Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Another 9/11 Anniversary

Some interesting angles as related to the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  Saw more than a few items about "the children of 9/11" which refers to those young people under aged 15.  For those of us in our 30's or older, the events of 9/11 will remain one of those times when you can recall exactly where you were and what you did that day.  But for children under 20, some of whom will be able to vote in a presidential election for the first time in November, 9/11 is merely history, no different than any other day of historical significance.

Also, probably not directly connected, but still in the news, there has been a new outbreak of protest during the playing of the national anthem.  In this newest iteration, started by some professional sports athletes, individuals are kneeling rather than standing during the anthem, citing their concern for the less than equal treatment of African Americans, especially in the judicial and penal systems, but in other areas as well.

And finally, this month's Smithsonian is an incredibly powerful review of the African American experience throughout history as told by a list of black contributors that spans all walks of life. It commemorates the grand opening of the newest Smithsonian Building opening this month.  For those who have been heard to claim that black people were better off during slavery in that they had secure shelter and food, it should be a must read, and hopefully a slap in the face of such nonsense.

So, how to connect these thoughts.

I was at work on 9/11/01 when the music on our radio station was interrupted with news of a plane flying into the one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center.  Quickly, thereafter, the phone on my desk rang, bearing the voice of my wife who had been watching coverage of the smoke billowing out of Tower One when behind the announcer a 2nd plane barreled into Tower 2.   The rest of the day was consumed with coverage of the eventual collapse of the twin towers, news of a third plane striking the Pentagon, additional news of a plane crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania which was later tied to the attacks, and all the stories and commentary that predominated the airwaves.  It was a terrible day, but at least for a little while, an event that brought Americans together as one nation, bruised but not defeated, able to put aside our differences as we struggled to make sense of this apparently unprovoked act.

Since then, unfortunately, we have lost our sense of unity.  The temporary economic setbacks of 9/11 were replaced by an artificial boom in housing, which, along with other factors, led to the economic collapse of 2008.  For those born to middle and lower economic class parents in the first ten years of this new century, the stress of an uncertain job market may have resulted in a change of address in addition to a change in employment.  There are some who say that this group of children has been exposed to as much stress as those born in the early 1930's or in the first few years of the Cold War. Perhaps, then, a starting point for teaching them about 9/11, is to admit that this horrific event did not occur in a vacuum, but was the result of many other events which resulted from decisions made by various American politicians (and those who voted for them).

When we use demonization of a group to justify prejudiced and hateful behavior, it is only a matter of time before those experiencing that isolation and hatred, strike back.  Is there a lesson for those who will vote in November for the first time, a lesson about choosing candidates that promote cooperation rather than confrontation?  Who prefer trading with our global partners rather than using our military to seize their assets?

It is not without proof to suggest that the second World War was caused by the insistence of retribution from the losers, while the economic boom of post World War 2 was fueled by our willingness to forgive and rebuild the nations that were defeated.  What future tragedy do we inspire by the inflammatory remarks hailed by supporters of Donald Trump?  What future disasters might we avoid by electing public servants who respect all lives, not just those with similar skin color, religious upbringing or ethnicity?

For some Americans, it seems just fine to call our current president a hater of our country, but less patriotic to voice one's opinion of race relations by kneeling rather than standing before a symbol.  I do not know why certain athletes choose to display their dissatisfaction with America while being paid more money in a year than most of us earn in our lifetimes, but I also do not know if those same athletes spend time in poor black communities or donate large sums of their earnings to groups which provide help and support for those less fortunate.  Sadly, some of those calling for these athletes to move to another country if they don't like it here, do not bother to find out who may be a hypocrite and who may be righteous, yet have no qualms about spreading hateful language about Americans or American policy with which they disagree.

Freedom of speech is an incredibly powerful right but one which entails an incredible responsibility.
Sometimes it seems that those who complain the loudest are the least tolerant of viewpoints that differ from their own.      

Finally, then, there is the Smithsonian article centered on the great migration of black Americans from the South to the North and West from 1910-1970.  Again, we have a group of people denied the fruits of freedoms because of the pigment of their skin, freedoms so beautifully detailed in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.  While the great immigration which occurred into America in the early 20th century and has been documented and extolled by those proud of their European ancestors' sacrifices to provide better opportunities for their families, the similar story of the migration of blacks within America, has been much less so publicized.  When you realize that many of the great contributions to the making of today's America, were germinated in black homes all across the South, then fulfilled by a generation that refused to live in a place where they weren't welcome, instead risking life and limb to move North and West for equal treatment, it is a testament as much to black patience that the civil rights marches weren't more violent, in response to the despicable treatment that blacks received in America during the Jim Crow years.

One might even go so far as to say that it is a miracle that the LGBT community fought most of their battles in the courts rather than on the streets.  As a white person, I can only shake my head at the myopic behavior of those who believe that pale skin equated superiority, and then had the gall to justify such inhumanity with words of God.  Similarly, as a heterosexual, it is hard to fathom being told that I can't marry the person I love, can't openly show affection to that person, can't even be with them as they lay dying in a hospital.  Yet, despite our recent progress, a story in this past Sunday's Inquirer about a transgender boy who was told he couldn't attend a Catholic school because of the belief that God made him female, therefore they could not condone his "choice" to be male, still indicates how far we still have to go.

It is quite simple to say that 9/11 was a cowardly act of terrorism which caused the loss of thousands of innocent lives.  And certainly, I would agree that killing others, even when you feel it is justified by their actions, is not a response that we should encourage.  Yet, killing others out of revenge, is the name of the game when it comes to our war on terror.  Applause resounds when it is stated that we should "bomb them back to the stone age", yet we are surprised and angry when an act of violence occurs on our soil.  Better to fight them over there than here is certainly soporific to the ears of an electorate that would prefer not to think, but doesn't create friends among those avoiding bombs dropping from the sky.

The lessons that can be gained from 9/11 are many.  Some revolve around the belief that we need to be ever vigilant in our guard against those who would destroy our way of life.  Even if that means sacrificing our rights to root out those who work to destroy those rights.  It is a fine line to walk, certainly a great subject for debate, but an insult to the American electorate when presented as "us" versus "them".  It wasn't that long ago when "they" were Japs and Krauts, followed by the time when they were "Ruskies".  And even less time ago when "they" were niggers.  Or faggots.

Perhaps a better lesson one might take from 9/11 is that the Earth is inhabited by over 7 billion people.  And, while there is a huge diversity encapsulated within that population, a diversity of race, religion, culture, and ethnicity, perspective and politics, even sexual preference and gender identification, the vast majority of people, regardless of how different they look, or how strange seems their customs, strive to create a comfortable life for themselves and better opportunities for their children.  I believe that goal, that overriding drive, is inscribed in our DNA.  Embedded perhaps from the time one-celled life first struggled to replicate, through the time when life first emerged from the sea, to the time when our ancestors left the trees.  Make our existence more comfortable, and present a better way for our children.

Certainly, if we gauged our actions on that premise, knowing that everyone else, friend and enemy alike acted in concert, we might never have to discuss the lessons of future 9/11's.

  

              

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