Wednesday, February 13, 2008

From the Department of I Told You So - Looking back on 9/11

I wrote this @ 2001-09-19 18:11:00 in a LiveJournal group. Every year or so, I go back and re-read it, at times wondering why I've ever bothered writing anything more, considering all I've achieved in writing them. But then someone has to write them. And I haven't had anything better to do.

This time around I realized that it was at least time to revisit, republish, correct a few omitted words, fix grammatical errors, put it into context - and spell check!

I am uncomfortable with the idea of my words having lasting meaning, and given the topic I was writing on, even more uncomfortable with the idea than I might otherwise be. But I'm starting to face the fact that if these particular words do or do not, some words saying something like them must be uttered for any of the crap we have all been through to make sense, and to honor those who didn't make it all the way through.

Still I cannot escape the idea that I was entirely too correct for my comfort, and all the more so by how uncommon that viewpoint was, outside of those opposed to all violence for any reason.

And yet, I go back to this piece, I see what was clear to me a mere eight days after 9/11 - and I wonder where all the professional, paid pundits, where all the trained journalists, where all those we trust to have better trained and more restrained reactions than the ordinary run of persons were.

I'm gratified that out of so many, I was one of the few to be this correct - until I stop to think about what I was correct about, and how little intelligence, moral courage and will on the part of so very many people at so very many different choke-points could have made me seem utterly hysterical in retrospect. It's not at all difficult to see how those who have a better opinion of their fellow man could have been led astray.

How much I wish I could look back on my work and see how utterly wrong I was, and how depressingly ironic it is that those who have been as wrong as I wish I had been - are better paid the more incorrect they have been.

But then, that seeming irony also explains a great deal. We all trust that those who have the smarts, the insight and the access to know better will actually pass on their insights, instead of saying the complete opposite in return for large packages of unmarked bills.

And, lest that be seen as slander, let me say that it's a far more charitable assumption than the presumption that people such as O'Reilly, Malkin, Coulter and Savage are speaking to us out of sincere conviction.

Since, well, when you make provably untrue statements or unprovable statements with the assertion they are factual, you are either lying, or deluded. Don't much matter which, really; though I happen to think that being a knowing, paid liar might just be a little easier to live with than having been a useful, sincerely deluded tool - all untraceable bearer bonds aside.

I'm not complaining. I could conceivably have chosen to roll that way, and it was damn clear at the time there was no profit at all to be had in being reasonable.

But, well, I'm me, and that's how I am. Every once in a while sheer perversity ends up putting you on the right side, in retrospect. That doesn't mean that it wasn't the result of being naturally perverse. It was, and is a tragedy that any sort of perversity could shake out this way at all - much less to this degree.


The Grand Old Flag and all that.
I'm having an aspy moment. In fact, I've been having an aspy moment ever since the rubble of the World Trade Center stopped tumbling.

I'm tying to figure out how posting flags on every available surface and hanging them from every crossbar, antenna and flagpole is supposed to achieve anything.

It sure appears that everyone is convinced it will, and anywhere will do. Around Reno, someone has figured out that you can print flags out with your computer, and someone slapped one on the apartment's dumpster.

I think that's in very surreal taste.

I'm completely baffled by the consensus that I should be emotionally devastated by the deaths of so many people and the blow to our national prestige.

Well I'm an aspy who's spent a lot of time out of the country. I'm not emotionally affected... and I assure you, rumors of our national prestige have been wildly exaggerated!

That shouldn't be a shocking revelation. If we were universally loved and respected, people wouldn't be diving airliners into our landmark architecture.

You don't see people dive-bombing Canada. Of all the aspects of American Culture that the Taliban and other funnymentalist Islamic splinters revile, Canada is every bit as gleefully guilty. Hell, it's not even illegal for women to go topless in public in Canada, in the aftermath of a Charter of Rights ruling. You can just see Ayatollah eyeballs bleeding at that concept. And in terms of enforcing social conformity and family values on the general population - well, Canada is utterly delinquent, much to the impotent frustration of the DEA.

Yep, the interdiction of that Demon Weed, Marijuana is not exactly a high priority of Canadian police agencies. And that sort of lax response to moral turpitude is something that convinces the self-righteous that God or Allah will rain retribution upon the offending culture.

But for the most part, they are indeed content to leave such things TO Allah.

On the other hand, Canada doesn't routinely fire cruise missiles at people in the fond belief that it's a solution to a complex foreign policy issue.

The peculiar American delusion that one can rain death from a great height and not gain enemies thereby is somewhat baffling to me; it seems an obvious violation of common sense, however justified such "big stick" actions are.

"Justifiable" does not mean that those ducking the shrapnel are going to be suddenly struck by the irrefutable reason of our diplomatic position. If they were, it wouldn't have been necessary to deliver a stiff diplomatic cruise missile.

But whatever I think of American foreign policy, it doesn't follow that diving airplanes into buildings is a reasonable, appropriate or defensible thing to do.

Anybody who thinks I'm attempting to justify such an act is utterly mistaken. I do, however, think it's wise to at least attempt to understand it; the motivations for it and the context it exists in, just for the sake of self-preservation.

But the national psyche seems to support any number of bizarre and inexplicable assumptions.

Today, a man said on national television that those who are not overwhelmed by grief at the untimely end of thousands of unrelated strangers is emotionally disturbed and should seek treatment. And one is tempted to nod until you realize that no one would suggest that the entire nation should be so paralyzed with grief at the passing of an equal number of Chinese in an earthquake. It would be tragic, it would noted, we'd contribute money and dry socks to the rescue efforts - and then we'd get on with our lives.

More directly and relevantly - where were the candlelight vigils for the civilian victims of the aerial assault on Baghdad? Whatever you thought of it, whether you felt it a justifiable and necessary act, no matter how unavoidable those civilian casualties were - still. Why were we not moved? How can we justify being horrified now, if we were not then?

The fact that the US military moved heaven and earth to avoid civilian casualties and managed to do so up to the limits imposed by physics, intelligence and human perversity is beside the point. If every corpse in the World Trade center is worth a bio on CNN, SO WERE THEY.

And while it was not precisely a terrorist act, certainly the idea that we were "sending a message" was an integral part of the exercise.

Personally, I was not moved at all. And after the sheer, overwhelming surprise wore off, I was not moved by this, even though a distant cousin I'd never met perished in one of the planes.

My response seems to be purely intellectual, and from an intellectual viewpoint, I can see the argument for launching cruise missiles at Baghdad - considering the Scuds raining on the whole region and the Iraqi attack on Kuwait.

The fact that our national motivations were not entirely idealistic doesn't bother me. Our government's JOB is to pursue our national advantage. That includes securing an oil supply. If that happens to mesh with our national ideals, O happy day! And it did, very much so, and that's aside from treaty obligations.

But still, I don't see why a dead US citizen should be regretted more emotionally than the deaths of strangers who have the misfortune of living in an a tyranny with opposing agendas. But it's apparently supposed to be, for "normal" people.

So in order to be "normal," I have to place myself in a disordered, irrational mental state that prohibits me from thinking clearly or doing anything useful about the situation.

Well, I'm not normal, and thank God. I'd think that at times like this, we could profit by having more like me manning vital functions while all the normal people make utter inconveniences of themselves.

I don't see how being paralyzed with grief, racked by irrational fear and plunged into depression is going to help anyone, any more than wearing a red, white and blue jockstrap is going to do one single thing to combat world terrorism.

I would like to see a lot less patriotic posturing and a lot more serious thought about what can be done to prevent such things from occurring while at the same time, how to do that without turning ourselves into a repressive police state.

That's real patriotism. It's an expensive habit, real patriotism. Ask any of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. At the end, those that weren't dead were mostly broke.

Real patriotism takes a deal more commitment than printing out a stack of flags, sticking them up randomly and sighing with contentedness at how much of a Real American you are.

It demands an unemotional determination to do what it takes, while maintaining our Republican principles. (Some would say Democratic principles. That's another cultural myth. This has never been a democracy. It's a republic. That's a significantly different thing.)

Irrational patriotic fervor will not help and will likely lead to yet an exponential increase in the number of our live enemies, instead of what we actually want - a smallish smoking hole filled with thoroughly dead ones, communicating the global impression that a policy of terror against us is not just a bad idea - it's an absolutely fatal bad idea.

I refer you to what happened to the terrorists that killed the Israeli Olympic team at the 72 Olympics. The Mossad tracked each of them down and killed every one of them with surgical precision. There have been terrorist acts against Israeli citizens since - but none like that.*

This can only be achieved by a very clear view of the ends and a diamond-hard determination that the means must be both measured, appropriate, and applied with total commitment.

It will take a great deal of time to do this. It's complicated, messy and it will be unavoidably bloody. The world at large is convinced that the United States is willing to do whatever it takes - so long as it doesn't take more than six months, result in any actual casualties, raise their taxes or affect their lifestyle in any way.

So far, I see no evidence this perception is inaccurate to any significant degree.

That is exactly why the terrorists think they can get away with this - they are convinced that the United States simply does not have the attention span to allow any other outcome.

We had best decide to disabuse them, or this will continue. And next time, it might be a building you are in, or even a city.

We also have to face something else - that this particular conflict arises out of an irreconcilable ideological difference. It's not something we can defuse with gifts, bribes, apologies or even the removal of key figures in the terrorist community.

Ultimately, there IS no rational solution to this situation because the fundamental world views of the opposing sites are utterly, starkly and completely incompatible; the two systems cannot co-exist. The means by which western culture will destroy the Islamic Fundamentalist Movement don't involve bombs and guns; they are nonetheless as destructive of that culture as a rain of atomic weapons on us would be.

More so.

And it's a good thing, too, because it's an evil culture that should be eradicated, root and branch.

Those who are aware of the world outside of the Lower 48 have been warning of the increasing threat of religious fundamentalism in general and Islamic fundamentalism in particular.

In ironic illustration of this, Jerry Falwell made a statement that any Ayatollah would agree with.

"RICHMOND, Va., Sept. 18 ? The Rev. Jerry Falwell has apologized for saying God had allowed terrorists to attack America because of the work of civil liberties groups, abortion rights supporters and feminists. Falwell said his comments were ill-timed, insensitive and divisive at a time of national mourning. President Bush had called the minister?s statement inappropriate."

You note that he didn't say he'd changed his mind, he just apologized for bad timing.
While the Ayatollahs and Mullahs may disagree with Jerry about certain abstract theological issues, boy, they sure do agree about the proper fate of faggots and loose women. They certainly agree that religion should have the right to enforce "proper" behavior, even on those who don't share the beliefs that would make sense of those behaviors.
If Jerry had his way - we'd be stoning "harlots" and "apostates" in the street too.

Think on that.

Think on the logical danger of permitting that degree of delusional self-righteousness to take on the form of a government. Realize what sort of threat that is to EVERY person of EVERY belief EVERYWHERE... and then realize what needs doing. It's not something we can afford to tolerate; not a movement that we can allow to spread.

The fundamentalism - stupid and irrational as it is - THAT we must tolerate. It's the idea that it may permissibly be enforced on those who do not share those beliefs is what must be eliminated from the world consciousness.

It's that paradigm that has prevented any widespread outrages against the large Islamic communities in the United States in particular and the West in general. Contrast that against your survival chances as an identifiable Westerner in the general vicinity of whatever happens next, folks.

Maybe you can't do anything personally about middle eastern terrorists - but you can speak against the sort of mindset that exists here that would do the same here and HAS done it, in Oklahoma City, Selma, Alabama and at abortion clinics across the nation. The idea that anyone has the right to enforce a moral standard or ideological belief through terror cannot be tolerated.

It's not an idea that can be combated selectively and conveniently; it's far too fundamental. It has come down to a choice. This is, if you like, Armageddon; The Place of Decision.

So decide.

So the next time you see hate speech, do something. The next time you hear someone advocating violence against others based on their beliefs, sexual orientation or gender, do something.

You think there's any fundamental difference between Operation Rescue, the KKK, Bader-Meinhoff, the Red Brigade or Islamic Jihad? They all believe passionately in their causes; they are all willing to die to further it. Now, that's reasonable. It's even laudable to be willing to die for a belief.

Being willing to kill innocent (or at least, uninvolved) persons in wholesale lots in order to terrify the surviving masses into compliance with an agenda - that's just plain evil.

It must not be allowed EVEN IF YOU AGREE with their goals. No matter HOW urgent, how imperative it is. If your cause is not such that passionate speech and personal example will not serve to sway the majority - it could just be that you are passionately and sincerely wrong.

That's what the marketplace of ideas is for, what freedom of speech and freedom of the press is intended to ensure; that ideas are fully tested before they are implemented as social policy.

We can see what happens in cultures where this doesn't happen. Not only are they generally tyrannies, they are dusty, repressive, broke and BORING tyrannies.

We must also embrace that ideal as a national policy. The US government has, from time to time, thought it appropriate to "support freedom" by supplying "freedom fighters" in their struggles against... well, usually something that will cost us money or prestige.

We have to stop doing that, if for no other reason than an easily-documented history of this short sighted policy biting us on the butt.

The Taliban is just the LATEST example of "heroic freedom fighters" who suddenly became terrorists when they decided we were legitimate targets. Understand that their motivations and means havn't changed in the slightest - just their point of aim.

The Viet Minh, The Chinese Red Army and the Cuban patriots of the Bay of Pigs have all managed to inconvenience us. And that's just from this century. It's taken the South over a century to live down Quantrell.

You would think someone in Langley, VA might have gotten a clue by now, but since that is apparently not the case, you might wish to write your Congresscritter about your concerns - and suggest that more attention to the long term effects of foreign policy is NOT incompatible with their responsibilities for packing the pork in barrels and shipping it home.

In light of the likely costs of "America's New War," I'd say that a little more attention would have been cheap at nearly any price.

But hell, I'm just an aspy. I obviously don't grasp the damage to the social fabric, or the visceral need to go and kill someone, anyone, whether or not they had anything to do with this. Forgive my impatient foot-tapping as you persist in flapping helplessly, achieving nothing at great length. But if I hear one more person say that this outpouring of patriotism has Strengthened Our Great Nation, I may just puke.

I'm not hanging any damn flag, going to any candlelight vigils or indulging in any other pointless exercises that are intended to promote the sort of emotional solidarity I'm mentally incapable of feeling.

But I do see the utility of meaningful gestures.

Click here and donate to the Red Cross.


In retrospect, I see only two failures of assumption - the idea that given the circumstances, evangelical funnymentalism would lose rather than gain support, and the slightly less embarrassing assumption that the Red Cross was a responsible and charitable organization.

I wish I'd had a few more inaccuracies - and that they were inaccuracies in favor of a more charitable view of human nature and the intelligence of the American People.

At this point in my life, I believe I have achieved a level of wizened cynicism that would have appalled PT Barnum, or even Boss Tweed. I apologize to all of you who relied in any way at my earlier, innocent and touching naiveté.

1 comment:

Wampus said...

I read this post when it was first written just after 9-11. It's even more relevant now, I think. It is time for a mazillion voices to rise up and speak against the tyranny that the Good Ol' U S of A inflicts upon the rest of the world, while asking them to buy our crap at ridiculous expense, and to give their goods to us for diddly in return. All the while we flaunt our wealth and our freedoms. The irony of that, is that as we flaunt them, we are also letting them drift away. We've lost our freedoms with the Patriot Act, as well as by allowing a "President" to scoff at Rule of Law with his signing statements. We've lost our wealth to the trickle down theory of economics (piss on me, more like it) and to Haliburton, et al, who get rich from the blood of our own sons and daughters, as well as the blood of those in the middle east who are simply defending their own country, culture, and belief system... as they SHOULD.

sigh

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