Sunday, September 12, 2021

Twenty Years

(An earlier version was posted originally in September, 2010)

On November 22, 1963, I was on the playground for 10:00AM recess at my elementary school when teachers called classes back inside prematurely. We were told to sit quietly in our desks. When asked, our teacher told us nervously that President Kennedy had been shot.

After a few minutes, the school's public address system was broadcasting 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 JFK was shot? was a standard question a large number of Americans (now referred to as 'Useless Boomers') asked each other, due to the magnitude of the event and because it was shared in real-time by the primary media of the early 1960's -- radio and television.

So, September 11th, 2001: Where were you on 9-11? I had gotten up to go to work around 5:30AM here in California, and 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 lived briefly in Manhattan in the late 70's and had seen just how huge those buildings were -- and to me, "a plane" meant an aircraft like a Cessna or something similar.

Getting ready to shave, I remembered a 1945 newsreel about a B-25, flying through dense fog over Manhattan and plowing directly into the Empire State Building. A similar incident at the WTC would be tragic, I thought; but it was an accident, and on the other side of the continent, distant. I sighed, and I shaved.

Not long after, NPR updated its report; I heard the words "jet airliner", which moved the entire event from 'Cessna-off-course' to the category of Well-This-Was-No-Boating-Accident; Did-You-Call-The-Coast-Guard-About-This?

Turning on CNN, I sat on the edge of an armchair, watching an image of the WTC towers from the roof of CNN's Manhattan headquarters, roughly two miles away. One tower looked like a chimney, a boiling cloud of black smoke drifting away into an otherwise cloudless sky. 

Aaron Brown was reporting, taking phone calls directed from witnesses in the vicinity -- only one of whom, the doorman at the World Trade Centers Marriott, was close enough to report on anything immediate and consequential. 

A CNN-affiliate local news helicopter, hovering over the Hudson, provided a closer perspective of the damage. One extended telephoto shot was of the façade of the Tower on fire; I was looking at the pattern of the cladding of the building, a huge, black gash angled across it. I saw occasional clouds of small white shapes fluttering in the smoke, like flocks of birds, swirling -- and realized they were sheets of paper, reams of it, drifting out of the building's broken windows. 

Just as that thought registered, at the right-hand edge of the screen, I saw a darker object drop quickly, straight down and out of frame, for just a moment. I didn't know it then, but I had just seen one of roughly two hundred people that morning who fell or jumped from the Towers' upper floors.

The Falling Man: Photograph By Richard Drew / AP

Images Like This Were Broadcast And Published
In Europe, But Not In America (Photo: UK Telegraph, 2001)

A few minutes later, I watched as the second airliner slammed into the other WTC tower. Aside from profane shock, 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, was like. This is what living through history is like. 

I've seen large-scale explosions and been in crazy environments, for real, but the scale of what I was watching made it all seem unreal; special effects. I sat in the armchair, watching, as first the South, then the North towers collapsed (Wikipedia's timeline of the events puts that at 6:59 and 7:28 AM PDST, respectively). News of a third plane crashing into the Pentagon was broadcast; I began flipping back and forth between networks for coverage. 

Finally, I left to make my way to work on mass transit. On a BART train, I was amazed at the languid attitudes of the crowd of commuters -- reading books and newspapers, a few tapping on laptops and Blackberries -- as if it were just another Tuesday morning. People were subdued, but not because anyone appeared stunned; there was no conversation about what had just occurred.

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 happened that morning. "Yes," she replied, adding in a deadpan, matter-of-fact 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. 

At work, everyone was released to return home after Noon. I went to a friend's house, where we sat watching CNN. Clips of the second Tower being struck, and of each one falling, replayed endlessly, interspersed with hourly updates and commentary by subject matter experts.

I made a few phone calls, primarily to The Last Of The Old Unit ("Fuckin' glad we're not eighteen right now," one observed). My friends and I sat, watching, barely taking a break. We were expecting more information, something to allow everything we had seen to make sense.

We also knew we weren't going to get it -- the dice had been rolled, and we wouldn't find any clarification until they had bounced off the back of the craps table and come to rest. They're still bouncing; they haven't stopped yet. They never really will. That's how history works. 

That was September 11th -- a red line on the American calendar, the culmination of so many threads in our history going back to 1898 and 1917, the 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 a Kumbyah moment; it was a crossroads moment, and 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. 

The people "Lil' Boots" surrounded himself with were Project For A New American Century neo-imperialists. After Bush's inauguration on January 20, 2001, they were discussing how to invade Sadaam Hussein's Iraq. What else could we have expected from the likes of Cheney, Rice, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld? From Fat Karl Rove, Little Tommy DeLay, and Lard Boy?

September 11th: 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.

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 by sociopathic egos 'journalists' like Little Judy Miller, and pundits like David Brooks and William Kristol, and Little Tommy Friedman, to name only a few.

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 tax income to the government. It was a good time to be part of the Carlyle Group.

But, Lil' Boots wanted to cut health care, privatize Social Security; cut any social programs continuing the pact between government and citizens that was at the heart of FDR's New Deal... because, he claimed, there was just no money to pay for that. Because of the war, you see.

And there was Guantanamo, CIA 'black airlines' flying suspected terrorists to secret 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 opinions 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 developing a matrix of information [see Edward Snowden's revelations about the extent of surveillance performed by America's intelligence agencies], based on the unprecedented data-mining of domestic email and cellular telephone traffic, of banking records and public record databases; 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 or killing Bin Laden and Al-Zwahiri -- otherwise, we would have finished the job in the mountains of Tora Bora in October of 2002. Iraq would never have mattered. We would have kept promises to the Afghans about rebuilding their country, instead of ignoring it -- at least half the reason the Taliban were eventually able to come roaring back.

The 'Go-Go', Lil' Boots Bush years were about a larger Rightist agenda; it was about deregulation, defense contractors, profits; and it was about Fat Karl's dream of rigging elections for permanent Republican rule of the United States. Victory, to these assclowns, had a very different meaning. The portion of it that was military was just a backdrop for Bush and his cronies: Mission Accomplished.

We've had an economic collapse in 2008; eight years of neoliberal nothing, followed by four years of proto-Fascism; we're still wading through the swamp of a two-year pandemic; an attempted coup; and roughly 37% of America's adult population claiming to believe that bulletin-board posts by an anonymous fraudster are more real than mathematics, science, or common sense. 

This blessed 37%  refuse to accept the vaccines for SARS-CoV2. They refuse to wear masks. They do this to "Own The Libs". They are injecting themselves with special magic pony blessed horse juice, or screeching that the Blood Of The Jezus is all they need.

These are the same unvaccinated persons crowding into ED's, taking ward beds in hospitals; filling the ICUs. As I write this, America is losing roughly the same number of people to Covid-19 as were killed on September 11th. Every - Single - Day.

Frequently, since September 11th, 2001 a quote by Bush (whom we are supposed to think well of now; let the healing begin) comes back to me:
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
Is that 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 preserve.


MEHR, MIT DIE WITZEN:  As usual, What Digby Said (or Dennis Hartley, in this case).


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