National Excuse Day
or..."If my steak doesn't come to the table in the next five minutes, the terrorists have already won."
I was in Ennis, County Clare, Ireland, on September 11, 2001. We'd been traveling for about a week in a rental car, no radio, no TV, blissfully adrift, living out a dream. Then we pulled up to Newpark House to stop over for a few nights of the legendary traditional music of County Clare. It's a 17th-century manor house, replete with period furniture, manicured grounds and a peacock. Here's a picture:
As we pulled in, the proprietress--an older woman, round, short, and in obvious distress--hustled us in and said "you're Americans? Oh, terrible news, terrible news from America" over and over. She herded us up to our room, snapped on the TV, and the world shattered.
I can't add anything to the volumes written on how this country has changed since then. I have nothing to say about the horror of the attack, the twisting sense of loss, and the sheer down-the-rabbit-hole pointlessness of it all. I felt the anger bitterly on that day and still feel shame that a species capable of painting the Sistine Chapel, constructing the Alhambra, and writing Moby Dick is capable of such wanton acts of mercilessness.
Which brings me to the current wave of remembrances, memorials, and statements of intent by--primarily--our current administration.
When the US invaded Afghanistan, I thought "well, that's where the perpetratros are--yes, it makes sense to go find them." When the country began implementing stricter security measures and adopting special intelligence techniques I thought "well, that's what the rest of the world has been doing for decades to curtail terrorist attacks--the US has never suffered this before so we probably need similar structures." As the government rallied 'round the flag I thought "well, it's not my cup of tea, but perhaps it'll shake us into some sense of our position, vulnerability, and responsibility on the world stage."
What I have seen since 2001 is that we tend to use NineEleven (it's not a date anymore, is it?) as our national excuse to do whatever the hell our hawkish politicians deem necessary to keep the populace in a continual state of fear and acquiescence. I don't care what side of the political fence you're on, there is NO concerted national resistance to this sort of behavior.
1. NineEleven allowed us to move quickly from Afghanistan (where bin Laden still roams free) to Iraq. Iran has been discussed at the "star chamber" level as a target for invasion. Syria is also on the list of targets. To what end? There are, by the government's and military's own estimations, more terrorists now than ever.
2. Improved security has been taken to the NineEleventh degree: secret CIA prisons; torture of prisoners; unfettered, un-monitored, and possibly illegal spying; gargantuan and Machiavellian new government organizations (I always thought the Republicans were for reducing the size of govt) that are so myopically--and ineffectually--focused on one thing that we basically allowed an entire US metropolis to be washed off the map; and the new extreme looming: a wall across Mexico. Funny thing is, I know someone who flies every week and still gets a lighter through security 50% of the time.
3. "Rallying-round-the-flag" has become, for me, Orwellian. Not since the Star-bellied Sneetches have I experienced a more polarized political climate. I'm not old enough to have directly experienced the Freedom Marches of the '50's and '60's but I AM old enough to have experienced Reagan and Bush Classic. What does the dream of USA mean when we have gotten to the point where dissent is deemed traitorous?
4. NineEleven has been used as our Get-Out-of-Multilateral-Action-Free Card. Our foreign policy seems to consist of the phrase "we'll take what we want and we don't care who complains."
The sad fact of the matter is that I still think this is probably the best place to live in the world. So why do I complain and voice these fears? Same reason I practice mandolin every day:
We could be so much better.