Yesterday, Minkoff Minx wrote a beautiful and eloquent post that described her personal experience of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. I was so grateful to read what she wrote, because she simply described her own experience and emotions about what happened. She didn’t try to speak for her husband or any of the the other survivors–just herself. She also shared some wonderful resources for getting in touch with how we felt on that day ten years ago, when our country was attacked by foreign terrorists.
On September 11, 2001, nearly 3,000 people lost their lives to terrorist attacks as they were either beginning their days at work at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or traveling on airplanes scheduled to fly from Boston to Los Angeles, Washington D.C. to Los Angeles, and Newark to San Francisco. For the families and friends of those who died, life would never again be the same. Thousands of others, like Minx’s husband, survived, but their lives and those of their families were also forever altered.
Thousands more were either directly impacted by the trauma of witnessing the attacks close up from their homes in New York or Washington, DC. Thousands of first responders were also directly affected by the attacks and their aftermath, including people who traveled to NYC, DC, and PA to help search for survivors or to support first responders.
Those of us who helplessly watched the events as they played out on television were affected too, although few of us probably suffered from post-traumatic stress as a result. But we empathized with those who were directly impacted, and we felt the terrible shock of having our country attacked. I can remember how shocked I was that day. I was on vacation at a Rhode Island beach with my family. It was a gorgeous day and I was out sightseeing with my parents and my sister when we heard the news. My sister had spoken to someone in a museum store and heard that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. We headed back to the beach house as we listened to reports on the radio. My brother and his wife were watching TV at the beach house when we got back.
For the next couple of days we quietly read newspapers or watched TV. My sister’s husband drove out from Indiana to get her because the planes weren’t flying and she was very frightened. I had to go back to Boston to start teaching classes a couple of days later, and I recall that I felt nervous and jumpy while driving alone. Like many others, I was fearful of more attacks. At the time, everything was so confusing, I didn’t know what to expect. I also felt shame that two of the planes used in the attacks flew out of Logan Airport in Boston.
Most of us probably have clear memories of where we were and what we were doing that day and following days. We’re told told Americans pulled together after September 11, 2001, although I don’t really recall feeling that myself. But I have no doubt that millions of people empathized with those who were directly affected. As I mentioned above, many people took action by traveling to the places that were attacked to help in any way they could. Nothing that has happened since can change the basic caring and good will of the American people.
Yet for the past week, I’ve felt anger every time I saw the upcoming anniversary of September 11 being hyped on TV–the endless replaying of the videos of the planes hitting the towers; the preachy fake patriotism of the talking heads; the sudden reappearance of disgraced politicians George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld; the constant talk of “security” and the repetition of the words “the homeland,” which is so reminiscent of the Nazi term “the fatherland.” How could I not be angry after all that our government has done in the past ten years to supposedly avenge the lives lost on 9/11?
First there was the attack on Afghanistan, supposedly to catch Osama bin Laden. But when there was a chance to capture or kill bin Laden, Bush decided not to. Next came the barrage of lies from the Bush administration and from media sources like The New York Times and Washington Post, in order to get us into a second war in Iraq. Those wars have killed far more than 3,000 young American soldiers and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis–and for what? No effort was made to confront Saudi Arabia–where most of the perpetrators and the financial support for the attacks came from. Over the past ten years we have seen the progressive erosion of our Constitutional rights in the name of “security” and “safety.” We have learned that our government captured and imprisoned people–often completely innocent people–without evidence or charges at Guantanamo, at Abu Ghraib, at Bagram, and untold other prisons around the world. We know that many of these people were tortured and killed. Americans voted for Barack Obama in hopes that he would end the pointless wars and stop the rendition and torture. Instead, he has continued the wars and continued to rendition people to foreign prisons where they will be tortured. He has ordered drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen. He has continued the erosion of our Constitution rights and defended the Bush administration at every opportunity. These are the reasons I felt angry at the jingoistic celebrations of the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001.
And what has become of the survivors of the 9/11 attacks? Every effort was made to keep any compensation they received to a minimum. And what of the first responders who were exposed to the toxic environment at Ground Zero in NYC? They have been denied the help they need along with the recognition of what they suffered. The Bush administration resisted any investigation of why the attacks were not prevented, and when they finally allowed a 9/11 commission–largely because of the efforts of four 9/11 widows (The Jersey Girls), they kept the Commission from from going “too far” in holding anyone in the administration accountable.
It was healing for me to read Minkoff Minx’s post, because she spoke of her personal pain and losses and how she was living with the aftereffects. I was able to recall my pure memories of that day, and how I worried about the reactions of my students, how I tried to get discussions going in my classes so we could share our reactions. For a short time as I read yesterday morning’s post, I was able to recall the pure feeling of loss from that day ten years ago before the tragedy was twisted to start wars that would decimate our economy and pass laws that would erode our individual rights and freedoms.
Yesterday morning, Paul Krugman wrote a brief but heartfelt blog post expressing some of the feelings I’ve tried to express with my post today. I’m going to take the liberty of reproducing Krugman’s statement here:
September 11, 2011, 8:41 am
The Years of Shame
Is it just me, or are the 9/11 commemorations oddly subdued?
Actually, I don’t think it’s me, and it’s not really that odd.
What happened after 9/11 — and I think even people on the right know this, whether they admit it or not — was deeply shameful. The atrocity should have been a unifying event, but instead it became a wedge issue. Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror. And then the attack was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons.
A lot of other people behaved badly. How many of our professional pundits — people who should have understood very well what was happening — took the easy way out, turning a blind eye to the corruption and lending their support to the hijacking of the atrocity?
The memory of 9/11 has been irrevocably poisoned; it has become an occasion for shame. And in its heart, the nation knows it.
For this brief blog post expressing his personal sadness over the way government, politicians, and media have twisted private tragedy to accomplish their own unrelated and corrupt ends, Paul Krugman has been attacked by right wingers and Islamophobics all over the internet. He has been called every name in the book for simply speaking his own truth. He has also gotten some support from liberal blogs, and other bloggers have discussed their own misgivings about the changes in our country after 9/11. I want to share a few of those reactions.
Nicole Belle at Crooks & Liars: While Thinking People Grapple With 9/11 Legacy, RWNJs Shoot The Messenger
Cliff Schecter at Al Jazeera English: 9/11 and Its Great Transformations
Kristin Breitweiser: No Place To Go But Up: Howard Schultz’ Upward Spiral 2011
Blue Texan at FDL: Krugman is Right: We Should Be Ashamed of What Happened After 9/11
Dave Weigel at Slate: Get Krugman!
I guess what I’m trying to say in this post is that ten years after September 11 2001, I still have faith in the basic goodness and caring of the American people, but I am even more suspicious of and cynical about the U.S. Government and the U.S. Media than ever before. I do think we need to be eternally vigilant, not about physical danger from foreign terrorists but from the constant psychological manipulations emanating from those who claim to be protecting and informing us.