Here it is again. That day that keeps coming around every year at the same time; that black, knotted, and splintered spoke in the wheel of a year’s time that keeps coming around year after year to remind of where we’ve been, what we had, and what we’ve lost.
So where have we been?
As a nation wrestled from the mighty grip of an overreaching British Empire, this nation took its first steps on the grounds of freedom and liberty, standing on the knowledge that all men are created equal and must be afforded the same chance at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Forged from the steel of a thousand plowshares and painted with the blood of a million soldiers, this land we now claim as our home has been crowned as the pinnacle of higher minds, fed from the fields of freedom, and surrounded by the seas of openness and brotherhood, so that we, and our future generations, can enjoy a place where we can be free to live as we choose, speak as we think, create as we imagine, and build a life that we can one day look back on with pride and the knowledge that we have taken hold of this world with a strong grip and a determined heart, leaving our hand prints on a better place than we the one we first looked upon.
A day that will live in infamy
H.G. Wells said in 1914 that we were in a war to end all wars, and it quickly became the catchphrase of “The Great War.” Little did they know that The World War would become World War I, as we once again saw the entire earth turn against itself, embroiling people from all corners of the earth into the hot, bubbling cauldron of bloodshed and tears as World War II took hold. This new world war saw the emergence of American military in the aftermath of what was called “A Day of Infamy,” coined by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Now, as we look back, we can rightfully call that day the “Day of Infamy I,” as we see the striking and horrific events of another deadly attack on the homeland of America – what could now be called “A Day of Infamy II,” or as many simply call it, 9/11.
It was on this day, 12 years ago today, when in New York two planes crashed into two buildings, causing three buildings to collapse in a free-fall manner into their own footprint. Thankfully, we know who did it – partially because the intense heat (which was large and devastating enough to incinerate 90 floors of steel below it, causing it to fall like a professionally detonated building) somehow wasn’t enough to do any harm to the paper passport that fell out of the sky, allowing us to identify one of the hijackers.
It’s almost impossible to fully grasp the magnitude of loss that day as the nation lost so many lives, so much potential, and so much of its goodness. While it’s unfortunate that due to a training exercise no jets were scrambled in time to intercept these planes, and that no security cameras we on or available to catch any plane crashing into the Pentagon, we can thank the people aboard flight 93 for their heroic bravery and self-sacrifice to prevent more untold horror, headed toward the face of an untold destination.
Lost: One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all
So here we are, 12 years later. Looking back, how have we changed? What did we learn about ourselves? How have we responded when the chalice of character was handed to us, filled with the heavy mead of challenge – challenge to rise above pettiness, revenge, and division? Let’s take a look:
We went to war with Iraq. Many people at the time thought it was because of al-Qaeda; after all, Bush said there was a relationship. Later, it became clear that the real reason was to get the WMD that were not real. They say that revenge is a dish best served cold. They neglected to say that it’s a dish best not served at all to the wrong party. Did we learn that we’re a vengeful nation that will strike out at anybody when hurt?
Spend, spend, spend! The Times put it succinctly in July 2008: “After 9/11, Mr. Bush had the chance to summon the country to a great nation-building project focused on breaking our addiction to oil. Instead, he told us to go shopping.” Here we are, still addicted to oil, struggling back from an economy brought to its knees by the unscrupulous (and unpunished) acts of the banking industry.
Divided we fall. We are now more divided than ever before. If that was the terrorist’s plan, they got it. If, as some say, that was the government’s plan in allowing 9/11 to happen (or worse), they got it. Whoever’s responsible, here we are again, almost at Civil War II: Right against Left, neither side budging, and burning all who seek to compromise at the stake. We’re scared of Muslims. We’ve created a Department of Homeland Security that encourages neighbors to spy on neighbors. (Red Scare II?) We have a congress deadlocked, dug in, and decidedly against decision.
Speaking of spying… More warrantless wiretapping and personal information gathering than ever before is taking place. On Oct. 26th, 2001, the Patriot Act was signed into law with hardly a glance by our elected representatives at the intrusiveness and unconstitutionality of the bill. We are living with less security and freedom than ever in the history of our nation. We’ve seen police pepper-spraying the faces of women and children sitting down in protest, stopping just short of declaring a police state. Even right here in Tampa, Mike Peros (Founder and Chief Technician at Bugged.com) found the largest case ever of illegal wiretapping in US History, uncovering over 65,000 illegal wiretaps set by the Federal and State government. (See here) Buildings are being erected with untold-of storage space to collect every phone call and email we make, along with who knows what else.
We have sacrificed our freedom for the perception of security. Some would correct that to say that our freedoms were taken away without our consent, but every day spent in silence is another day spent in compliance and agreement.
Where do we go from here?
That’s not up to those before us; the best we can do is to learn from them. That’s not up to those who lead us; Citizen’s United (establishing corporate personhood and the ability of corporations to pour unlimited funds into candidate campaigns) sealed the nail on the coffin of representative democracy. It’s not up to our future generations; in fact, we are the only ones they have to count on.
The future is up to us. Our freedoms are ours to take. Our information, our security, who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going is up to One Person – you. One Person – me. One Person – the neighbor who lives next to you. One Person – the one next to you at work. The nation was founded by One Person who picked up his rifle and stood next to One Person who left his farmland to fight next to One Person who had an idea that he told to One Person who helped spread the idea that all of us, all One Persons, have the right, the ability, and the responsibility to stand up for himself, herself, and the children of tomorrow.