9/11: Will We Ever Recover?
Today MSNBC presented a real-time re-run of the events of September 11, 2001,as shown on the Today Show, and it was truly helpful to see that day of infamy from the perspective that we have seven years later. Even after all these years have passed, the dramatic impact of what happened that day is moving and horrifying. My eyes teared up as the second plane exploded into the South Tower. I couldn’t erase the horror from my mind of those inside both buildings who were facing certain death.
As we all do, I remember exactly where I was when I first saw this broadcast live. As I emerged from my bedroom into the living room at 8:00 a.m. CST my wife said, “A plane has flown into the World Trade Center.” And there it was on the television, the picture of the North Tower spewing smoke like a torch into the pristine blue skies over New York City. I grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down in front of the television transfixed by the images. Then the explosion emerged from the South Tower. What could it be? Then an eyewitness on the ground reported to the Today Show that she had seen a large airplane fly into the second tower. Soon the producers cued up tape showing the plane, in fact, flying into the building. Astonishing! Breathtaking!
The reality slowly sunk in as the dramatic live shots continued to play on the television. It was only the beginning of a morning full of bad news. The Pentagon in Washington soon took a hit, and then we were terrorized by the sight of the Twin Towers crashing to the ground, one after the other. Just when it seemed the worst was over, we were told Flight 93 crashed into the ground Southeast of Pittsburgh. I, along with my fellow citizens, sat stunned as the day unfolded. Local news interrupted periodically to announce that buildings in downtown Houston were being evacuated and workers sent home. Schools, including the community college where I taught at the time, canceled classes, and from coast to coast we all hunkered down afraid that planes might fall out of the sky onto us. The blow to our psyches was overwhelming.
It’s been seven years now since that infamous attack played out on live television before the nation’s eyes, and seeing it in perspective helps us to understand why we as a citizenry, and the media itself, allowed what transpired next to happen. What I refer to is the power grab orchestrated by the neo-cons that used our fears to compromise the protections guaranteed us by our wonderful and unique constitution. They were deft and strategic in their attack against our liberties. They quickly took away the right of any dissenters to question their actions, wrapping themselves in patriotic hyperbole, branding any who disagreed as traitors and comforters of our enemies. The press quickly fell in line, partly out of shock and partly out of what seemed to be a fear of losing access to the story if they didn’t. The takeover was completed by a same-party knee-jerk Congress that gave the Administration everything they asked for without question. In other words, the only watchdogs we have to guard against an imperial presidency jumped on board and became enablers and propagandists. And we, the American people, in our shock and fear went along with the rape of our beloved Constitution by a small group of powerful warmongers.
In 1989 I had the great privilege to begin my teaching career by going to London, England, to teach English court reporters how to use our steno machines and computers to bring themselves into the modern age. They were still utilizing Pitman Shorthand, a pen-and-ink method. I arrived in early March just weeks after Pan Am Flight 103, on its way from London to New York, was blown out of the skies above Scotland by Libyan terrorists. England was also under constant threat of terrorist acts at the hands of the Irish Republican Army. I was a little nervous as my flight made the transatlantic passage from Dallas to London, and since I’m here all these years later, you can assume that I arrived safely.
What struck me when I settled into my new life in London was the strength and resolve of the English people to not let terrorists of any stripe change their way of life. Without a second thought they continued going to work, continued taking the trains, buses, subways and flying around the world. Being a liberal at heart, I was not much of
a fan of Margaret Thatcher, but I will give the Iron Lady her due as one who escaped an attempt on her life by terrorists and led her people to stand strong, not letting anyone change their way of life. In the ten months I spent there, I never once saw a government official come on television and stir up fear among the populace. Her government took a very different approach. They beefed up security at airports and in the transit systems, but they didn’t panic their citizens to achieve political points against the Labor Party. It was admirable. And it was also admirable to watch the everyday citizens of the UK as they went about their daily lives without obsessing over what terrorists might do next.
In the past seven years I have not seen much to admire in our government’s handling of the terrorist threat that we face. It has been politicized by our current President in order to win re-election four years ago. It has been used by our president to open up torture camps in Guantanamo Bay and secret locations around Eastern Europe and the Middle East, which have become black holes into which thousands of people have fallen with no hope of justice. It has been used by him to plunge us into a war of adventurism in Iraq. And worst of all, it has been used to blackmail the American people into giving up their rights to Habeas Corpus if their government accuses them of being terrorists – rightly or wrongly.
2000 years ago, Octavian Caesar used the rebellion of Marc Antony and Cleopatra to disband the Roman Republic and proclaim himself Emperor. He assured everyone that his move was only temporary, and once the threat of further civil wars had ceased, he would step down and restore the Republic. However, he soon assumed the name Augustus and started a monarchical empire that produced from his family the Emperors Tiberias, Caligula and Nero. The Republic never came back, and the Empire lasted 400 years in the West and another 1000 years in the East.
History doesn’t give us any examples of tyrants returning seized liberties to their people. Our only hope is that both of the men who are seeking the Presidency of the United States are of a different mindset, and will not continue the policies of the current administration. Later today Barack Obama and John McCain are scheduled to stand side-by-side at the site of the Twin Towers and pay their respects. Let us pray that they will each pay the same respect to our Founding Fathers who gave us liberties that they were not getting from a distant king in London by enshrining them in the Declaration of Independence, our Constitution and the Bill of Rights attached thereto.
I pray, also, that they will show their respect for us and our country by having an honest debate about the serious issues that face us as a nation, and ask each of you, no matter which side of the political contest you support, to join me in that prayer. God bless America.