Saturday, September 11, 2010

Nine Years Later

“We have met the worst of humanity with the best of humanity.”
- Rudy Giuliani, former New York City mayor

Nine years ago under a cloudless, turquoise blue sky one September morning, America’s sense of security and innocence shattered. What started as an ordinary day with commuters heading to work in lower Manhattan and the Pentagon, passengers riding airplanes and people going about their lives, would soon erupt into one of the most violent days in American history.

Nine years ago, we were sent into a headlong chaotic spiral of fire and death at the a hands of an Islamic terrorist organization most Americans had never heard of. They hijacked four commercial airplanes and used them as fuel-laden missiles, crashing two into each tower of the World Trade Center in New York and one in the Pentagon. Another plane, United Airlines Flight 93, was brought down by the heroic acts of those on board, preventing the craft from reaching its intended target.

We saw acts of terrible tragedy and acts of valor and heroism. We saw America blindsided by an enemy, quickly rise up and respond to the challenges of saving lives and helping those who lost everything. We saw the fireman and policeman become domestic heroes, rushing into burning skyscrapers to help others and paying for it with their lives. We saw the common man and woman give aid to the frightened and scared. We saw people standing in long lines to donate blood and the photographs of those missing and dead.

It truly was our most tragic day but it became our finest hour as Americans embraced each other. We shared grief and pain. We cried in front of our televisions. We donated money and volunteered our time to help those affected. We displayed the American flag as a national icon that portrayed our tenacity and resolve.

We were damn proud to be Americans.

We were struck, but we weren’t defeated. America doesn’t go whimpering into the night.

Nine years later, where are we? Still the same nation united under one purpose, or are we fragmented into an angry, factionalized mob of loathing and derision?

On Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush shone as a strong leader, determined to punish those terrorists responsible for the loss of over 3,000 lives. When he stood on the rubble at Ground Zero, surrounded by firefighters and First Responders, he was Churchill after the Blitz.

Yet Bush’s approval rating sank from 90 percent in the days following September 11, 2001 to 22 percent when he left office in January 2009.

We’ve spent eight years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Terrorists continue to plot to kill Americans, to make us fearful through violence.

These days, it seems like politicians evoke 9-11 only when it serves their purpose, and only when they want to generate a patriotic fervor.

Politics itself has changed since September 11. Back then, members of Congress gathered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and sung “God Bless America.” Now Congress can’t agree on anything. It’s like some kind of backwoods hillbilly feud, with each side sniping at each other and holding grudges that will last for generations. It’s no wonder why Congress has some of the lowest public approval ratings in history.

Now there’s talk of “taking our country back” from President Obama’s socialist agenda, punishing the liberals by electing radical Republicans from the Tea Party and protesting the construction of an Islamic center blocks from Ground Zero. A Florida pastor made news for threatening to burn copies of the Quran and a conservative pundit Glenn Beck held a rally at the Lincoln Memorial to “restore honor” to America.

And our precious economy collapsed like a house of credit cards following the attacks. Things have gotten so bad that there’s a ration of one bag of Cheetos Mighty Zingers Ragin’ Cajun & Tangy Ranch per American family, who huddles in their Snuggies in the darkness of their almost-foreclosed homes.

Things have gotten worse in America over those nine years.

Instead of a brave, resilient and hopeful people, we’re a nation of pissed-off children screaming at each other. Instead of sharing a common purpose of defeating those who wish us harm, we’re debating the merits of whether Islam is a religion of peace or war. We’re viewing illegal Mexican immigrants as threats to our national security and looking to gut the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment. We’re also afraid of gay and lesbian marriage.

That last one makes sense. Members of Al-Qaeda murdered thousands of people, but it’s gays marrying each other that disturbs the shit out of us.

We’re looking for someone to blame for everything that’s gone wrong over those last nine years.

Someone came into the newspaper where I work and tried debating me on freedom and terrorism. He complained about the safety procedures at the airport where passengers must remove their shoes before boarding airplanes, thanks to Richard Reid, the so-called “shoe bomber” who tried to ignite a bomb in his shoe mid-flight in December 2001. Now passengers have to remove their shoes, like that’s a big inconvenience. I’m just glad Reid didn’t have the bomb up his ass. Could you imagine how awkward those security screenings would be?

America has changed since 9-11. We have a Department of Homeland Security, an increased military presence in the Middle East and Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act which increased surveillance, strengthened borders and gives conspiracy theorists fodder for their next newsletters.

Though we’re at each other’s throats like the kids from Lord of the Flies, we should remember that we’re all Americans. We might not agree on everything, but there are universal truths we can abide by: the Constitution is a wonderful document for our evolving and changing nation; the freedom to worship, think, write and express ourselves makes us unique among countries and $45 for a 3-foot by 5-foot nylon American flag is frickin outrageous.

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