RANGER AGAINST WAR: September 11, 2001 -- 15 Years On <

Sunday, September 11, 2016

September 11, 2001 -- 15 Years On

 --A Little Firework to 911 
Marian Kamensky (Slovakia)

Once there  was a way to get back homeward,
Once there was a way to get back home
--Golden Slumbers, The Beatles
 All the fakeness just rolls right off them,
maybe because the nonstop sales job of American life
has instilled in them exceptionally high thresholds
for sham, puff, spin, bullshit, and outright lies,
in other words for advertising in all its forms 
--Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (2016)

Mankind survived the last ice age.
We're certainly capable of surviving this one.
All depends on whether or not we're able
 to learn from our mistakes 
--The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
__________________________

This is a call for a momentary cessation in hostilities, whatever your stripe.

It is a reminder of a time, not so long ago, when we were able to cohere.

I live near the top of a little hill. It's not much, but it's what suffices for such here in our state capital. As such, I am privileged to watch the cast of regulars who summit the hill daily.

There are the high school ROTC runners and their barking drill instructors, and the local marathoners. There is the elderly gent with the broken straw hat who travels the route daily atop his John Deere tractor mower.

But yesterday, it was an old woman who stopped my attention as I saw her make her way along her familiar daily route.

She is always to herself, inscrutable, with a seeming self-contained pleasure about her. She often stops and bends to pull weeds to tidy a neighbor's planter, to gather twigs or to set aright a fallen recyclables bin. She is usually silent.

My friend Rhett, lifetime resident and self-proclaimed "dirt-road country boy", diagnoses her unwavering sashay as being the result of some good lovin' when her husband was alive.

This week, she reminded me of the events of 9-11, and this particular woman on that particular day.

That infamous day began when I walked into the office to be confronted by the stricken look of a co-worker, who directed me to go to the staff room and watch the events on the television, what was to become the unceasing loop to which we would be served for weeks to come, the burning towers of NYC's World Trade Center.

In my next class that morning, I shared my supposition that this was an Islamic terrorist act. Most students did not yet know what Islam or terrorism was, a blissful ignorance from which they have since awoken.

As I drove through downtown on my way home that day, I was struck by the silence. No planes, but more than that, the road noise was brought to a hush. It was as though no one dared to crack the uncustomary silence. There were no horns, and no music blared out of windows.

In retrospect, it seems that most windows were closed, even on that pleasant Indian summer day. Perhaps they were listening to the radio. Most faces stared obediently -- stunned? -- straight ahead.

In stores, there was a palpable politesse. What had just happened to us, by whom, and why? But the  questions were not asked aloud.

When I arrived home, the lady on the hill soon passed my window singing a mournful spiritual. She knew what time it was, figuratively -- a knowing that we seem to have lost today.

Her dolorous dirge was a snapshot in time for me, and when I saw her yesterday, in context of the ceaseless strife and chatter during this election season, I thought about her Cassandra-like break in her silence.

15 years later, proportionately few Americans have served in the so-called Wars on Terror. Many of those who have done so have returned with poor or ambivalent views of their actions in the Middle East theatre.

Taking a parachute view of our country, we are still a nation of law, we still have a Supreme Court (though we cannot seem to fill the vacant seat.) We remain a capitalistic democracy, and many people continue to so very well. But some things seemingly remote from the events of 9-11-01 have changed.

We are two months away from a Presidential election, and our papers of note shave till failed to adequately cover the candidate's positions, in lieu of squeezing the humor value, tabloid-style, out of personality gaffes. Everyone wants to be on someone's feed, and one must be absurd or outrageous to get "Liked" in that way.

Recently released studies show middle-aged white males are the one demographic no longer making gains in longevity; in fact, they are losing time. Cheaper adulterated drugs like heroin are resulting in more deaths among users, especially in that demographic.

Most people are now preternaturally connected to their smartphones and other devices, an era-defining development.

It is difficult to imagine a time when life was lived in real color, and not pixels. So, much has changed for the worse in the 15 years the start of the 21st century, and much of it wrought through our our own malfeasance.

When we let the genie out of the Middle East bottle, we ensured that we would have a perpetual problem to hold our interest for the remainder of our lifetimes, at least.

But by putting these people -- who had mostly been quietly living their lives in a pre--modern fashion -- on the world's stage in such a spectacular fashion, the U.S. has unfairly ensured the rest of the world face the fallout from our discretionary wars. As a result, it is they who live in closer proximity to the region of unrest who are suffering the brunt of the problems.

My philosopher-cabdriver friend called that afternoon 15 years ago to say, "Everything has now changed."

I thought that was a bit of an overreaction at the time.


[Note: so enamored are we with the piffle which has characterized the last year of public national life that when I searched on my political cartoon website, I found predominately European cartoonists who had remembered today's significance.

Most U.S. cartoons still featured GOP candidate Trump's blond coiffure in some disdainful manner. Life in 2016, U.S.A. Go, team.]

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4 Comments:

Anonymous David said...

Your comment about the small number of Americans who have actually fought in the war on terror reminds me of something I heard a journalist named Tom Ricks say a few years ago about much the same thing. I imagine military adventurism is easier when it's just something that happens on TV.

To your broader point, thinking about this as a historian makes it positively gloomy. 9/11 was 15 years ago. You imply that it's an important event, and I agree, but to people turning 20 today, it's only slightly more current than the fall of the Berlin Wall. It's as distant to them as the Vietnam War is to me.

None of this is new to either of you, I'm sure, but my observation is that as each year goes by, that's so many fewer people who can even remember that what's going on nowadays is abnormal.

Monday, September 12, 2016 at 10:11:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...

David,
This year on 1 sep there were no articles about the start of ww2 in europe.
I always marvel at history. Both the Russians and Germans invaded and raped Poland BUT one became an ally and one an enemy. Oh yeah, and Poland got screwed big time after the war.
I've a degree in American Studies and history has a way of being bendable.
jim

Tuesday, September 13, 2016 at 9:22:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous David said...

As Orwell would say, we are at war with Eastasia. We have always been at war with Eastasia. We are at peace with Eastasia. We have always been at peace with Eastasia.

I didn't mean that there was some wonderful time way back when, when everybody kept their promises and did right by everyone else and didn't engage in these sorts of political machinations. It was more the cultural aspect I was referring to: I think the social media saturation that we're moving into makes that kind of manipulation easier because average political engagement, while maybe never deep, is going to get shallower and shallower.

One doesn't have to agree with any of the "causes" advanced by electronic petition nowadays to feel a deep sense of sadness and despair at the notion that this is what political protest and engagement has come to, the notion that one can change the world by bleating on Twitter.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016 at 12:43:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...

Yes, David, the Tweet is a rather pallid thing, no?

You're correct that history is not being taught, and it is sobering to consider that today's generation has always lived tethered to the mostly meaningless "feeds" that are the simulacra of real life.

I'm sure you see in the classroom the inability of most students to pull the plug on their lifelines, many covertly looking at the devices between notebook pages or overtly on the laptop screen.

When a break comes, all revert to the downward stare at the little screen, as though anything of importance has transpired in the hour they were forced to listen to a real human. They walk, talk, eat and eliminate with device in-hand.

To me, they look pained and frustrated, and seem happiest when they are confabbing virtually with the virtual world under their thumb.

Cue up the Stones ...

Friday, September 16, 2016 at 1:20:00 AM GMT-5  

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