9/11 - One Year After

At the time, all we had to compare it to was Pearl Harbor, and we did so.  We said the world had changed.  Over 100,000 American Flags were sold at Wal-Mart before they closed for business that day.  Almost 3,000 people lost their lives in that attack.  The attack wasn't the first attack on the World Trade Center buildings, but it was the first successful major terrorist attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor.

All the networks, pundits and newspapers said that the world had changed.

Has it?

After Pearl Harbor Americans geared up to fight World War II, enlisted in the military in record numbers, sacrificed by rationing, pulled out of history's worst economic depression and saw technological advances at a faster pace than at any time in history.  After the Axis was destroyed, the US and its allies put together a controversial rebuilding plan that brought all three of the countries of the Axis back into the international community in a way that made them among our strongest allies. 

Our record since 9/11 is not as good, and for all the talk that the world has changed, it would seem that we have SAID the world has changed without us changing much of anything.  This is not to say that those whose lives were personally affected by the tragedy haven't had a terrible thing done to them, but if you look at the US objectively, there has not been the huge change that was predicted.  In some ways, the saddest thing about the attacks of 9/11 is how quickly we have gone back to our lives as they once were.

After 9/11, people left flowers at American Embassies, former enemies gave messages of support and it really looked like the war on terrorism might be a war that brought the civilized world together.  The American Embassy in Germany had so many flowers left at its door by the German people that workers were unable to enter.  Less than a year later, the two men running for Germany's highest office are arguing over which one disagrees with US Policy more.  From support for our country and offers to help, we now have our Secretary of State is booed at an international conference by world leaders. 

The world was supposed to change, but the Administration in power still treats the rest of the world as if their opinions are meaningless, and that unilateralism in the only moral choice.  An opportunity to actually change the world has been squandered by rhetoric and arrogance, leaving us to pursue a c0onfused agenda in a world that no longer is behind us as it was one year ago.

We have gotten the Taliban out of power in Afghanistan, but we are steadfastly refusing to take part in the rebuilding of that nation as we did with Germany, Italy and Japan.  We seem to be content with putting the leadership of the Taliban and Al Qaeda on the run and leaving their former home to its own devices.  Even as Al Qaeda operatives attempt to assassinate the new leader of Afghanistan, our military is asking for permission to quit looking for Osama bin Laden, saying that they can't find him, and don't believe that they can.  In our prison camps that we don't call prison camps, we don't have a single leader of the terrorist organization, and the war we were told would consume the Government's every waking moment has been put on the back burner as President Bush begins his chase of the great white whale of Saddam Hussein. 

Where once we heard "Osama Bin Laden, Dead or Alive", now we hear that Bin Laden isn't important anymore and the true heart of terrorism is Iraq...even though Bin Laden and Hussein were very public rivals, and Bush's Father's advisors tell him very publicly not to take the route he is taking.

There was a lot of talk that this would mean that people would turn away from the "hip ironic" shows that spoke to jaded Americans and a return to family dramas.  Trash TV's days were numbered and the media would become gentler and more wholesome.  American Idol was the number one show this summer and Anna Nichole Smith has the number one cable show.  You can either say that this shows that trash TV is still with us, or that the American people have taken irony and cynicism to new heights for their entertainment.

The hints that this was not going to be an event that changed the world were within days of the tragedy itself when Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, powerful leaders of the religious right wing, spoke on TV saying that the reason for the attacks was that God had quit protecting the United States because the US tolerates liberals, feminists, homosexuals and the rest of their list of usual suspects.  Robertson later said that his words were taken out of context, but as someone who watched as he made the statement, the only thing out of context was the fact that he still has a TV "News" show instead of having to look for work at the local cable access station. 

Before the attack, TV news channels were wallowing in their own crapulence, with shark attack stories, endless speculation on Chandra Levy (all of which has shown itself to be baseless other than the fact that she is dead) and endless argument shows that attempt to polarize the viewership.  Conservatives who have a stranglehold on pundit and commentary positions on TV and radio would complain that they weren't given voice in a "liberal" news media, which politicians would exploit these shows as platforms for their limited agendas, rarely looking beyond the next sound bite and the next fundraiser.  President Bush himself was raising money faster than the man he replaced by saying he would not allow the White House to be used like a PBS studio during pledge week.

Watching the news over the summer after 9/11, I defy anyone to see any sort of serious change.  The war in Afghanistan has been declared over by the news media; despite the events showing the country is so unstable that it could quickly become a Bosnia for the 21st Century.  On the news we are back to shark attacks, American Idol and argument shows that offer competing sound bites instead of actual discussion.  Missing Children became the Chandra Levy of this summer, yes, it is a tragedy, but even John Walsh has said that the number of abducted children is drastically down over the past ten years.  The buildup to Iraq has become almost as big as the buildup to a Super Bowl and just as meaningful as the 24 hour news machine looks for another story to put through its grinder, putting aside the renewed statements of purpose from a year ago.  Yes, it's a changed world, and here's Bill with the latest on Martha Stewart.

The endless hucksterism of the media also hasn't changed, unless you want to think about how it has changed for the worse.  Everyone who was remotely connected with 9/11 is treating it like the OJ Trial, with book after book coming out and available at Target on the endcap.  Dan Rather's has a DVD, the New York Times's has a diary of the reporter's trip to Afghanistan, and countless others are hyped in a somber e-mail from Amazon.com telling us the best way to remember the tragedy and sacrifice of those involved is to spend your money on a book. 

Last year, we were told to buy things to help the country.  I know that seems utterly absurd, but the President himself told us to go to Disney World in one of his radio addresses because the economy in Florida needed your patriotism.  Car companies had commercial after commercial showing that America is back, strong and able to stand anything, and to show that we are, here's 0 % financing on a new car. 

At least crooked funeral parlors offer someone who plays soft music and speaks in comforting tones instead of telling you to buy with a flag flying behind him.  And trust me, the idea of fighting terrorists who finance their activities with oil money by buying a SUV shows that despite what the pundits said, Irony is Not Dead.

I wish the world had changed on September 11th.  At the time people gave freely of themselves, donating blood, blankets, food and care to people they didn't know.  The American people wanted to help and turned to their leaders asking how.  People didn't just flock to churches; they toned down the rhetoric that has divided along artificial lines for decades.  We could have used the opportunity to actually DO what President Bush said we should do during one of the debates, to be humble when exercising our might and generous with both our ideal and our bounty.  At that point in time, we showed all that is right with our country.  Our citizens showed courage, kindness, and strength, and none of those things have been harnessed by those who should be leading us to show that that is what America is about, and those things can not be ended by any terrorist attack.

But when we went to our leaders, we were unsatisfied.  Their answers seemed hollow and empty.  To honor the dead, we need to shop?  To engage the world and let them know we appreciate their grieving with us, we ask them to ignore treaties?  To show how we will fight for freedom, we create new international problems that we don't even ask our allies to help us solve, we just dump them in their lap and say "We aren't in the business of nation building"?  The White House buys ads saying that drugs cause terrorism when the only time Afghanistan wasn't exporting drugs was under the Taliban?  We stop the War on Terrorism to go after Saddam Hussein again?

Has the world changed?

Sadly, no.  But it should have.  And it still can.  We can still walk to the line and become the new "Greatest Generation".  Our immediate reaction to 9/11 showed that under the banality of our culture and the rancor our leaders seem to cultivate, we are a decent people.  There is a challenge in front of us, but each day it slips further away.

After WWI, American disengaged from the world, met it on only the terms it wanted to, ignored the crisis in Germany and Italy, and left Europe on its own so that it appeased Germany.  This caused WWII, and the greatest loss of life the world has ever known.

After WWII, American became engaged in the international world and set about rebuilding its enemies, giving them industry, manpower and, yes, money.  No one in Europe spends nights wondering if Germany will rise again.

The choice is in front of us now.

And we don't make it; it's already been made.

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