Saturday, September 11, 2010

What I Do Every Year

Here I sit, nine years later. I'm doing the same thing I've done every year since the attack on the World Trade Center - I'm fighting insomnia, listening to Rage Against the Machine, and chain smoking my last pack of cigarettes. Today is tough to get through, and like, I suppose, December 7th is for the folks who were alive in 1941. Today is a somber one and the sadness I feel is not just for the victims of September 11th, but for America on a whole. Before I get to that, I'll start with the obligatory "My 9/11 story."

September 11th is my generation's "Kennedy". Everyone remembers where they were, what they were doing, and who they were with. It was my junior year of high school. I was completely zoned out in front of the school before class and Michael Vickers came running up and said, "Dude! We're being fuckin' attacked! They're bombing shit! They hit the Pentagon and New York!"

I looked at him with bloodshot eyes and told him to shut up and stop bullshitting. It was too early for this madness. I didn't have time for his shenanigans and like most days, I didn't even want to be at school. And who the fuck were "they" anyway?

I don't think anyone was prepared for what was waiting for us when we got to class. I walked to my 1st Period English class and opened the door and there it was. The World Trade Center was in flames. Vickers was not out of his mind after all. Or maybe he was. Maybe we all were.

"Makeshift Patriot, the flag shop is out of stock - I hang myself at half-mast..." ~Sage Francis

In the months and years that followed September 11th, this country underwent radical changes that massively influenced who we are and what we've become. The population grew closer together than we'd ever been and then swiftly drifted farther apart than we were before that day. The government abandoned almost every principle it was founded on with the Patriot Act and an endless assault of propaganda on the general population. Every lunatic came out of the woodworks and was given credibility when, at any other time, they would have been laughed at. A part of us died that day.

"You're either with us or against us," is what President Bush said when he finally finished Siegfried Engelmann and Elaine C. Bruner's The Pet Goat. It's our way or the highway. There will be no questions and the only answer is blind allegiance to a cause that we're still trying to decipher. For me there is nothing more sickening than the way people were swept up in the crazed psychosis. Every car had a yellow ribbon or a flag. Every house had a flag. Being American had been reduced to a trend and that disgusted me.

Where I come from, you either fly a flag or you don't. It doesn't really matter. Looking back now, the same folks who flew a flag before 9/11 are the same ones still doing it. Attack or no attack, threat or no threat, these were people who did it because it meant something to them. It wasn't about keeping up appearances or trying to fit in. It just was. But now that we'd been attacked, EVERYONE had a flag. Everyone was one-upping the next guy to show him that we were just as patriotic as he was. We were even more patriotic. Why? Because we were not going to let the terrorists win! They were after our Lucky Charms and goddamnit, we were not going to let them have some!

But that's exactly what we did. We didn't just give them a bowl, we let them have the entire box.

As if the five dollar plastic flag holder/American flag combo on the back window of your car was going to fight terrorism...

You see, terrorism is "the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion" or "the use of violence or threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes". Not only did the terrorists win, but our own government helped them achieve their goal. Threat levels, ultimatums, terror alerts, wars, sleeper cells, plots, prisons, conspiracies, censorship. If someone didn't follow whatever was proposed, their integrity and patriotism were questioned. If you don't agree with what we're doing, you must be a terrorist or a terrorist sympathizer.

Every news clip and article where someone is accused of being anti-American reminds me of To Kill a Mockingbird when Atticus Finch is repeatedly called a "nigger lover". The majority of the country was caught in what I call the Toby Keith Hysteria Wave while the few of us who questioned what was happening were called un-American. We were no different than Mr. Finch in the respect that we wanted the truth and we wanted justice. No more, no less. This should have been a universal aspiration but it wasn't. The government had already given us "truth" and were in the process of seeking "justice". Who were we to question that?

So while Toby's pocketbook and gut got fatter as he stuck his metaphorical boot up Osama's ass (join the military if you're that passionate, you asshat), our economy and lifestyle went completely down the shitter. Illegal wire-tapping was now legal. The 4th Amendment is non-applicable if they say so. "The Constitution is just a piece of paper." Habeas corpus is now just a long forgotten dream. Almost overnight our federal government expanded to three times the size it was prior to the attacks and we ate it all up and asked for seconds. This was going to protect us and make us safer.

I guess what I'm getting at is this: Every year I sit and think about the people who were killed because of this whole thing over the last nine years. From the impact of that first plane all the way up to the most recent casualty in this current "War on Terror". I try not to dishonor their memory by exhibiting fake patriotism and feeding the beast that we've become. And what is patriotism really? Is it just flying a flag once a year, or putting a Made in China bumper sticker on the back window of your pickup truck? Is that what makes you a "Good American"? I don't think it is.

Being a good American is not perpetuating the effects of the attacks. Being a good American is telling Al-Qaeda and any other radicals, "Fuck you, we're not going to change who we are. We're not going to compromise our lifestyle and freedom because you want us to. We're not going to live in fear." That, my friends, is being a good American. Accepting your fellow citizens and not labeling them is patriotic. Questioning the government is patriotic. Standing your ground and not allowing our rights to be stripped is patriotic. Wanting peace is patriotic.

So I sit and smoke and think. I think about how ultimately, the terrorists won. They accomplished their objective. We are a changed nation and not for the better. Racism and intolerance on a whole are at their highest levels in decades. Our economy is in ruins. Our military is fighting an unwinnable war, because how do you fight ideas with bullets and bombs? We are divided and we shall fall unless we pull our heads out.

We need to do right by the people who died and get back to who we were on September 10th, 2001. We need to stare the enemy in the face and stand proudly, saying, "We will not move. We will not be broken. We will not become what you are. We are better and we are stronger. We are everyone and we are no one. We may not be perfect, but damn it, we're trying. We are America." We need this to be heard by radical factions of people around the world as well as our our own government and it needs to be now so we don't become everything we've fought over the years.

We have the right, not the privilege, to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and I will not stand for anyone threatening that, be it foreign or domestic, government or public, military or civilian.

Remember September 11th, 2001. Remember the people who died. Remember who and what we were. Remember our potential and what we can be, and be extremely fucking pissed at who we've become.

“But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”
Hermann Wilhelm Göring, President of the Reichstag

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