection of it. The Constitution of the United States was a document born from a society trying to learn from history; it was never intended to be a static code that remained unchanged and unchallenged. The government established by Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, Adams… they never intended that we would have the same government over two hundred years later. They established a base for us to build on, but never expected us to fail so radically by clinging to the past and ignoring history. They did not expect us to follow the example of the monarchies of Europe.
That is where we have failed, my friends, and how we, as a nation, have dishonored our honored dead. Those who died for this country, who gave their lives willingly or unwillingly, did so to uphold the principles of the Founding Fathers. The problem is that we no longer bother to study those principles. Patriotism is not blind adherence to the government’s policy—patriotism is the belief and love of the principles that governed the founding of this nation—that we are all created equal in the eyes of the law, that we all have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, BUT that with those rights, comes RESPONSIBILITY. We have forgotten as a nation the concept of citizenship; we have become rotten, corrupt—intellectually lazy and cowardly in the face of losing our creature comforts. We have allowed cowards, liars and thieves to take control of our government, and surrendered our wills to corporations, and our partisan identity is more important to us than what is best for our country. We have allowed our elections to become nothing more than muck-raking popularity contests that have nothing to do with public service and everything to do with lining the pockets of the winners and their corporate sponsors, while we allow ourselves to be sidetracked into discussions of irrelevancies and forget we are supposed to be voting for a public servant who will serve the common good, not just our special interests.
We have pissed on the graves of the honored dead and debased ourselves in useless warmongering, destroying not only our own citizens, but decimating the populations of foreign nations under false pretenses. We, as a nation, have sunk lower than France in 1789, and are following the example of Germany in the 1930’s. The pity is that, because we have allowed our schools to become indoctrination centers, history is not studied and ANALYZED, and we as a nation live in denial. Our people are suffering, and we are causing suffering around the world with our selfishness.
I wept Sunday for all that was lost on that beautiful September day in 2001—the lives needlessly, cruelly cut short and for the death of my country. Today, I pray for all of us—that we have the courage to go beyond our self-imposed limits and embrace our responsibilities.
May the benevolent Gods bless us all and guide us to enlightenment and compassion.
*W served in the AF Reserve as a pilot; he never saw combat. He was also seen rather erratically after the Air Force began random drug testing. W is a coke addict; note the present tense usage. There were reports (reliable, sadly) that he was still snorting when he was in the White House. His behavior pretty well confirms it. As for Dick Cheney, he was quoted in Rolling Stone, when questioned as to why he didn't serve in Viet Nam, "I had better things to do." Sorry, but if you're not willing to shed your own blood for your country, don't ask anyone else to, you cowardly scum.
** Surprised to discover that "Times Like These" came out in 2003. For some reason, I associate it with 2001. Time is fluid...
*** Truth: most states use textbooks approved by the Texas Board of Education. Be afraid. Be VERY, VERY afraid when the books your children use come from a state-approved board. Ever heard of Stalin? Hitler? Mao? Yeah--they believe in state-approved text books as well. When it comes to history and learning history, you don't want to learn the party line--you want to learn all sides of the story. Because hey, wouldn't it be awesome to learn a balanced view of history? One of the best anecdotes I have to share about this--and about the fact that even American history teachers in AMERICAN schools don't know their history: I had the pleasure of seeing Neil Gaiman speak back in June at the Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH on the 10th anniversary tour for American Gods. The novel contains interludes--his way of overcoming writer's block--which are anecdotes of how the Gods crossed the ocean. One of them involves a Cornish woman named Essie Tregowan who was a tranportee (twice!). For those of you unfamiliar with American history. the colonies were not established for religious freedom and human rights, but as a commercial venture and a penal colony (much like Australia). Neil's son was 12 at that point; he came home from school and told his father that his history teacher said that Neil was a liar.
Yeah. Evidently, they're not teaching history teachers about transportees--the other side of the King's Hard Bargain (hang or be a soldier). Being transported meant you escaped the noose, but instead were condemned to a (possibly) temporary servitude. If you read A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn, you can also discover even more ugly truths about transportees and slavery. All true, sad to say, and all serious contributing factors to today's racial issues in the US (and other countries). What's even sadder is that people from other countries know more about our history than our history teachers.