Wednesday, September 10, 2003

9/11 Thoughts

I was in Miss Fischer's classroom when the news of FDR's death arrived, preparing a Friday night sermon when JFK was shot and running in Central Park on the crystal clear morning when those planes hit the Towers.  We all have our own "where I was" for these kinds of days after which we're solemnly told, "nothing will ever be the same."  Perhaps, only time and history will tell.  In the meantime, George Bush and company have adopted 9/11 as a catchall for everything they are doing.  Forget WMD's, evil regimes and all that stuff.  9/11 terrorism is "it" and the "why" we're in Iraq.  Oh, that explains all, finally.   As a New Yorker, where more than 3,000 individuals and their families, not to mention our city as a whole, were direct victims of this horrendous tragedy, I resent it being used as an excuse for hiding incompetence, for subverting civil liberties and for furthering partisan/ideological political agendas.

A poll taken last week shows that one out of seven Americans firmly believe Saddam played a significant role in 9/11.  Now that's marketing.  The Bush Administration entered Iraq with two contentions: weapons of mass destruction and links to terrorism.  Neither substantiated at the time, neither substantiated to this day.  WMD's have yet to appear and the only terrorist connection, if there is one, seems to be a result of the war not a precursor to it.  In fact, it's no stretch to suggest that only the demise of Saddam's regime gave license for the entry of terrorist groups which heretofore didn't dare show their faces in his authoritarian state.  There is no connection between Saddam and 9/11 except as planted in the minds of consumers who have been led to that dog food by the propagandists on Pennsylvania Avenue and at the Pentagon.  Wow!

George Bush wants us to connect 9/11 and Iraq calling that beleaguered country "the central front" in the war on terrorism.  It's an audacious statement playing on our worst fears and shifting attention from the reality of the situation.  The United States' total lack of preparation for other than a fantasy the "after" script and what is happening now both reflects that.  It should also be no surprise since throughout history locals have resisted foreigners calling the shots in their country.  Our founding fathers did it in 1776 and the Iraqis seem to be doing it today, much as they and their fellow Arabs resisted both the English and French occupiers in the last Century.  And even if they are grateful (which some of them probably are) that Saddam is gone (sort of), it's hard to stand and applaud when the most immediate result of conflict is lawlessness, a lack of clean running water and no electricity.  How do you think the average Iraqi would respond to Ronald Reagan's famous question "are you better off today then you were one year ago?" 

Perhaps the most striking and most unproved "truism" in Bush's recent TV address was his contention that military force is the best way to counter terrorism.  While all of us understand what motivates a tough response in the face of attack, history does not suggest that it works.  Quite the contrary.  Look at Northern Ireland and look at the tragic drama we witness daily between Israel and the Palestinians.  Ariel Sharon's aggressive retaliation and assassination program has done nothing to reduce, much less eliminate, suicide bombings.  I would argue that violence is probably the least effective way to counter terrorism.  It may work as a band-aid, but ultimately the underlying wounds that provoked the terrorism in the first place have to be addressed.  No one can excuse what happened on 9/11 or when a bus explodes in Jerusalem – targeting the innocent is a despicable tactic, but we seem to be destined for more of the same if we don't address the fundamental issues that drive Street people into the hands of fanatics around the globe.  Perhaps we should spend less time making sanctimonious patriotic speeches about 9/11 and start looking for solutions, even ones that might be hard to swallow.  The cycle has to stop somewhere, and a little honesty in our rhetoric might be a good place to start.

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