It shouldn’t be like that.
Five years ago I got up to go to work, and heard something about a plane crash in New York. At that time I was taking light rail into downtown, so I was away from a radio during the train ride, but I got out at the Galleria and walked down to Bad Kitty coffee. The radio was on at Bad Kitty, and as I waited for my coffee the news was very bad indeed. The owner handed me my coffee and said something like “It sounds pretty bad.” Yes, it sounded very bad.
Like nearly all of us, I spent the morning looking at pictures from New York. Buildings were burning, buildings were collapsing. People were hysterically looking for loved ones. Dusty white firemen and police officers looked as if they’d been flocked like a Christmas tree. Millions of pieces of paper were fluttering down out of the smoke-filled sky.
It was like being hit in the stomach. You couldn’t avoid putting yourself in that building, and imagining what it would be like to try and get out. Or worse, to be one of the people trapped above the flames, and know there was no chance of rescue. The clips of people leaping to their deaths, choosing the long freefall to oblivion instead of being roasted alive, made it even more poignant, if such a thing was possible.
The Pentagon strike, which would have been the story of the decade on any other day, seemed almost an afterthought. And then we heard the news of Flight 93 being flown into the ground, and each of us put ourselves on that plane, and wondered if we would have the strength of will and the strength of character to do what those passengers did.
It was a horrific, horrific day. The events that occurred were shaped out of such monumental evil it was almost biblical. Even those of us that had serious misgivings about our nation’s foreign policy in the middle east were aghast. That anybody could contemplate such slaughter, let alone carry it out, strained our belief in a humanity capable of redemption.
It brought us together, all of us Americans. We listened to the national anthem, and it brought fresh tears to our eyes. We were humbled by the outpouring of sympathy from our allies, and even from those who used to be our fiercest enemies.
And what has happened since that darkest of dark days?
Everything has changed. We’re no longer the injured victim, we’re the bullying conqueror. We don’t have the sympathy of the world, we’re hated and feared. And worst of all, the tragedy of September 11th, one of the worst moments we have experienced as a country, has been politicized, wrapped in the flag, trotted across the stage, and used as an excuse so many times that it has largely ceased to have meaning, other than as a partisan talking point.
And perhaps of all the damage done by the Bush administration, at home and abroad, including the erosion of our constitutional rights, the abuse of our allies, and a single-minded crusade across Iraq that has cost us the lives of more Americans than the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers did, this is what angers me the most.
The lives lost on September 11th should ALWAYS be remembered with sadness, with sympathy, and yes, with anger. And they should be remembered as something almost sacred — an unwilling sacrifice, and a marker of the morning that Things Changed. We should never downplay the horror of the events of that day. We should never gloss over that reality by making it the subject of a movie of the week. And we should absolutely never, ever, use that dark day as some sort of political tool, dredged up to further an agenda, and then discarded when the public grows tired of it.
To those who lost their lives high over New York, or in the Pentagon, or trapped on United Flight 93, I promise that I will remember. And I will try to help my children remember. So that the impact of that evil act will not be lost.