Saturday, July 28, 2007

The View from One Year

What happened here? As the New York sunset disappeared...

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th. I remember vividly, as I am sure you do, where I was and what I was doing one year ago today.

The week previous, I had just started a new job at a radio station in Albany, New York. I was nearing the end of my morning shift, when I noticed increased activity in the newsroom. Come to find out, a plane had slammed into the World Trade Center in New York City. Some were saying this was a possible terrorist attack. I didn't believe that. In retrospect, more likely, I didn't want to believe that.

Despite the clear skies that morning, in the high tech 21st Century, I honestly believed that the cause of the crash was probably a breakdown in the air traffic control system. One bad instruction and one distracted pilot could, I thought, have combined to create this catastrophic circumstance. Even when the second plane hit, I wanted to believe that this was the case, but the terrorism theory had firmly implanted itself by then, and it was more hoping against hope than actual belief, by then, that this was merely an horrific accident.

As a radio newscaster, the 48 hours or so that followed were the most intense and horrible I've experienced in my 17 years on the air. I did nothing but read news for those two days -- most everything else was suspended in the interest of getting as much hard news as possible about this situation on the air. At home, I couldn't stop watching television, and all that was on was images of the crashes, again and again.

It was hypnotic and horrible. Worst of all were the images of the doomed inhabitants of the giant buildings willingly leaping to their deaths rather than burn alive. It would be a recounting on the radio of the story of two of those people, who held hands as they jumped from the inferno to certain death below that would bring me to tears on a car drive home a few days later. How horrible. How uplifting. A paradox. How human.

On September 12th, I posted an editorial to Comic Book Galaxy, leading off with some words reprinted with permission from a personal e-mail from my friend Barry Windsor-Smith. A former New York City resident who now lives about an hour upriver in New York's Hudson Valley, he was deeply affected by the events of September 11th -- but then, I guess we all were.

A year later, there's much I want to say about that day and the year that followed it. I began writing a column about it a couple of weeks ago, but honestly, what I have put down in words so far is so extreme that I fear putting it up for public consumption. I mean every word that I've written, but my righteous rage at the opportunists that have used September 11th to further their own hidden agenda will do no good. You either realize how vile the people running this country are, or you do not. It's not as if any real effort to disguise their base thuggery is even being attempted. As long as you wrap yourself in the flag, and nude statues in blankets, it seems anything goes, and most of it is being done quite obviously, with a snide contempt for a depressingly compliant populace.

It's not that I don't recognize and condemn the terrorists who ordered the attacks -- if they had survived, I would gladly kill each and every one of them with my bare hands and live the rest of my life guilt-free and secure in the knowledge that I had made the world a better place. But when three-quarters of the killers were Saudi Arabian and the guy who supposedly master-minded the entire thing was also Saudi Arabian, and we spend a year supposedly prosecuting a war on terrorism without ever catching Osama bin Laden -- whose family are former business partners of President-Select Bush -- well, let's just say that I believe the true work we needed to do after September 11th has been completely ignored, while the business interests of Bush and his family's oil-industry buddies have been well-served by a military action that has given the U.S. new access to Afghanistan.

See, there, I'm drifting into the territory covered in the column-I-am-not-showing-you. So let me wrap this up: I love the U.S. and I realize that it's one of the best, most free nations on Earth. But I am deeply ashamed that its citizens have tolerated an illegitimate, greed-driven junta that has used the awful events of September 11th as justification for suspending the civil rights of U.S. citizens and lining the pockets of the military-industrial complex. I just hope that people will take the time to learn the facts and recognize what Bush and his enablers are up to for what it is, and remember the most important lesson that came out of September 11th, 2001: That religious zealotry is the purest, most destructive form of evil on the planet. Because the event that took the lives of 3000 people that day was the textbook definition of a Faith-Based Initiative. The murderers were driven by their twisted interpretation of their religious beliefs, they had faith that their God would guide their way and lead them to victory, and sickeningly, horribly, from the perspective of however many fundamentalist Islamists are still out there hating the U.S. -- that's exactly what happened.

The hatred that fueled the terrorists was a potent mix of ignorance, religious bigotry and closed-minded fundamentalism. The very same elements that Bush and those like him are informed by and celebrate. From the attempts to funnel government money to churches through Bush's transparent "Faith-Based Initiative" scheme to the sickening, cowardly response of both Republicans and Democrats when a judge rightly, bravely followed the Constitution and ordered the words "Under God," stricken from the Pledge of Allegiance, the people who are running the U.S. continue to try to use religious ignorance to control the populace's wealth and reproductive functions. This, I contend, is the primary goal of organized religion -- but most especially fundamentalist groups like the Taliban and Southern Baptists.

So a year later, in my opinion, the evil is stronger than ever, and it's right here at home. If it makes me unpatriotic or unsympathetic or uncaring to point it out on this of all days, there it is. On this of all days, when we remember nearly 3000 people who died because of fundamentalist opportunists like bin Laden and Bush, who seek power not through logic and reason but through the cynical manipulation of the ignorant and oppressed, the best way we can celebrate their memory and respect their sacrifice is to begin to work to remove the power from those who would commit violence in the name of their alleged God in the first place.

Written September 11th, 2002.