Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Memoriam

So... today is 9/11. I'm wondering when it will no longer feel "necessary" for my generation (or the generation right behind mine, for whom this is one of their first truly dark memories) to have some kind of "personal eulogy" for the day. Maybe never. Maybe the 24/7 news cycle and the internet have made that kind of "oh, right - that's today" reaction obsolete.

I lost the last of my grandparents a few months ago. I wonder, now, if this is how they felt during the annual "oh, right..." moments of Pearl Harbor. I wish I'd thought to ask one of them (or maybe I did, and their answer was either so evasive or so unpleasant that I chose not to remember it.)

On 9/11/01 I was still in college, and on that day I drove there, parked and went to class as the whole thing was still unfolding. It was impossible to process in-progress: I was born in 1981. My memories of "American conflict" were of the Cold War ending with a whimper and of the "bubble" of sustained (relative) peace during the Clinton Years - when America was (we thought) so uninvolved in the wider chaos of the world that a has-been football player killing his wife was "The Trial of The Century" and the question of whether or not the President had gotten head from an intern was considered an Earth-shattering scandal.

As I was driving in, the news was hitting that a second plane had hit (at the time Howard Stern was my "morning drive" audio, and yes his coverage was as uncharacteristically worthy/moving as you've been told) and as I was walking to class you could tell from people's body language and half-heard conversations (good lord... the planes had left for Logan Airport... our airport) that it was slowly sneaking up on us that we might be about to live through something that 99% of use had only ever seen or heard of in movies or on TV. I sat down for class (Film Studies) but the class never started - a professor (or maybe an aide) hurriedly popped into the room and informed us that a state of emergency was being declared and all government buildings (state school) had to be evacuated.

My most vivid memory is walking across the school grounds back to my car. Some people were running. I was walking, partially because I was trying to work this out in my head, mostly because my bag of books was exceptionally heavy. Some folks who hadn't heard the news yet (this was before everyone was expected to have a cell phone at all times) were arriving for their classes, and you could see the same scene one after another: An arriving-person would stop a leaving-person, they'd speak for a few seconds, then both became leaving-persons. What immediately jumped into my head (and I appologize if some people find this "reference" crass, but it's what honestly came to me) is the scene from "Starship Troopers" where Rico is leaving camp and slowly realizes other recruits are running past him frantically - he stops a guy to ask what's up:

"War! We're going to war!"

As I made my way to the lot, one of the late "arriving persons" stopped me to ask what was going on. I remember grasping for words, unable to gauge how much this guy knew about what had already happened.

"We're being evacuated... the planes in New York..." is about what I got out, at first. I could tell on his face he "got it."

"I think we're at war."

I don't know why I said that. Maybe I needed to say it to him to say it to myself.

I didn't want to go straight home, because I knew no one would be there until later and I didn't want to just sit around watching this alone. I also needed to get to a phone (again, pre-cellphone-ubiquity days) so my play was to go to the nearby Blockbuster Video - where I used to work and where several friends (including my best friend) still worked. There would be a phone there, and people I knew (during my free-time during classes, I routinely "hung out" there to bother my pals during work), and the TV would probably be turned to the news.

So that's what I did. I used the phone there to get in touch with my family and make sure that A.) everyone was okay and B.) we were not going to do the "lets all hunker down at home" thing. So I stayed there in Blockbuster with my friend, and we (and the rotating assortment of customers) watched things unfold on TV. The Pentagon hit. United 93. The rumors of the extra "phantom planes." Then the official word started to come in - eventually from the Government but first from the hurriedly-assembled experts on the news. A name started to repeat:

"Osama bin Laden."

It wasn't unfamiliar to me. I'd come across him reading up on terrorism for some half-baked action screenplay or another, and remembered thinking his backstory and "manner" were like something out of a movie. Now the bastard had actually gone and done it.

The aftermath beyond that is kind of a blur to me. I remember being instructed by my parents not to talk about it or watch the news much in front of my younger sister, who had been profoundly shaken by the events. I remember drifting zombie-like into my job at the mall (Suncoast Video) the next day and mostly just listening to the radio with customers. I remember a day or so later, driving home through what turned into a cities-wide "we are not defeated" rally of honking car horns and impromptu vigils and a guy standing on the roof of a one-story liquor store waving a full-sized American flag to thunderous applause from a crowd that had gathered below. I remember a week or so later having a MASSIVE onslaught of customers as America all at once went splurging as a kind of collective "fuck you!!!" to the idea that Al Qaeda could even so much as "interupt" us. And yes, I remember then-President Bush's "I hear you and soon the whole world is gonna hear you!" from Ground Zero and thinking "maybe this guy will work out, after all..."

And I remember saying and feeling things - about war, about military action and... yes, about "Them" and "Those People" overseas - that sound like the words of an alien being to the "me" of today and (I can only hope) to the "me" of 9/10.

Mostly, I remember feeling angry, afraid and finally resolved to a kind of calloused cynicism as the months and years dragged on and the Bad Guys went uncaptured and the very hunt for them seemed to be passed-over in favor of an only vaugely-related adventure in Iraq. And thus, I also remember LAST year, one night in May, seeing the gossip that Bin Laden had been killed crossing my Twitter feed and running to the livingroom to tell my mother to put the news on. I remember calling my younger brother (waking him up, I believe) to tell him to do the same. And I remember walking outside after President Obama had made the official announcement as if on instinct... and seeing that others on my street and the neighboring streets had done the same. I can only assume that it was a mutually symbolic urge for the lot of us - the best way to physically express the feeling of "emerging" from the era of having that bastard as our omnipresent boogeyman. Before long people had moved to line the main street, and every car that passed rolled down it's window to wave or make celebratory fist-pumps.

I don't really know what else to say beyond that.

41 comments:

Gareth Wilson said...

I live in New Zealand, so I first heard about 9/11 hours after the fact, waking up to the radio news. On that day in May, I was sitting in a computer lab at the university, surrounded by dozens of people, reading your blog and being amazed that you'd post such a stupid joke. Wouldn't I have found out about Bin Laden from somewhere other than Moviebob? So I checked a few other websites and found out you weren't joking.

Nima55 said...

I was In grade two and I'm canadian so all I really remember about 9/11 was that the teachers in my school were all watching tv and were worried about something.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little older than you, Bob, and what I remember, other than the sheer horror of the event itself, and the panicking college kids driving to NY all around me, was the pervasive thought I kept having that this meant that Republicans we're going to kill a whole bunch of people and blow a whole bunch of money on useless bullcrap by exploiting America's rage, prejudice, and xenophobia. And then they did. 9/11 was a tragedy for this country in more ways than one.

biomechanical923 said...

I was in 10th grade in high school.
I remember that I and my friends (a particularly moody band of social outcasts) got together and secretly wished that the world was actually ending, that the rest of the world had collectively decided they were as sick of America's shit as we were, and that it was the spark of WW3.

Cyrus said...

Bob mentioned how Bin Laden's bio reads like something out of script. The WTC footage still seems similarly surreal to me. Part of my brain keeps expecting a caped figure to swoop in and catch that plane ... and I do hope that they never make a movie along those lines.

SpootCaz said...

My 9/11 story is... Oddly kind of humourous. I was in 8th grade at the time and I was just sitting down to eat on my lunch period. Now sometimes, when someone had gotten in trouble, we would have a moniter quietly pull a kid out of the lunch room to go to the principal's office. Instead of that, the principal himself was suddenly rolling a podium into the cafeteria. He stood at it and said over the mic to the whole room: "Will the following students please report to the principal's office... (My name)... thank you..." he then stepped down and wheeled the podium back out into the hall at what seemed like a comically high speed as literally everybody in our little cafeteria turned and stared at me in unison. "What could I have possibly done to warrant THAT?!" I wondered. As I did my walk of shame out of the cafeteria and into the entrance hall of the school what seemed like a hundred clearly worried parents came into view. My mother ran up to me in hysterics yelling "COME ON WE HAVE TO GO THEY'RE BLOWING UP EVERYTHING!" We spent the rest of the day watching the news and pooping ourselves whenever a plane flew overhead, which was often, as I live just 30 minutes outside of NYC. What a weird fucking day.

Hasse said...

I was pretty young when it happened and I didn't really get the ramifications of the event. Somehow I didn't really get it until I listened to the Howard Stern footage on youtube(here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=errdmmL4vvs ).

David (The Pants) said...

I was in third grade and came down the stairs in the morning to see my parents and sister watching TV. Didn't quite know what was going on, then my Dad said "that was a direct attack!" or something, when the second plane hit. So it wasn't an accident. I knew something was wrong, and in school we just sorta moped and talked all day, or something.

I recently listened to Howard Stern's full broadcast and I felt what many people felt, because it seemed so real. I felt what I didn't then. I'll admit I felt like even if I were 20 years old at the time I would've been okay with massive counterattack. You just feel that way. Glad we didn't go too crazy, but we had a shitty sobering up.

garwulf said...

I was a bi-weekly columnist for Diabloii.net at the time, and as the events unfolded, I processed them the only way I could - I wrote.

So, as a result, my feelings and experiences are preserved in time. My installment was written and published as events were still unfolding, before the actual body count was confirmed. I reprinted the installment on my livejournal for the 10th anniversary commemoration, and it seems worthwhile to link to it here:

http://garwulf.livejournal.com/76412.html

Unknown said...

How come everyone knows of the jewish holocaust but not the armenian genocide?

Anonymous said...

@unknown: The sad truth? Because Germany lost the war. Yes, the ottomans were at the losing side of world war I, however they were an afterthought the entire time. They were Germany's lackey, to the powers that be irrelevant once the war was over. No surprise that their transgressions were ignored by the world. Very very sad, but not surprising.

The things that are considered important and that are taught are those that are deemed important at the time to a countries government. The Ottoman Empire and Armenia? Not important after world war I. Turkey now? Very important western ally, no way we are talking bad about them now. This is the sad truth

Angry Man said...

I heard about it on Howard Stern too while getting ready/on the way to highschool. When I got there, there were a lot of girls crying, and I guess sort of the stuff you described. After about an hour or so, they told us classes were all cancelled.
Two friends and I got together. We weren't really sure what to do. None of us were particularly emotionally devastated by the news. One of my friends was Pakistani, the other also dark-skinned. Luckily the surge of racist xenophobia hadn't set in yet. Eventually we decided to go get something to eat at the nearby Subway, which was also run by people from "over there." Everyone was united in dumbstruck silence, staring at the news reports. It was almost nice how serene everything was. It's insane to think that maybe just a week later that same meandering day would have been completely different once the bigots came out of the woodwork.

Angry Man said...

@Hasse, thanks for the link! I'm listening now. Not sure why I want to hear it again... some kind of warped nostalgia perhaps.

Eze said...

I was reporting to work at the age of 19 in college, when I heard something had happened. I went online to see what happened and I was shocked. What followed was a surreal haze at school of not knowing what to do next. As we finally progressed just a bit, I still wasn't sure what was going to happen next. I remember coming home to see my mom frantic and getting frustrated watching it all, and even crying. She worked around that area and she miraculously survived it.

It's still tough looking back. Best we can do is remember, be mindful, be watchful, and hope for the future.

Jacob Beck said...

I was 8. I was too young to remember or even understand the immensity of the tragedy. I spent the latter half of my childhood in a post-9/11 world, where we were always at war, where the image of the flaming towers was shoved into our faces so much I could practically close my eyes and still see the silhouette in my retinas. I never even knew about United 93 or the Pentagon hit until years after the fact.

I've never had the emotional connection to the tragedy like many others do, and I most likely still won't. I just see the tragedy as something that will always be there, because it always has. Now that I think about it, it might be one of the few things from my childhood that will be truly constant. How depressing it that?

Anonymous said...

Bob, the "you" of today still supports the wars in the Middle East, and the policies that violate our civil liberties, now that it's a democrat who's in charge.

Joe said...

I was in grad school, here in Ontario. It was my second day of training for a co-op job at the campus library. While my supervisor was showing the other student and I the reference collection, one of the clerks came up and said the internet was really slow because there was an attack at the World Trade Centre. I thought, "another attempted bombing like 1993?" It was a couple of hours until I saw what actually happened. All the TVs on campus were tuned to CNN, and large crowds of people would stand in the Student Centre watching the news come in.

I remember walking home very scared that night. Partly because, even though I grew up in the tail end of the Cold War, the USSR always seemed like an abstract threat. This was real. If New York could be attacked so brazenly, no place was safe. But mostly because, I feared a world where an angry superpower of parochialists woke up and vowed unending vengeance. For a few months, my fears seemed silly, until they weren't.

Wes said...

I was in forth grade, I remember everyone was getting ready to leave to go to another class when the teacher came back in and turned on the TV. I remember the faces of the other kids in my class as we looked at each other unsure. I think someone might have been crying. I remember everyone was dismissed early and coming home to watch it on our 18inch screen in the living room. I remember hearing my parents calling relatives to see where everyone was and that they were okay. It was either that bus ride home or the one the next morning I remember one of my friends excitedly proclaiming, "World War Three Baby!"

Andrew said...

To me, the September 11th attacks are only truly significant because of the massive out-of-proportion reaction to it, and how the ensuing largely-manufactured panic was exploited by the state.

As a teen, I grew up reading lurid details of starvation and civil war in Haiti, mass murders in Cambodia, and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and Rwanda. And while I had gotten the impression that the rest of the country was aware of these things (slightly), I had also gotten the very clear impression that they didn't care one whit, since it was foreigners doing the dying and foreign survivors having to deal with the aftermath.

But 3000 Americans?! Hey, those people are actually important! That could have been ME in New York, even though I've said I hate that place and would never go there. Fuck this, we gotta nuke these fucking fuckers! And dig us a new bomb shelter, and horde more guns and shit. This is a real war. The world has completely changed, forever.

Actually more frustrating, there was the reaction of people who seemed to have no concept of what war or violence actually is or how long it has been around. I remember the media always finding teary-eyed people hundreds of miles from New York, with no connection to New York, babbling and blubbering and saying things like "I just never thought something this terrible could possibly happen. When did the world get so bad?"

Rwanda - 500,000-1,000,000 dead, for being of a certain ethnic group

Bosnia - 100,000 dead and centuries of communities destroyed and displaced over ethnic and religious rivalries

Cambodia - 2,000,000 dead, for either being of a certain ethnic group, having glasses, being "educated", or any other stupid reason a murderous regime could think of

New York - 3,000 dead. Most terrible thing that has ever happened anywhere or ever will.

Hell, 10,000 people were killed by Katrina, and that didn't draw anywhere near as huge a reaction, even though government (local and federal) ineptitude was partly to blame and the vulnerable poor did most of the dying.

But no. Everything changed on 9-11. Suddenly, war and suffered existed, because we realized that - yes, Virginia - it can happen here too. This isn't Eden, we aren't gods, and we don't deserve peace and security any more than those dirty foreigners do. It's nice that you've finally woken up to that fact, though it's sad that it took something like this to shake you out of your stupor.

garwulf said...

So, Andrew, did you get professional training to be this much of a wet blanket, or did you come by it naturally?

Your comment reminds me of when I was an undergraduate student, and I had to deal with engineers putting down everybody else's workloads because theirs was huge. I eventually wanted to just shake them and say "Yes, we know you have a big workload, but shut up about it already - you're not the only ones who have to work here."

Yes, the world can seriously suck at times. Yes, there was a three-way genocide in Bosnia. Yes, Rwanda was a wholly preventable genocide that costs hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives. But you know what?

We were still attacked on September 11, 2001. The entire international community was attacked on that day when the World Trade Center was destroyed. Thousands of people still died. It may not have been Rwanda or Bosnia or Darfur, but it still happened.

So kindly take your arrogant cynicism and shove it where the sun doesn't shine, where it belongs.

Anonymous said...

When I woke up and turned on the tv that day, it was the first image to pop up. My very first impression when I saw the smoking tower was that this was a movie trailer. Switched the channel and a different shot of the same scene. Took a couple of a seconds before I realized it was a real and even then, the towers hadn't fallen and the act was not yet confirmed as deliberate, so I didn't really care and went to work. When I came back, I'd found out about the Pentagon and the failed attempt on the White House. That's when I got really fucking scared. That's war no matter which way the wind blows and I was right in the smack dab center of the drafting age...

Hasse said...

@Angry Man: You're welcome.

I've listened to it a couple of times and every time it has left me with a feeling of vulnerability and respect for the US citizens. Being from Denmark, the media coverage on 911 was intense but still some what something that was happening "in a faraway place". Having a personal connection to the people at the Howard Stern Show as a listener, makes it sort of a close to home and personal experience listening to it now several years later.

Alivia said...

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Steven said...

I'm from the UK and I heard about it at work, I had just finished some work outside and was going to see what else needed doing when I saw everyone around a radio. So I went to see what had happened and was told about the terrorist attack in the US when we heard one of my co-workers crying while clutching the stump of his arm repeating "thnak god" over and over before saying that maybe now those bastards in the US will stop supporting the IRA. His arm was lost after being hit by bullets from an M60 machine gun which also killed two of his friends while they were serving in the British Army in Northern Ireland. The M60 was captured with the gunmen and was identified as one that "went missing" from a US base and ended up as so much equipment did in the hands of the IRA.

Andrew said...

@garwulf

The only issue this wet blanket has is how this one attack is held to be so much worse than far more costly ones before and since. This was not an attack upon the international community, I don't buy that Al Qaeda excuse. The WTC was a visible AMERICAN target (as was the Pentagon and White House), its role in international finance is incidental. Why not attack the NYSE as well, or go after London, which is an even bigger symbol of international commerce than New York ever was?

My position isn't that people shouldn't care about the lives lost, it's that the people who were shocked by what happened on that day (and weren't in New York or Washington, or were children at the time) really SHOULDN'T HAVE BEEN.

To borrow your engineer example, it would be the difference between responding to their griping by acknowledging that they may have things worse than you and trying to help them out if it doesn't trouble you too much vs. telling them that their problems are meaningless and beneath you, and that they should instead feel outraged and victimized that YOU are being given any work at all, because you deserve better.

You don't have to devote your life to charity or cry yourself to sleep every night knowing how many people out there are suffering, but if you can't put the death toll of 9-11 into perspective, you needed to get out from whatever bubble you were living in. The months-long NATIONwide panic was ridiculous, the way the media and government stoked the flames of xenophobia, jingoism, and (for lack of a better word) armageddonism was sickening, and the depth of ignorance that people displayed about how they thought bad stuff could NEVER EVER happen here (read: we deserve better than that, because we're us) was deeply saddening.

I don't blame you for getting mad at me for saying these things. I've felt this way for 11 years, and I've gotten yelled at and dressed down plenty for stating this opinion. It seems that most people I've talked to still think that this attack should be more meaningful to everyone because it's the only one they personally feel any attachment to. I know very few people that even knew someone near the attacks, but the visceral, emotional attachment they have to something that happened 1000 miles away (and the "who gives a shit" attitude they hold to tragedies 5000 miles away) is genuinely baffling to me. And really frustrating given how widespread this attitude seems to be.

I am not attempting to diminish the tragedy of anyone who died or lost a loved one that day. But the reaction to the attacks, I think, was far more damaging than the attacks themselves (and I think this insularity and innate belief in exceptionalism is a huge part of that problem). They pitched the country into a stupid, expensive war, helped to ruin the economy, lent further local sympathy to the troglodytes that launched the attacks, and revealed just how mind-blowingly ignorant and blindingly self-obsessed our society is.

American exceptionalism is a bad thing. Our lives are no more valuable and our desires no more worthy, but half a generation after that day, America is probably more insular and self-righteous than we were back then. These attacks should have been a call to compassion, to international camaraderie (going both ways), to help people understand that tragedies like this happen every week to someone, somewhere, and that these people deserve all the sympathy and help that you would want were you in their place. Instead, 3000 American are canonized as martyrs to "freedom", and millions of foreigners are irrelevant.

Daniel R said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel R said...

I was six years old. I still remember some of it. I remember my parents being incredibly flustered and worried.

My birthday's actually September 12th, so I remember walking into my parents room with a huge smile on my face only to see them aghast and staring at their TV.

I didn't understand why, but I could tell something was wrong. I remember trying to snap my dad out of it, he just brushed me aside grimly saying "now isn't the time"

I still feel guilty for not comprehending why I needed to just shut up and leave everyone else alone.

I still remember the rumors the next day. I'd say those affected me a bit more then the attacks, it was a huge part of how I viewed the US and my country of México for the next few years. I heard a rumor saying another suicide bomber was planned to hit Mexico City. I heard another saying the US would go all out military-wise and take over México. Stupid stuff, but what else can 7 year olds gleam from such a catastrophe?

Prior to this I saw the US as sort of our country's older, richer, stronger brother. That was the first time I looked at the US and saw hostility. I was pretty scared, at one point I basically said "well, we're done aren't we? I mean, we either get attacked by the bad guys and the US does nothing to stop them, or we get attacked by the US and they destroy us."
...just try to imagine that in a seven year old's vocabulary.

The point is, that was the first time I was aware my country's weakness.

Absolutely beautiful post Bob, brave of you to post something like this.

garwulf said...

Andrew:

You claim that you're not trying to diminish the tragedy of anybody who lost a loved one that day. But the problem is that your post did precisely that. This was a conversation about our experiences and how we felt on that terrible day when the violent part of the Salafi Jihad finally came to our doorstep. You came in with a post that declared the entire thing an overreaction, told us that we were wrong for feeling the way we felt, and for all intents and purposes pissed on us for reminiscing. Not a single person in this discussion has suggested that any of the other lives lost in the world are meaningless, despite the brush you just tried to paint us with.

Now, if you want to get into a pissing match over this regarding perspective and the like, I have a few things to point out:

1. I spent at least an hour on 9/11 desperately calling my editor at Pocket Books to make sure he was still alive (happily, he was). A lot of people went through similar things.

2. I've done national security research for the Canadian government, so I know a few things about 9/11, the situation that bore it, and the situation that followed. One of the after-effects of that attack was that the majority of the operational strength of Al-Qaeda was destroyed at the battle of Tora Bora in December 2001, stripping it of any ability to pull off a major operation of the scale of 9/11. This was an international terrorist organization - they DID go after London on July 7, 2005. They bombed Madrid on March 11, 2004. Imagine for a moment if they had been able to do it on the scale of 9/11 instead of a few suicide bombers on some trains. Regardless of the debacles in Afghanistan and Iraq that followed, thousands of lives around the world were saved from terrorist attacks by the fact that the United States went to war.

3. If you want to talk about using numbers to put things into perspective, try this one on for size: I'm a Russian Jew. I've got relatives with numbers tattooed on their arms. 6 MILLION of us died in those death camps during World War II - you have to be a Ukrainian under Stalin to beat that body count. And I still say that 9/11 was a shocking attack - because it was. The Salafi Jihad was brought onto North American shores, which up to that point had been a safe harbour.

Now, if you want to point out that the world sucks in general, that's fine. If you want to point out that 3,000 lives on North American soil carried greater shock to Americans and Canadians than 10,000 in Haiti, that's legitimate (although why you might be surprised at that has me at a loss - an attack on our soil will mean more to us than a disaster on somebody else's, and that goes for just about everybody). If you want to discuss the debacles the American foreign policy response to 9/11 caused, particularly in Iraq where hundreds of thousands of people died, go right ahead - it's worth discussing. But all of this can be done WITHOUT pissing on those here who were shocked by the 3,000 who died in New York 11 years ago.

People aren't getting upset at you because you're pointing out facts to them - they're getting upset at your because you're being a pretentious asshole about it.

Laserkid said...

@Andrew - the reason people were so shocked isn't because they felt superior to others in so much as many people truly believed that this was a safer place to live than the rest of the world and that this stuff doesnt happen here because, well, that sort of stuff typically DOESN'T happen here. You really don't need more of an explanation than shock happens when a change of the norm happens.

And it wasnt just americans - people around the world were shocked that an attack was made on american civillians by an outside force.

Simply put, it was a first (and so far last) attack like that on that scale in American history. Of course it was shocking and people had a right to be shocked about it. Sure, bad things happen all over the world thats way worse and those deserve remembering too.

That said looking for shocked people to be self centered is really the wrong way to go about it. You know what else happens in many places in the world (and even in america)? Brutal blizzards.

If a snowstorm hit hawaii, I bet you hawaiians would be shocked. Not because they think they're better than where blizzards happen, but that just doesnt normally happen there.

Andrew said...

@garwulf

I'm sorry that you feel I was painting everyone here with a broad brush regarding their initial reactions (or their current ones). I thought I was making it clear I was either A) talking about people I encountered (much as the comments here have mostly been about personal experiences, etc.) or B) talking about my impression of the reaction and aftermath on a national level (i.e. the panic and what the government and media did with that). I am not attempting to insult people here for feeling differently than myself, though I realize that I did that, at least as regards you. Since that's not what I was setting out to do, I apologize if I upset you with my...brusqueness. It's a sore matter that I'm expressing, and I see that, as it's a sore matter for others, I should have put more effort into being more diplomatic (when stream-of-consciousness is more my typical style for online discourse).

HOWEVER, I do feel very strongly that 9-11 is still (I think, unreasonably) overemphasized as an event, and that it should not have been such a shock to the population at large given all the other kinds of attacks and other ghastly things that occurred in the years prior.

I do not mean to belittle you, but I do still think that it was naive for anyone to think a major attack could or would not have happened here, as if we are either totally safe (which I think is a silly belief) or because we're somehow above that (which I think is a troublingly common belief), part of the exceptionalism thing that I think we as a country need to get over ASAP.

For my part, I wasn't at all surprised that something like this happened. I was thinking, after the '93 WTC bombing attempt, Oklahoma City, the Cole, Dar es Salaam, and just generally everything that happens in Israel, that it was just a matter of time before someone succeeded at striking inside the coutnry. And while I don't expect everyone to be on the same page as me there, I have long been stunned (and to be candid, disappointed) at how many people I have either encountered or heard through the media expressing utter shock that it was even possible. Of course it's possible. We're a big target, a world power with a very controversial foreign policy, and we're too big to attack directly a la Pearl Harbor, so how would you think it would go down? Like it does in other parts of the world, maybe? You think because we're big, that we're untouchable? Really? That seemed to be the general sentiment eleven years ago.

As for your numbered points (I'll rush through this, as I don't think there's much common ground here):

1) I think I at least implied that I had no personal connection to the attacks, but I did take care to note that I don't have an issue with how those personally close to it reacted, only how I feel those NOT close to it (i.e. the country at large) OVERreacted.

2) I am not so quick to brush off the many, long-term costs of the Iraq War and/or declare that it's all worth it. The rest is hypothetical.

3) While I understand the particular sensitivity regarding the Holocaust (I deliberately avoided bringing that up before), since it's here, I will take this time to point out that American insularity and "who cares what happens 5000 miles away?" sentiment also has a very clear analogue here. Human rights and democracy didn't finally come under attack on December 7, 1941, but that was what it took to finally wake the US up and get involved after years of ignoring far worse wars and massacres elsewhere. My position is like that of those who were screaming for the US public to pay attention sooner, and not to simply think "the rest of the world can burn, but it'll never affect us over here, never. Oh my God it did. How is a such a thing possible? When did the world get so bad?"

Andrew said...

@garwulf

I'm sorry that you feel I was painting everyone here with a broad brush regarding their initial reactions (or their current ones). I thought I was making it clear I was either A) talking about people I encountered (much as the comments here have mostly been about personal experiences, etc.) or B) talking about my impression of the reaction and aftermath on a national level (i.e. the panic and what the government and media did with that). I am not attempting to insult people here for feeling differently than myself, though I realize that I did that, at least as regards you. Since that's not what I was setting out to do, I apologize if I upset you with my...brusqueness. It's a sore matter that I'm expressing, and I see that, as it's a sore matter for others, I should have put more effort into being more diplomatic (when stream-of-consciousness is more my typical style for online discourse).

HOWEVER, I do feel very strongly that 9-11 is still (I think, unreasonably) overemphasized as an event, and that it should not have been such a shock to the population at large given all the other kinds of attacks and other ghastly things that occurred in the years prior.

I do not mean to belittle you, but I do still think that it was naive for anyone to think a major attack could or would not have happened here, as if we are either totally safe (which I think is a silly belief) or because we're somehow above that (which I think is a troublingly common belief), part of the exceptionalism thing that I think we as a country need to get over ASAP.

For my part, I wasn't at all surprised that something like this happened. I was thinking, after the '93 WTC bombing attempt, Oklahoma City, the Cole, Dar es Salaam, and just generally everything that happens in Israel, that it was just a matter of time before someone succeeded at striking inside the coutnry. And while I don't expect everyone to be on the same page as me there, I have long been stunned (and to be candid, disappointed) at how many people I have either encountered or heard through the media expressing utter shock that it was even possible. Of course it's possible. We're a big target, a world power with a very controversial foreign policy, and we're too big to attack directly a la Pearl Harbor, so how would you think it would go down? Like it does in other parts of the world, maybe? You think because we're big, that we're untouchable? Really? That seemed to be the general sentiment eleven years ago.

As for your numbered points (I'll rush through this, as I don't think there's much common ground here):

1) I think I at least implied that I had no personal connection to the attacks, but I did take care to note that I don't have an issue with how those personally close to it reacted, only how I feel those NOT close to it (i.e. the country at large) OVERreacted.

2) I am not so quick to brush off the many, long-term costs of the Iraq War and/or declare that it's all worth it. The rest is hypothetical.

3) While I understand the particular sensitivity regarding the Holocaust (I deliberately avoided bringing that up before), since it's here, I will take this time to point out that American insularity and "who cares what happens 5000 miles away?" sentiment also has a very clear analogue here. Human rights and democracy didn't finally come under attack on December 7, 1941, but that was what it took to finally wake the US up and get involved after years of ignoring far worse wars and massacres elsewhere. My position is like that of those who were screaming for the US public to pay attention sooner, and not to simply think "the rest of the world can burn, but it'll never affect us over here, never. Oh my God it did. How is a such a thing possible? When did the world get so bad?"

garwulf said...

Andrew: Apology accepted, of course. I think you really needed to say what you said in your final paragraph of your last post in your original post.

As far as your response to my own points go, I would reply with:

1. I think you underestimate the shock factor of a major attack on your own soil. In 2001 the United States was the most powerful country in the world, on a continent that had not seen a major attack on its soil of any sort since Pearl Harbor. That anybody managed to pull such a thing off in the first place was a major shock at the time.

2. The Iraq War was a debacle, and I said as much. It was a perfect example of how not to do a reconstruction and nation-rebuilding. However, the effect of the initial American involvement on Al-Qaeda was something measurable. A number of Al-Qaeda members did come forward and talk about the impact the attack had, and a common theme is that they thought it was the biggest mistake bin Laden ever made. They had a safe harbor before 9/11 - by the end of the year, they had been driven out of it, and lost almost everything. Peter Bergen covers this very well in his book The Longest War. On September 10, 2001, Al-Qaeda was the most dangerous terrorist organization on the planet. By January 1, 2002, they would never be able to do anything even close to 9/11 ever again. One of the things I told a friend on 9/11 was that "somebody has just woken the sleeping giant by shoving a red-hot poker up its ass."

3. I think you really have the history wrong when it comes to a few of these matters. The U.S. population was certainly shocked into wakefulness by both Pearl Harbor and 9/11, but it would be a grave mistake to say that the U.S. government was.

In the case of Pearl Harbor, the United States government had been putting diplomatic pressure on the Japanese Empire for years prior to the Japanese attack - in reaction to Japanese atrocities in China which had enraged the American public. It was an American oil embargo that helped push the Japanese into launching the attack in the first place. In regards to Europe, FDR was providing covert aid to Britain in direct violation of U.S. law since the beginning of the war. The attack on Pearl Harbor didn't shock the United States into getting involved - it freed the United States to become fully involved.

In the case of 9/11, the CIA and military intelligence organs had been screaming at the Bush administration that Al-Qaeda was planning a major attack on U.S. soil, and had the capabilities to pull it off. The big scandal here is that the Bush Administration ignored them, as they felt Saddam Hussein was the bigger threat.

Aside from which, I think you really are downplaying the awareness that the public has of atrocities elsewhere. I don't remember anybody ever saying "When did the world get so bad?" However, plenty of people were asking "Why do they hate us?" Regardless of foreign policy now, I think it is important to remember that arguably the largest supplier of foreign aid in the world prior to 9/11 - and, as far as I know, today - is the United States.

Andrew said...

@garwulf

We're off-topic now, so I'll just explain where I was coming from regarding one of my points, and hopefully we won't dwell on decades-old matters.

I am familiar with the actions of the US government at the time re: Lend-Lease, Destroyers-for-bases, the oil embargo, Purple/Black Chamber. I'm drawing a parallel between the shock and surprise of an attack in 2001 and of 1941, when the public (not the government) felt like it could never happen, and that, no matter how bad things get elsewhere in the world, they could afford to do nothing and expect that trouble would never come to them. FDR did feel he had to run on an isolationist platform as late as November 1940, after the Fall of France and the worst days of the Blitz. I know he was doing everything he could to get involved or help out (to the extent that he probably broke the law doing it), but Congress, and especially the public commitment to neutrality was what was holding him back.

And, of course, I'm aware of "bin Laden determined to attack the US", and of the other warnings given to Rice and Bush. But the public still didn't seem to know who he was at the time.

I don't think I disagree with you regarding the awareness of the public. In fact...it sounds like you're agreeing with me...if not moreso? "Why do they hate us?" The American public may not agree with the reasons for why "they" hate "us", but I would think they'd be aware of what the issues were. But, yeah, too many people didn't.

And you think I'm DOWNplaying public awareness of the Cole and Dar es Salaam? Of Rwanda? Yeah, I was following stuff like that since I was about 14 or so, which would have made me atypical. But you think they knew even less than I think they knew? Yeesh...that's...that's really, really bad, if that's true.

Andrew said...

EDIT: Nevermind, I see what you said there. Scratch the last point.

Anonymous said...

Just to throw some fuel on this fire...9/11, coincidentally, is also the anniversary of the time the CIA helped Pinochet overthrow a Democratically elected leader in Chile, and then the guy went on to slaughter thousands of people. This strategy of sponsoring oppressive dictators also resulted in the existence of Reza Shah, who provoked the Iranian Islamist revolution, and Saddam Hussein, who *we* ended up deposing after we put him in power. The point being that part of the reason people thought the United States was a "safe harbor" was that they assumed that the U.S. was allowed to bully and oppress other people, but that no one would ever react with violence. I want to be clear - Al Quaeda is an organization full of monsters and I hope they all die. But at the same time, I think it was naive of the American public and - yes - the American Government to think that there would never be consequences for using violence to get its way. Timothy McVeigh said it pretty clearly when he was asked why he bombed the Oklahoma City Federal Building: "why do I use violence? Because I'm at war with the US Government, and the US Government uses violence to achieve its objectives."

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garwulf said...

Anon: It is a bit simplistic to say that the U.S. was allowed to be a bully and oppress other people. In fact, if you look at the great powers throughout history, the United States stands as pretty much the only one that wasn't a complete bastard (seriously - check out the British Empire, which was a great place to live if you were white, and a terrible place to live if you were any other colour).

When you look at U.S. foreign policy prior to the fall of Soviet Russia, you have to see it in the context of the Cold War. The Soviet Union wanted to spread communism worldwide, and after the death of Stalin, sought to do this by guiding developing countries into the fold. The United States countered this through providing competing aid and covert means, overthrowing governments when it felt it necessary.

So, you have two great powers interfering in the government and politics of the developing world. If one nation came out in favour of the Soviet Union, regardless of its form of government, it became an enemy of the United States. The United States didn't care who it worked with, so long as they would oppose the Soviets (and the Soviets were the same - in fact, if the Soviets supported a democratic country, it made it easier to draw more developing democracies into the fold and get them on the road towards communism).

Now, all that said, the Soviets did need to be opposed. Back when the NSA files for the Cold War's Operation Verona were declassified, the KGB involvement was shocking. China fell to communism because the KGB had an agent in the U.S. government who ensured that any aid to U.S. friendly forces in China got diverted elsewhere. The Soviet ideology was one of fighting a war of annihilation against capitalism - it was just being waged by proxy in developing nations instead of with nukes.

So, when the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union retired from the field, the long proxy war left the United States with very important links to people that it would not, under any other circumstances, give the time of day. And that's where the unintended consequences and blowback begins...

Zeno said...

@garwulf:

"The Soviet ideology was one of fighting a war of annihilation against capitalism"

That's not the same thing as the actual Soviet agenda, no more than American propaganda was a reflection of the actual American agenda.

Anonymous said...

Garwulf, you have drunk some silly American Nationalist kool-aid.

American foreign policy was somewhat about containing communism, but it was largely about promoting the interests of American Capitalism abroad and about giving money to the Military-Industrial Complex. I can't help but notice that in your defense of the Benevolent Pax Americana you left out Vietnam, a country we left in physical and environmental ruin. Agent Orange, by itself, caused birth defects *in the millions*. And you can argue that what happened in Cambodia wasn't the United States' fault...but it's hard to do that, because the government there collapsed explicitly because of illegal bombings of innocent people by the Nixon administration.

We had military bases on American soil training South American death squads. Those squads didn't kill communists, they killed *families*. I'm not going to be convinced that "total bastard" is an inaccurate description of that behavior.

I also think it's hilarious that you think we're so superior to the British Empire because of the supposedly superior treatment afforded minorities in our country. Have you read our history at all? I mean, yes, the British Empire did nasty things...but it also ended Slavery 30 years ahead of us. And we did exactly *all* of the same horrible things during that same stretch of time in our own sphere of influence.

You're not wrong to say that we were fighting a proxy war against the Soviet Union. But we didn't fight it nobly, and we kept fighting it even after we won - remember that Osama's major complaint, the US Bases in Saudi Arabia, got there as a result of fraudulent reporting of an Iraqi invasion.

For me, the issue isn't even whether we were right or wrong to do some of this stuff (although we were wrong to do most of it, for the record), the issue is whether we get to pretend that behaving that way isn't a virtual guarantee that some people are going to really want to kill Americans.

Nixou said...

"there was a three-way genocide in Bosnia"

That's false: it was a one-way slaughter: Serbs are responsible for 90% of the civilian deaths in Bosnia, given that they were the only ones with a big enough stockpile of weapons.

***

"the largest supplier of foreign aid in the world prior to 9/11 - and, as far as I know, today - is the United States."

No: the US donate something like 0,2% of its GDP, the EU with a bigger GDP, donate around 0,4% of it to foreign aid.

garwulf said...

Anon.: I think you're misunderstanding a large part of what the Cold War was. You're not wrong in the details - it's the bigger picture that you've mischaracterized.

The Cold War was not just a stand-off between the United States and the Soviet Union. It was a war of ideologies between capitalism and communism, and quite literally EVERYTHING was a weapon. Music was a weapon used by both sides. Washing machines were weapons (look up the Kitchen Debates). There's a very good TV series on this called "Love, Hate and Propaganda: The Cold War." And American corporate interests were weapons in a battle against an ideology that was dedicated to eradicating them.

I'm not saying that the Cold War wasn't a war fought mainly with dirty tricks, because it was. And those developing countries weren't idiots - as much as the United States and the Soviets used them as pawns, they played the United States and the Soviets like pipes. Promise to fight the communists, and you've got American training for your death squads. Promise to fight the Americans, and you've got all the Soviet training and weapons you can handle for your revolutionaries. And it is all a recipe for blowback.

As far as the United States being better behaved than other superpowers in history, yes, they are. The United States has only really been a superpower since the end of World War II (long after slavery was abolished), but it does rebuild a society after conquering the country. It doesn't discriminate in foreign policy because of brown skin (Iraq, by the way, is a case of incompetence, not malice). If you were an Indian or an African in the British Empire, you were a second class citizen in a way that the United States has not seen in living memory. There's a reason "colonialism" is such a dirty word today.

Nixou: Good catch on the foreign aid figures, but everything I've read and heard about Bosnia says that all three parties were engaging in ethnic cleansing. The Serbs may have done more of it, but there are cases of Bosnians and Muslims doing it too.

And, finally, I misspelled Operation Venona. Sorry about that to anybody who was trying to look it up - mea culpa.