There are many intelligent and unintelligent things to be said today to mark the tenth anniversary of the day the sky fell in, and I’ve read a lot of both. I’m afraid my own intellect isn’t equal to the task of writing a profound analysis of the past ten years and what it has meant to our country. I’ve included two links in this post that I thought did a very good job of that. I would, however, like to write a bit about what the past ten years have meant to me.
I remember being fourteen, sitting in my American history class watching black smoke billow out of the World Trade Center on television. When the towers collapsed, they collapsed over and over again, like a scene from an action thriller movie on replay. I had been conscious over the past several years that my generation, being born only shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall, was living after the end of history. Suddenly I had been dramatically proved wrong. I remember feeling not so much scared as increasingly angry, desperate to strike out at someone, whoever had done this to us.
I remember being utterly convinced that the war in Afghanistan was the correct course of action. I became determined to join the Army, continuing a romantic desire that had preceded the attacks, now given a significant purpose by our nation’s newly discovered defensive posture. I remember supporting the drive to invade Iraq, even while having unshakeable premonitions that all would not go as smoothly as the administration claimed it would and as many of my good friends went to the protest in Washington. I remember voting to reelect President George W. Bush, hanging on to the belief that the reasons given for our intervention in Iraq were legitimate for as long as (perhaps longer than) was reasonably possible.
I remember seeing the wars drag on for year after year, watching friends from school go overseas, eyeing the future soberly from the barracks of my military university, while the society, the culture of the United States didn’t change. On furlough at home I would sit in traffic behind sport utility vehicles with ‘Support our Troops’ bumper stickers and realise that my reasons for joining the Army were changing. As my faith and conviction in the ideology underpinning American foreign policy faded, I discovered that my circumstances (being blessed with living on the right side of the school district boundary, a family financial position which left me with options for the future beyond flipping burgers or enlisting) and choices (supporting the wars and voting for the Bush administration’s second term) had imposed obligations upon me: I could not—and did not want to—wash my hands of it, say I’d changed my mind, that I was wrong about America’s position and role in the world and therefore free of responsibility for the decisions I had made and the positions I had supported. If I was angry that American society showed no evidence that it was sending young men and women to die or be wounded while killing or wounding others for eight years, I then had a responsibility to be involved myself.
I remember watching the economy crash, realising that this was the evidence of the strain brought on my our society’s refusal to acknowledge the costs of the war. Alongside this was the revelation that things will not be better for me and my generation materially than they were for my parents’; indeed, there was very little (now no) chance they would even stay level. I remember voting for Barack Obama, despite my reservations about his messianic campaign and my deep differences with elements of his philosophy, because I hoped he would correct the worst abuses of the Bush years, particularly in regards to foreign policy (and because the alternative had tapped a completely unqualified vice-presidential candidate that had to be stopped). Of course, those hopes have been massively disappointed, as the Obama administration has continued the wars, bombed Libya, and expanded the erosion of civil liberties in the name of security from a vague threat that despite its purported omnipresence and omnipotence has been unable to make any attack (even those in Spain and England, disastrous as they were) on the scale of what happened that morning ten years ago.
And I remember commissioning with my class. My oath-taking ceremony complicated by the fact that I knew that I would be going to England for at least two years before taking active service while my friends would be off to foreign lands within months. And watching over the past two years as my classmates have gone on deployments while I sit peacefully in the ivory tower, thinking to myself: what happened to those obligations you felt you had? as the reckless economic and foreign policies of the United States continue with no clear end in sight.
To bring this tortured, excessively personal post to a close, I guess my feelings as we reach this milestone anniversary look something like this: Maybe the terrorists were smarter than we ever gave them credit for. Maybe by striking back at them, by trying to eradicate them from the planet, we just played right into their hands. Maybe they never intended to replicate another September 11th. Once was enough to raise the ire of the self-described greatest nation on earth, to draw it out to go stomping around, exhausting itself in its attempts to crush the gnats that stung it, until the underlying moral and cultural decay could no longer stand the strain that its adventures created, and it began to tire and collapse through its own exertions. We’re not losing the war to al-Qaeda. We’re losing it to ourselves.
Two much wiser men than me have written fantastic analyses that I’d like to share here. The first is by the fantastic Andrew Bacevich, a personal hero of mine, and his contribution for this occasion at The American Conservative does not disappoint (thanks to Daniel Nichols at Caelum et Terra for alerting me to this). The second is a unique and very valuable angle taken by Elias Crim at Front Porch Republic. I hope you enjoy them and find them enlightening.
And I’ll close you out with this appropriately mournful and beautiful ballad from Wilco: