Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Remembering September 11, 2001

In one of my on-line courses we were discussing how major historical events have influenced, and most of the participants in this course mentioned the events of September 11, 2001. I remember in the morning as I cooked my breakfast and listened to NPR, and heard that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. I had no television, and I knew about the plane that flew into the Empire State Building many years ago, so I went off to campus and began my class as if nothing much special was happening, but my students were highly agitated, and one of them asked if we were really going to have class, given what had happened in New York. I was astonished that they would be so worked up about an airplane (I supposed it must have been a small aircraft) crashing into a skyscraper. At noon, when the class ended, there was a message on my office phone from my father, telling me that my sister and brother-in-law were safe (they were investment bankers in New York City, and sometimes went to meetings in the World Trade Center, and in fact one of my brother-in-law's best friends was killed that day). I called to ask my dad what was up, and when he told me the towers had collapsed I responded with something like, "you mean they collapsed from the top down to where the airplane hit them, right? because those towers are made of steel, and I don't think they could just collapse because an airplane hit them." I still hadn't seen any pictures.

The American response to this crime has been very significant in shaping all our lives since then. The wars, the waste, the mismanagement, the fear, and so forth has been very much what I feared we would have. A state of permanent war. But I've been impressed by how good America has been about distinguishing between the cultists and the mainstream. I see Osama bin-Laden and the theologians and strategists around him to be very much the same type as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Chizuo Matsumoto (Shoko Ashahara), and I think most Americans recognize that our Muslim neighbors have nothing to do with terrorists like Osama bin-Laden (no more than Christians had anything to do with Timothy McVeigh). I must admit I'm glad the Taliban don't rule in Afghanistan, and I'm pleased that Saddam Husayn and his government met the fate that seemed appropriate, but the costs have been overwhelming in treasure and in blood, and the research I've seen suggests our mismanaged campaigns have caused excess deaths in the Middle East and Central Asia at two orders of magnitude over what we suffered nine years ago. I remember in 2002 protesting and holding a sign I'd made saying something like, "When we bomb there will be collateral damage and civilian dead. How is that different from what terrorists do?" My anger at the military and political leadership that has fought these wars badly is like my feelings about Abraham Lincoln's early generals. They're a bad lot, and a disgrace.

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