On November 22, 1963, I was on the playground for 10:00AM recess at my elementary school when teachers called classes back inside prematurely. After a few minutes, the school's public address system was broadcasting the carrier for CBS' radio network, announcing the shooting of JFK in Dallas and, ultimately, the audio portion of Walter Cronkite on CBS television announcing the President's death.
Where were you when John F. Kennedy was shot? was a fixture in the cultural landscape for a large number of people (now referred to by the Younger Set as 'Bloodsucking Useless Boomers') for a long time, due to the magnitude of the event and because it was shared in real-time by the cutting-edge media of the early 1960's.
So, September 11th, 2001: Where were you on 9-11? I had gotten up to go to work around 5:30AM PDST, and as usual turned on KQED-FM's NPR news. After stepping out of the shower, I heard a report that a plane appeared to have crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York -- I've been in Manhattan and had seen how huge those buildings were. To me, "A plane" meant a Cessna, or similar light aircraft.
I remembered seeing a 1945 film newsreel about a B-25, flying through dense fog, directly into the Empire State Building. A similar incident at the WTC would be tragic, I thought; but it was an accident, for crying out loud, on the other side of the continent, distant. No one in their right mind would deliberately kill themselves, I sighed, and I shaved.
At some point the report was updated; I heard the words "jet airliner", which moved the entire event in my mind from 'Cessna-going-off-course' to the category of Did-You-Call-The-Coast-Guard-About-This?-It-Was-No-Boating-Accident.
Turning on CNN, I sat on the edge of an armchair, watching an image of the WTC towers from CNN's Manhattan headquarters, and other shots from a helicopter hovering over the Hudson. A few minutes after I sat down, I watched as the second airliner slammed into the second WTC tower.
Images Like This, and Worse, Were Broadcast And Published
In Europe, But Not In America (Photo: UK Guardian, 2001)
No joke: Aside from Holy Fuck, the only thing I recall thinking was, This is what standing at the curb in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, watching the Archduke Franz Ferdinand being shot, must have been like. I knew immediately that what I was seeing was another line in the sand being crossed, an event with consequences that would be immense. The dice were in motion in the Crapshoot that is our Universe, and what I was watching on my television was the proof.
It also seemed unreal, a Hollywood special effect -- as if CNN would break for a commercial at any moment; the joke would be on us; and it would turn out to be this generation's War Of The Worlds broadcast.
I sat watching as the South and North towers collapsed (Wikipedia's timeline of the events puts that at 6:59 and 7:28 AM PDST, respectively), flipping back and forth between networks for coverage of the airliner plowing into a wing of the Pentagon. Finally I left to make my way to work on mass transit.
In a BART car, I was amazed at the languid attitudes of the crowd of commuters -- reading books and newspapers, a few tapping on laptops -- as if it were just another Tuesday morning. No one appeared stunned; there was no animated conversation about current events.
Finally, I turned to a woman sitting opposite me, reading a folded copy of the (pre-Little Rupert) Wall Street Journal, and asked if she was aware of what had just happened that morning. "Yes," she replied, adding in a please-pass-the-salt voice, "There are supposed to be more of them [i.e., airliners] in the air to hit other targets."
Had anyone estimated how many? "No," the woman shrugged, and went back to her WSJ. I don't know what surprised me more, her matter-of-fact attitude, or her piece of news.
That was September 11th -- a red line on the American calendar in so many ways, the culmination of a large number of threads in our history, and the pacts and choices successive administrations have made since America decided to follow an Imperial course.
The attack on the Trade Center towers could have been another kind of defining moment for America. Our government and institutions could have taken it as an opportunity to press for a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy; we could have opened a dialog with others, rather than dictate to them.
Lil' Boots, 2004 Republican Convention:
Feared And Bigger Than His Daddy, At Last
I'm not suggesting it coulda been a Kumbyah moment; I am saying that it was a crossroads moment, and that our choices mattered. But, the government was run by men who had no interest in anything except power (personal, partisan, and financial) and policies that meant the use of force in furthering that power. What else could we have expected from the likes of Lil' Boots, President Cheney, Rice, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld? From the PNAC crowd, Fat Karl Rove, Little Tommy DeLay, and Lard Boy?
(And remember, these geniuses had been discussing how to invade Iraq just days after Lil' Boots first inauguration. September 11th was simply an excuse.
And, they believed it would be simple, 'Roses All The Way', 'Greeted As Liberators' ... so no one planned for occupation, or fighting an insurgency for seven years; or for the effect on the U.S. military of multiple redeployments and 'stop-loss' denials of separation. They never conceived of failure; therefore, it wouldn't happen.)
So what followed from 9/11 shouldn't have been a surprise: An utterly unnecessary, even illegal invasion of Iraq, supported by intelligence about WMD's invented by right-wing operatives to create a causis beli, and pushed in the national media by
Palettes Of $100 Bills, Baghdad, 2003 (Photo: UK Guardian)
And let's not forget the $12 Billion in cash (at least; no one really knows), piles of U.S. currency shrink-wrapped and paletted and airlifted to Iraq. Some $9 Billion in cash cannot be accounted for. And all the cool new powers used by that dry-drunk, Frat-Boy younger son of an American ruling-class family; or all the power available to President Cheney.
There was plenty of money to put in C530's and airlift it: 363 Tons of it. There was plenty of money being made from the war, and tax breaks to the wealthy which reduced taxed income to the government; but there was no money to cover special health care, and Lil' Boots wanted to privatize Social Security because there's just no money.
Let's not forget Guantanamo, 'black airlines' flying suspected terrorists to secret CIA prisons, and the extra-legal, secret program of 'renditions'. Let's not forget Abu Ghirab. Let's not forget people like John Woo, whose written suggestions created what he still claims is a "legal" basis for torture as national policy.
Civilian Casualty Of Baghdad Suicide Car Bomb, 2007
And what followed wasn't just prisons and a lack of due process for terrorist suspects, but the development of a matrix of information -- based on the unprecedented data-mining of domestic email and cellular and telephone traffic, of banking records and public record databases; the rise of a government/corporate State surveillance and intelligence apparatus that outstrips the wildest dreams of the Gestapo and the KGB.
Obligatory Cute Small Animal Being Interrogated At
Undisclosed Location By CIA In Middle Of Blog Rant
And, very little seemed to be about defeating Al-Qaeda, capturing Bin Laden and Al-Zwahiri -- otherwise, we would have finished the job in the mountains of Tora Bora in October of 2002, and Iraq would never have mattered. We would have kept Lil' Boots' promises to the Afghans about rebuilding their country, instead of ignoring it -- at least half the reason the Afghan Taliban were able to come roaring back, and are now as strong as they were in 2001, if not stronger.
The 'Go-Go', Lil' Boots Bush years were about a larger Rightist agenda; it was about deregulation, defense contractors, and higher profits; and it was about Fat Karl's dream of rigging elections for permanent Republican rule of the United States.
Victory, to these clowns, had a very different meaning -- and little of it was military.
But let's not forget, too, how dissent or criticism of that unnecessary war, of more power given to people with poor impulse control, was looked upon in the immediate aftermath of September 11th.
Those who dissented, who believed the country was manifestly on a wrong track, were helping the enemy, a 'fifth column' for Islamic fundamentalism. "You are either with us, or with the terraists", as Lil' Boots so bravely told other governments of the world in the week after the World Trade Center attack.
It all sounds like standard Tea Party rhetoric, now; from their point of view, to dissent and criticize is really only permissible when you're attacking the Left; a socialist, the illegitimate ruler; dirty hippies; those "in rebellion against god".
Our economy continues to implode, and it has never been clearer who is benefiting from the policies of the Right; but, then, it's been a long, strange trip from September 11th, 2001. Few things should surprise us any longer.
I remember another Lil' Boots quote:
We are not deceived by their pretenses to piety. We have seen
their kind before. They are the heirs of all the murderous
ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to
serve their radical visions -- by abandoning every value except
the will to power -- they follow in the path of fascism, and
Nazism, and totalitarianism. And they will follow that path
all the way, to where it ends: in history's unmarked grave
of discarded lies. (Applause)
>> George W. Bush, Address To Joint Session Of Congress, 9/01
Is it appropriate as an epitaph for those who wish to do America harm -- or does it speak to how we have allowed ourselves to be lied to, and led; will it end up being our epitaph, a closing quote for the United States Of America?
There is no ‘populist’ version of a world where some few
are born booted and spurred, and the many are born saddled,
and ready to ride, and that's precisely the world which
conservatism is trying to conserve.