I’m not going to write about what I was doing on 9/11. I had a morning like most other Americans, stuck to CNN. Also, for most of it I was naked and had a face half-covered in shaving cream. You’re lucky I don’t have pictures.
I have no interest in distant naval-gazing about Our National Tragedy. A bad thing happened. Lots of people died. That happens a lot. I’m blessed — which is exactly the wrong word, since MOST people are in this group with me — that no one I knew and loved was lost 10 years ago today. Those who aren’t have a different reason to reflect today, but if I had been that unlucky, I doubt I’d want to commemorate the event with network news specials.
What I suspect isn’t being said today, because it’s a complex idea requiring actual self-reflection, is what 9/11 got us. I have yet to see a single bit of discussion about how we as a nation allowed 9/11-based fear to drive us to extremes of reaction and irrationality that continue every single fucking day, with no signs of stopping. And because of this, something ugly happened:
Osama is dead, but he won.
9/11 was an enormous success by any metric I can imagine AQ leadership using. Not because they killed 3,000 Americans, but because they convinced us to change who we are. They drove the US crazy. They got us to start a wholly unnecessary war in Iraq, killing thousands of civilians. Osama baited us into become an nation that openly tortures, that is more than willing to abrogate the rights we say we think are universal with bullshit like PATRIOT and imperial-presidency ideas that people like David Addington whispered into Cheney and Bush’s ears. In a post-9/11 world, the Executive Branch can detain anyone they want, at any point they want, for any reason they want, and without filing charges, just by insisting they’re an “enemy combatant.” We have trials short-circuited by state secrets privilege claims, and absolutely terrifying doctrines of “secret laws” are being cited in US Courts. And having done these things, they are now part of our political and legal landscape until someone takes specific steps to remove them — which is hard to make happen, because who wants to be “soft on crime” or “soft on terra” enough to say that, just maybe, carting innocent people off to be tortured in Syria might not be something we should do. Ever.
THAT is horror all Americans must face. The government can now disappear you, just like in Argentina. People who work for us waterboarded prisoners, and the only ones in who spent any time in jail were people at the bottom of the chain of command who most certainly did not create the policy. We imprisoned hundreds of people at Gitmo and God knows how many other black sites, and tried very hard to establish a legal Catch-22 that prevented any innocent people from escaping that Kafkaesque disaster. This legacy is way scarier than 9/11 to me, and it boils down to this:
We had choices to make about how we’d respond, and in almost every case we made bad ones. And we’re still allowing those choices to stand, and to define who we are. And in so doing, we are shaming the values that we say we stand for — those things enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, and our Bill of Rights.
So yes, anniversaries are good times to reflect. This one would be a good time for us to pull our collective shit together and repudiate the frightened, absurdist choices we made in the immediate wake of 11 September 2001.
But I’m not holding my breath. It’s easy to sell stupid to people. It’s way harder to unsell it.