It’s that season again. For commemoration – of the bravery and innocence of lost lives? For celebration – of a vigorous and determined national response – and vigilance – renewed against so many dark threats? Or for trying to understand – the meaning of ‘9-11’ – a kind of “uber-day” in contemporary world history.
On one side, the day stimulated appetites for revenge, and satiated similar desires of some on the other side. Billions were shocked and saddened. But it was possible, on that day, to be saddened and shocked, yet also entertain or risk a suspicion that some strange justice had been brought – however cruelly – to right a ship of so many past wrongs. To some cool observers and perhaps Buddhists, the chickens had come home to roost. For everyone, the day decisively birthed the ‘War on Terror’, compromising the future and making everyone into losers.
My freshman students were only four or five years old on the ‘9-11’. Significantly, they stand as the first big crop of American citizens who remember little if anything at all of the finer and vivid details of that particular day. Time has freighted away the immediacy of the day, yet also guarantees that its meaning is forever protean in the hands of teachers, politicians, media personalities, political extremists and other interested parties. Most of my students have sparse understandings of the political conditions contributing to ‘9-11’, and incomplete, often very confused, understandings of the kinds of demons loosed in the world on that soon to be overburdened day.
Unfortunately, many politicians, national security establishmentarians, and extremists are quietly in love with ‘9-11’, and its progeny, the ‘War on Terror. They have gained a credit card, cloaking device, Trojan horse, and popular marching song all wrapped up in one package, with a half-life of about another generation, I am unhappy to surmise. It’s an irresistible lodestone in relation to cynical politicians and Machiavellians inside and outside of governments everywhere. Flip this political coin and accusations against the terrorist or accolades supportive of authoritarianism are as likely to land face up.
‘9-11’ and the ‘War on Terror’ are implicated in the causal chains that disabused souls of wishing for and imagining a “New World Order” or of “turning swords into plowshares” post Cold War; that continue to spawn “new modes and orders” of discipline and starve the “welfare state” at home and elsewhere; that destabilized and entrenched Americans in the perennial imperialist hunting ground of Afghanistan; that liquidated antiquities, resources, and a half million innocent lives of Iraqis while contracting for and building up a desert of hatred in their place; that brought drones and moans of smaller wars to Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Nigeria and more; and that now threaten to spread wildfire out of Syria to Lebanon or Jordan or Iran?
As such, ‘9-11’ is also the sad day that “keeps on taking”. It is both thief and hostage-taker, robbing Americans and humanity of precious resources, imprisoning intellects, and fouling moral compasses.
I have commemorated the day in a poem titled, “Uber Day.” I am left wondering what are the implications of starting to erase the vivid details of the day from our collective memory, while remaining tied to a future so painfully subject to its grim uses and consequences? What might be done to help construct the conditions under which the meaning of ‘9-11’ might begin to contribute to a more honest and responsible approach to resolving tensions between the West and the Arab/Muslim worlds? Here it is:
All were sad, many fearful, some angry.
Disaster had exploded the imagination.
The sharpness of the visceral
spliced onto deep traditions of
inattentiveness to blame –
causal and moral –
keeping self-examination and implication
remote as a foreign land.
Leaders lied, pacified some, lusting after others.
Disaster whet dreams of power.
The coldness of their deliberation
froze fears and tears of the otherwise passive
into discipline, destruction,
and screams of innocents –
ripping then rippling
onto the future.
Michael Bradley is a professor of political science and philosophy and a contributor to Counterpunch (“The Dawning of a Liberal Apologetics for Iraq”, March 31, 2010 and “The Syrian Debate”, Sept. 6-8, 2013). He can be reached at email@example.com.