Monday Morning Politics—September 14 2009
I thought about posting on September 11 th all about where I was that day, what I felt, and what I thought. Then I realized oodles of other bloggers were doing the same thing, so I didn't do it. My thoughts didn't really fit with the tone of many people's of that day, and I didn't want to take away from their remembrances or from the somber tone. So, today I'll share my “I remember when” story:
Where was I September 11, 2001? It was a Tuesday morning, so I was at my office at a church in Georgia. I was the youth minister there at the time. What was on my mind? Well, the pastor had suffered a minor stroke that weekend. It was so minor that it actually took a few days to nail down the diagnosis, but he was out that week from it. So, I was trying to make sure things at the church office ran smoothly. The phone rang, it was my father telling me to turn on the TV, that “some idiot just a flew a plane into the World Trade Center.”
Now, at the time, there was still a discussion about whether or not this was intentional or a horrific accident. The only TV at the church was in the Pastor's office, so the secretary and I found the hidden spare key and went in there to watch the news. Now, where we were in Georgia wasn't the hotbed of TV reception, so I watched a grainy ABC coverage of the event, including when the second plane hit and everyone knew it wasn't an accident. I had called Ann, she was keeping up with what she could at home with our 4-month-old child. Who, by the way, giggled and laughed and didn't know a thing, which helped save Ann's sanity that day! (We were pretty isolated from friends and family where we were, and she was home alone.) I remember the spotty news coverage of an explosion at the Pentagon, originally reported as a helicopter, the reports of “at least 10, maybe more” aircraft that were in the air and probably hijacked, the reported crash in a field in Pennsylvania, and more. I remember expecting the Towers to fall, and then seeing them collapse.
What I also remember is a basic lack of surprise. Ever since Beirut we have been attacked by terrorists. In fact, terrorists are really the only threat to America, and have been the only threat, from a military perspective, since the 1980s. China could become one, but I don't think they see the need. If they conquer us, we can't keep buying cheap Chinese junk and paying our debts to them, so why conquer? You can only conquer a man once. You can cheat and defraud him many times. I digress...
America is a nation of laws, and a nation with great military might. How great? Our military needs to replace F-16s, F-15s, B-52s, F/A-18s, and update C-130s because the technology is, in fact, antiquated that's in use in these air platforms. The major threats, including nations like Iran and North Korea, would do all sorts of things to acquire the technology that's present in our current weapons systems. The US Military is strong to the point our yard sale cast-offs would turn many nations into regional powers. We are right to continue improving, but it shows that a force-on-force engagement is not going to be won by our opponents. The last force-on-force engagement we lost was....well, it's been a while. The war fighting that has gone against America in the last 100 years has been terrorist style fighting, where strong arms cannot be brought to bear.
So if you want to mess with America, terrorism is the way to go. Stand behind women and children and shoot, because we don't want to shoot back. Hide in day care centers, attack our civilians rather than our military. That will hurt. And that was coming. It's the way many cultures have long fought wars. We have, as a nation, have long claimed to have an overall respect from human life. Are we willing to take it? Yes. Even innocent life, as we did in places like Dresden and Hiroshima, because sometimes that happens in a war. Note that we have long eschewed starting a war by attacking civilian populations. We have attempted not to start fights, but have been willing to finish them. So, fighting enemies that will take civilians hostage and then kill themselves and their hostages is a new world for Americans.
You see it in our movies. What are the good guys always telling the bad guys? “Put it down” “Stop it” or whatever command is necessary, “Or I'll shoot!” And the bad guys usually comply, because even bad guys know that their life is important enough not to get shot. Not so with terrorists. They want to get shot. Someone doing a communications criticism doctorate should evaluate the escalation in violence types in movies since 9/11. We shoot more bad guys dead on the scene since then, I think. Even the A-Team remake will apparently involve actually shooting people, not just shooting in their general vicinity.
What can we do? First of all, we need to prepare ourselves for the fact that more will come. Until we find an effective method to deal with terrorists, they will still see us as a target. Realize that these people will keep dying, will gladly trade thousands of lives, for their cause. And they don't compromise. If you give an inch, they will want the next inch. Or an inch in the next area.
Second, we need to find a way to maintain our laws and principles and still deal directly with terrorists. President Bush had his opinions, and now we need to see President Obama's. These are people that if you put them in normal prison populations will recruit a dozen willing suicide attackers with them. They will hide behind the laws and loopholes that we allow them. There is no specific nation to hold accountable for their actions, and no nation really wants them. Can we deal with them as they deal with us? Not and keep our national identity. If we go beheading prisoners, we've come down to their level.
Finally, we need to be consistent. What do I mean? Here's more of what I remember of September 11, 2001:
I remember the 4 straight days of coverage, without even commercials, when the networks were afraid to be the first to go away from it. I remember the vows that our nation would change, that we would never be the same again. People magazine stated that we as a nation were done with the fluff, that real things were more important. I remember movie projects being delayed, reconsidered, because Americans didn't want violence for entertainment. I recall changes in ad campaigns, political campaigns. Church attendance surges in some places (we didn't get one), a national soul-searching for something greater than us.
Then I remember the bombs falling on Afghanistan. It was about 4 weeks after 9/11. And then the church surge fell off. It wasn't long before we were back to tracking what Britney was or wasn't doing, that we were back to fluff and shallowness. The movies came back, some with the Towers digital erased. The blame game started, as we looked back instead of forward. Lawsuits, hearings, accusations. Conspiracy theorists finally had something new to churn on, and life went back to normal. Except for:
The families that lost loved ones. Whether workers in the Towers or the men and women of New York's emergency departments. It's bad enough when you lose a loved one, but when everyone within your circle has too, it's worse.
The military personnel that have been deployed. And their families. And then the 4000-5000 new widows, widowers, orphans, and childless families. And those whose lives have been changed by physical and emotional trauma. We claim to be a grateful nation, but we're also a forgetful nation.
And finally, a Budweiser ad campaign. In September 2001, Bud Light had begun a campaign entitled “Real American Heroes” where they, kind of light-heartedly, picked up on weird accomplishments, branded the man who did it as a “Real American Hero” and encouraged him to pick up a Bud Light for it. After 9/11, Bud pulled the ads. However, not wanting to waste the idea, and wanting to sell beer, they retitled it “Real Men of Genius.” So that ad campaign continues to this day, under that title.
What changed in America on 9/11? Well, overall, nearly 10,000 lives have been lost so far, counting the attacks and the wars driven by them (save that discussion for later, without 9/11 we wouldn't be in Afghanistan or Iraq, whether we should be or not). Those people's lives ended. Their families lives changed. The military has been at war, with all of the consequences that come from it.
And your beer commercials are different.
Maybe it's time to consider the thoughts, not of 9/11/01, but what we were all thinking 9/15/01, about what really matters, and get back to it. Our society is changed, but not by much.