In That Used to Be Us, Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum claim that we changed on 9/11. A Washington Post editorial claims that we had a giant collective emotional breakdown and just need to get our act back together. I don't see how that could be: we were the same people as 9/10, it is just that on 9/10 we thought we were better people than we turned out to be. If there was an emotional breakdown (and I'm not sure there was because on that one day we were so good), it doesn't account for 10 years of moral aimlessness. We didn't deserve our 9/10 world, though we didn't know it at the time.
On 9/10 America seemed brave, smart and good. Occasionally misguided, but ever re-correcting and definitely not weak-kneed, foolish, and evil. It's been 10 years of our 9/12 world. In case we needed some warning of how different we seem today, we got it when the Moscow News urged solidarity on the 10 year anniversary because:
“Only one thing is clear — there is no way to live calmly,” she said. “So let’s not put on airs. Whether America appeals to you or not, let us commemorate with her the decade of global fear.” (as reported in the NYT)
I don't like Russia feeling solidarity with us because we're all afraid together now. I am certain that was not the side we were promoting when we won the cold war. Remember, we originally paid Osama bin Laudin to be against the Russians because we didn't want to find ourselves having the same ideology. Russia had a gulag, then. We read about it in school and were proud to be Americans. Now we have the gulag. Do teachers still assign that book? Is there something wrong with me for being disgusted, ashamed, and terrified?
I don't want to know where you were on 9/11. If you watched it on TV, like me, and only suffered some shifting discomfort in an office chair or on a living room sofa, to be too interested in your experience is morally gross. Grief is not a made for TV project*, and you don't share grief by telepathically feeling bad. Though I would like to mourn with those who mourn, for the most part I don't know them. I don't want to be part of the prurience that puts them on TV through the eyes of "someone who knew someone who knew someone who..." And if you were actually there, I don't want to care about you any more if that means I have to hate. A Norwegian political analyst said that Europeans used to care about 9/11, but now they have a "lack of enthusiasm, you might say, for the way 9/11 was exploited for political purposes." Exactly, I lack enthusiasm for being told who to hate next and how.
First, we hate our own children. One point one billion dollars spent per victim on security actions that are the subject of late night comedy routines and can easily be argued to have themselves killed more than 10,000 Americans in these last 10 years, and on sordid retaliation. We send soldiers to battle who will come home great and strong people, but who face a country with training program and colleges and jobs and their very future all hacked away at the knees. Two towers fell ten years ago and it was not our fault, but since then so has a city and a bridge and it was. I am disgusted.
Then, we hate our constitution and the values it represents. I don't believe anything I hear about an arrested "terrorist" until there is a conviction. You have to hunt for the retraction. I remember one interview with a "terrorist" who was pulled out of his first class seat because of a hysterical flight attendant, and later found himself listening to his fellow fliers discuss the matter as he waited for his next plane. Kill the terrorist! He didn't dare tell them that it was he, sitting right there, and that he was a business man just as they were, and that the ridiculous issue had been resolved in a matter of hours. I have friends who are on terrorist high alert, miss the retractions, miss the beautiful stories of interfaith cooperation that have come up from around the world, and have become terrible bigots. Otherwise good people who think evil thoughts and do evil things. I know someone who started an FBI incident because she didn't like a woman in an abaya texting near her. We are passing laws restricting religious freedom. People are taking their dogs to piss on mosques. I am ashamed.
We've gone to war with ourselves. Many friends know that after 9/11 I was investigated because I had subscribed to foreign media, a magazine called the Paris MATCH (sort of Us News mashed up with People Magazine). I was confronted by the police in the post office; treason for sure. Of course I've flown, a lot, set off the explosives residue detector, been insulted for wanting to observe a TSA agent paw through my mother's jewelry after her death, had to explain why I carried a roll of tamper-evident tape for my job, had to explain my job. When a congressman visited my employer, I've had to watch a co-worker ask why he wasn't doing more to restrict mosque building. She asked this in front of her boss, her Muslim coworkers, and coworkers like me who sometimes speak French. Researching this post, I clicked on a Muslim chat board, so maybe I should be ready to be investigated again. I am terrified.
People ask, "Why can't we have the unity we had then?" Maybe it was never real to start with, but if it was real it was squandered. After 9/11, I cried when they played the National Anthem at the circus. I wanted to know about that first 9/11 baby born two days later. In what could of been a symbolism of what could have been us, a Muslim baby, but in a symbolism of what has become us a baby who now lives in a state that has passed religious restriction laws. In the world that 9/12 has become, "Remember 9/11" has been a constant ploy to get one hand into my wallet and the other hand up my skirt, all the while lying to me about everything. You don't need to follow some strange 9/11 conspiracy theory to feel that you have been lied to- everything that has happened since is more than enough.
We could have done something great, but instead we humiliated ourselves. Osama thought we would be that stupid. He thought we would spend ourselves into oblivion if our rage could be incited. We were extraordinary for one day. No one could ever humiliate America by attacking it. But after our 9/12 choices and the subsequent economic destruction, we are on a short leash of our own making. Our options are limited. Each day that passes it would take something more great than the day before to be as great as we thought we were on 9/10. That Used to Be Us makes the argument that this is possible. I wish I could believe it. I know only one person who is still truly motivated by 9/11 to do good. I wish I could climb out of the horror of 9/12 to join her.
*This article really captures a lot of what I think is important about the reality vs. unreality of 9/11.