Today marks eight years since the terrorists flew the jetliners into the World Trade Center buildings in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and the countryside of Pennsylvania. I think I only began to write about that horrible day once in the days immediately following the attack, but my words felt canned, insignificant, and desperately lacking and empty in the context of what my eyes beheld on the television and what I think my soul experienced on that day. My mind was awash with the images that had been assaulting our consciousness during the previous few days. Those few days past in which everything that we had known as security and as the semblance of normalcy in our country, in our little states and parts of society in which we had found ourselves, had come to a serious and mighty change. With the crashing of those four airplanes into the symbols of our freedom, military superiority, and tranquil countryside, we came to realize, or at least consider, that our supreme strength and defenses may not have been as mighty or impregnable as we once thought they were. A sneaky foe had come into our lives and changed the face of our country’s landscape and sense of who we were. The television and radio told us that we were even more proud of our essence as Americans as we saw pictures and heard stories recounted of renewed patriotism and zeal for our nationhood…but were we not also a bit shaken despite the swelling of our hearts in the shadow of our adversity? Were the smiles of encouragement as sincere as their bearers wished them to be? The tears and anguish of the families and friends and reporters and rescue workers were real. The mountains of rubble and waste were real, and the pictures were more full of sorrow and emotion and horribleness than any words could ever express. Two nights after the attack, a reporter on CNN was talking with the family members about the loved ones they were missing. In her conclusion, barely able to contain her own grief, she spoke with tears running down her dusty face and her chin quivering at the sadness that she couldn’t help but feel after her days of communing with the hopeful and dreadful despair that surrounded her.
I can’t say whether or not this is an appropriate time to write what I want to share, eight years later, but I can’t say that it’s not, either. I also cannot attest to how much of what I will write has not been effected by what others have said and written. How much of it will be pure and original thoughts from me alone? I don’t know. There was a deluge of information in the days, weeks, and months following the incident which I couldn’t help but absorb and think about. Some of those topics or thoughts have probably become so ingrained that they may feel like they’re mine now.
The observation and participation in the totality of the events of 9/11 was a national experience, and while I was a part of the United States of America, and of Arizona, and of Phoenix, and of my own little American family, I don’t necessarily remember feeling those particular things at the time, in those particular words. Maybe I took it for granted…like I and we take so many ‘commonplace’ things for granted in our everyday lives. In observing the events, I felt that I was witness to something that, in its enormity, was possibly even beyond a state or condition that could compel patriotism because of the immediate sense that an overwhelming crime had been committed against the whole of humanity, as it was symbolically encapsulated in the context of those buildings and planes. I did want to put a flag out in front of the house, however, and to find a respectably-sized one to put on my car somewhere, so I guess I was feeling patriotic, but I think I may also have felt more of a sense of connection to the victims as only victims that might be described rather loosely as a sense of participatory, grief-driven voyeurism that could have had more to do with being human than it had to do with being an American, I don’t know. Somehow, though, I don’t think I would have felt the same had it occurred in Bangladesh or Ireland. I don’t remember these feelings when hearing of the Sarin-gas attacks in Tokyo or the bombings in London and Madrid, but did sense something very similar with the Oklahoma City bombing, although the similarity faded when I continued the thought and came to the identity of the person who wrought such a disaster in his own figurative back-yard. With the other atrocities happening across the world and not on American soil, there was enough of a removal from my status as an American to have it feel less personal.
This attack in the middle of our Americana was intensely personal, though, and incredible in the most complete sense of the word – it was not something that could be believed until each passing moment and flash of the images on our TV screens caused it to become excruciatingly believable…believable in a more frightening and immediate sense, to me anyway, in that my wife and I were going to have a baby in the next two months and I and we wondered at his safety in a future whose foundation of security had just been rocked like nothing else in our lifetime…and images of airlplanes slicing into burning and exploding and telescopically collapsing buildings and jumping and falling bodies and pieces kept assaulting our conscious and unconscious minds over and over and over and the falling dust and ash and papers and huge airplane wheels laying against the crumbling curbs of downtown Manhattan…with firefighters and police officers sitting on ambulance bumpers and crushed Nissans with oxygen masks strapped to weary and awesome faces, beauty in the horror of the unknown…and…massive fire engines that used to comfort us with hope and safety lay crushed and broken with shattered lights and muted sirens under tons of rubble and shit and detritus from collapsed mountains of modernity and life and…
Those were airplanes loaded with fuel and lives that were slammed into buildings that were also full of lives, tens of hundreds and thousands of lives. How could anyone imagine doing such a thing? How could a mind devise something so fuckingly horrendous in scope and magnitude? When this first happened, we wondered if the entirety of the act was nothing more than a miscarriage of religious zealotry, but soon learned that it was a jihad, a present-day parallel to the Crusades or the holy-wars of the earlier centuries with the modern warriors using whatever weapons were available and necessary to cause the most harm to their foes at the least cost to themselves.
With the reference to a modern jihad, we might almost find it impossible to conceive of the thought, today, in the year 2009, that the Catholic Church would underwrite a bloody, holy war by sending armed soldiers into the Middle East to retake the literal and symbolic birthplace of ‘Christianity’ from the terrible Islamic infidels. The Church wouldn’t do it today, not in our present ‘today,’ but ‘The Church’ did do it in someone else’s ‘today,’ albeit a few hundred years ago, and several times spanning a couple centuries in other parts of the world…the Church did that. And here, in the collective events of 9/11, it happened again, but with another ‘church.’ One that ‘today’ we view as extremist, one that ‘today’ we view as militant, one that ‘today’ we view as absolutely, stone-cold wrong in doing what it did, and one that ‘today’ viewed us as the infidels, those short eight years ago.
In our ‘today’ of 2009, we remember that around 3,500 people from 90 different nations (and likely representing at least a couple dozen churches and maybe half as many or more different faiths) died as the result of some dedicated religious followers committing an atrocious act of terrorism, (should we say ‘church-sponsored’ terrorism even though the majority of the Muslim world didn’t actively participate in the heinous deed?) in their own version of a ‘Crusade.’
Now let us consider the American response to this Crusade-like act. Led by our former president, doesn’t the retaliation somehow resemble another religious war, but this time of a ‘national-religious’ type? A war that, according to the Washington Post on 9/8/09, has consumed another 5,130 Americans. Did we not feel a certain religious-ness in being an American in those days and months following 9/11? Hasn’t ‘Americanism’ become the national religion? We, as a nation and probably also as millions of individuals, sought the blessing of our national God, the God of the United States of America, the one and only God, to whom everyone prayed, the One to Whom everyone prayed after the tragedy, in a strange but not unexpected ‘revival’ of our image of ourselves, maybe even only to ourselves, as a ‘Christian’ nation…no matter how exclusionary that sounds and is.
In the aftermath of the terrorist acts, people who looked like they might have been terrorists or terrorist-sympathizers because of their physical properties were discriminated against, threatened, and sometimes even killed in the personally wrought continuation of the new holy war. Another holy war conceived in the differences of opinion, ultimately, over the differences of gods – those man-made constructs to which millions of people blindly dedicate themselves, through faith – belief without evidence.