Just Another Day
It is that time of year again when flags fly at half staff and faces are lowered. When wreaths are tossed on the barren ground and the passing of a plane overhead meets with ominous dread. September is the cruelest month, the end of summer, when light fades and darkness comes early, shadows creeping through the concrete canyons with the cold eastern wind.
Once again we remember the dead. Those who have died that terrible day, bodies falling through the air, choking on smoke and fumes in offices, or killed in an instant when metal met metal and became flame… and those who are still dying today on battlefields a thousand miles apart and in hospitals of undiagnosed health problems.
On line at a department store, the cashier promises delivery by the next day. “What day is that,” the man asks. “September 11th, a day no one can forget, ” the cashier replies. “Of course not,” the man says, “it’s my father’s birthday.”
A day. Memorial Day, once Decoration Day. Armistice Day now Veteran’s Day. Labor Day. Martin Luther King Day, Father’s Day and Mother’s Day and President’s Day. So many days in which we remember, and so many more days in which we forget. September 11th is swiftly becoming another “Day”. A day of lip service for politicians and brief mourning. Just another day.
“Where were you when the attacks happened,” some ask, the way people asked, “Where we you when JFK was shot.” As if it is so important to capture that moment of dislocation when the world changed around you and when life was certain to never be the same again. But people are resilient and life has a way of snapping back into focus, even if isn’t the life it’s supposed to be. The right question to ask is not, where were you on that day, but where are you now? Where are we now?
The War on Terror has stumbled into a dead end with all the talk being not of how will we win, but how will we withdraw. How fast can we get out of this and make it all go away.
The left already has the answer. Just give it a day. Toss the wreaths and bow your heads if you must on, but move on. Forget what happened and turn it into a day of good feelings. Give blood, pick up trash in the park and volunteer for disadvantaged youth. Pat yourself on the back. You’ve done your part. You deserve it. The dead are dead, the war is lost, and all you can do is try to make the world a better place. Here, have a logo.
But let us walk another way for a moment. Let us loosen our grip on today, forget the glut of reality shows and talking heads, the congealed wisdom of editorial writers, shouting pundits and dueling campaign slogans. Let go of the future for a moment and walk back in time to 2001.
This is the way we’re going. And this is the place. The millennium, both of them are past. The era of the Clinton Administration has passed, but its miasma lingers. Most people still have opinions on Impeachment. Touched by an Angel and Who Wants to be a Millionaire are on the air. Everyone knows that the internet is set to change everything, but they aren’t sure exactly how. Dot Com businesses are hot and geeks are riding around in Porsches. The Musketeer tops the box office. The Chandra Levy case is in the news. Americans are by large comfortable and relaxed. The Cold War is over. There’s nothing left to do but cash in and enjoy life. Build up your CD collection. Buy better furniture. Invest in the right Dot.com. But we are at the corner now. This is where we turn the corner. And around the corner is where the world ends. At least for a little while.
Walk now through streaming curtains of ash, through fragments of charred office memos and human skin, through the snow that came early to September that year, through the rubble in Washington D.C. and the broken aluminum fragments lining the crater in a Pennsylvania field. Pass now along Liberty Street again, turn now past the cafe chairs dusted with ash snow, stopped cars and human chaos. Look up into the sky and watch. Watch it carefully because it is both a beginning and an ending.
What is beginning and what is ending? That is up to you, up to all of us to decide.
Since then, our leaders have made more wrong decisions, than right ones. They were never able to turn that corner and break with the liberal political dogmas that mandate nation building over national defense, that say that the lives of their citizens are worth no more than anyone else’s life, and that protecting America is no excuse for hurting a terrorist’s feelings. The question is whether we will be able to turn that corner before it is too late.
On 9/11 we did not turn the corner. We were forced around it, dragged around it, by the brutal atrocities committed by a small group that is only a finger of the vast dark hand sweeping across the globe. Some of us woke up and rushed toward the rubble and the smoke, some hurried back the other way, away from all the disturbance eager to leave the memory of it behind.
And that is where we are now.
The enemy we have been fighting all this time is only the most brutal, radical and impatient, relentless and daring part of the horde that is breaking across Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and America. This is a clash of civilizations. The thousands dead on 9/11 and the thousands more dead since then, are only a small down payment on the horrors to come.
While we spend fortunes to build nations, the horde is building its own nations in the cities of Europe and in the old manufacturing centers of America, in Gaza and in the south of Thailand. Their nations are not concerned with electricity or democracy. The ballot box is no different to them than a box of bullets, all tools to leverage in order to gain dominance and power. And though most of us may not understand the war or even be aware of the war, the war goes on.
It is not only a war fought with falling towers. It is also a war fought with billboards and acid to the face, with bribes carefully dispensed and with smuggling operations moving cigarettes, slaves and heroin across borders. It is a war fought with Fatwahs and the severed heads of schoolgirls. It is fought with polygamy and pregnancies. With IED’s and soft spoken words about the Religion of Peace. And on every front we are losing the war, for the simple reason that we refuse to fight.
And so America turns away from the falling ash and the horror. From the covered heads, the flames and the grinning killers. There are new movies and shows to watch. New Twitter feuds and culture wars. New distractions and new escapes. We are poorer and weaker, but still trying to escape from History, capital H, by resorting to history, small h. As if a nation can be great and not assailed by foes. As if a nation can be strong and rich without inspiring greed and hate. As if a superpower can stand between two fires, pacifying those who hate it and still having plenty for itself. As if there is any escape from the real world… just waiting around the corner.
Two kinds of peoples lose wars. Those who lack the physical resources to defeat their enemies and those who lack the cultural resources to defeat them. We do not lack the physical resources, but our culture is the culture of the ostrich, a head stuck inside the internet and a body left vulnerable to whoever will have it.
There is one thing and only one thing alone that we can do to survive. Turn the corner. The ostrich is an endangered bird in the Middle East where sticking your head in the sand is no defense against those who would chop it off. Soon it will be an endangered bird everywhere else. There is no escape from those who would kill us, but that we kill them first. The failure to understand that is the failure to survive.
On September 11, 2009, that inescapable choice was put before every single American. Turn the corner before it is too late.
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