Everywhere I’ve looked today, there’s been some maudlin “We’ll never forget” item on every newscast. For the last week, the airwaves have been flooded with one dramatization after another. The largely fictional “The Path to 9/11”, which largely whitewashed the action (Or lack thereof) of the first eight months of the Bush White House. “The Flight That Fought Back” on Discovery HD, which dramatized the gallant fight put up by the passengers of United Flight 93, who deserve our eternal respect and gratitude. And President Bush took to the airwaves to say… Well, nothing really, except to reiterate that he still thinks it was a smashing idea to go to war with one of the few nations in the Middle East that contributed no personnel and no money to the operation.
I wish I could be maudlin about it. I wish I could do as so many in the media seem to, forget about it for 364 days a year, then torture myself with bad TV as a form of penance.
But I don’t have it in me. In five years, I’ve seen the video of the planes hitting the towers and the towers crumbling so often that I can honestly say it has no effect on me.
That’s probably because my blood has boiled every day in the five years since I saw it on live TV. Want to know where the “angry blogger” you see came from? Probably not, but you’re going to see it anyway if you read this.
Two weeks before 9/11, FBI Deputy Secretary John O’Neill resigned in frustration from his job because the White House wouldn’t let him investigate the Saudi ties to al Qaeda. He presciently took a new job as Director of Security at the World Trade Center and famously said on 9/10/01, “Something big is coming, and it’s coming soon“.
He’d been paying attention. While the guy sitting behind the nicest desk in the White House had been viewing the Oval Office as a nice place to stop between vacations, O’Neill had been following the money trail from the Cole attack.
He wasn’t the only one that knew something was coming. Outgoing National Security Adviser Sandy Berger handed off a massive file to Condoleezza Rice with the ominous warning “Learn this. You’ll be spending more time on al Qeada than anything else.” Goes to show what he knew— Condi didn’t get around to reading it until July 2001, and has spent much more time on Iraq since then.
On August 6, 2001, the president was briefed on”Bin Laden Determined To Strike Inside US”. It spooked him so badly that he was almost late for a trout fishing trip in Crawford. Clearly, he took this threat seriously.
Fast forward a month and five days.
I didn’t know her then, but one of the most important people in my life was breathing in toxic fumes (Fumes that Rudy said were safe, incidentally) inside her apartment while the “Resolute One” was “staying the course” in a Florida classroom with “The Pet Goat”. She had just turned twenty-five a couple of months before that. Her whole life was out in front of her.
So were the lives of the people on the planes, the people in the towers, the people in the Pentagon, or the hundreds that lost their lives while trying to save others. They all deserved better. They deserved a government that actually cared enough to try to prevent the attacks that killed them.
Two weeks later, the president went out on a limb. He had incredible approval ratings back then— After a day like that one, the country would have rallied around an egg salad sandwich. Unfortunately, we didn’t seem to have an egg salad sandwich handy, so the nation rallied around him.
He looked into the camera and said that he was going to get Osama bin Laden dead or alive. By that time, the last survivor had been pulled out of the rubble almost two weeks before.
That’s been 1820 days now. Our government did a fine job displacing the Taliban, but unfortunately, no one bothered to watch the back door. And Mr. “bring them to justice or bring justice to them” got tired of looking for someone that actually hid, moving on to fight a guy that had nothing to do with 9/11 but was easier to find.
And life moved on. George W. Bush has managed to turn his incompetence into a plus, wielding 9/11 as a stick anytime he’s met with even the slightest political resistance. “Don’t want to vote for my budget? Have you forgotten what it was like when those towers fell?” The flag-covered caskets of firemen have been replaced by the flag-covered caskets streaming home from Iraq. And the president continues to prove the old adage “When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”, because in the face of all logic, all he has is “stay the course”.
So I am.
I was angry when I learned of the neglect that led to the worst day in American history. I was angrier still when it was used to push for a war that had nothing to do with the attacks. And I was absolutely furious when it worked, and “Shock and Awful” went into effect on March 20, 2003.
But through it all, I had something that calmed me. It was that young Manhattan woman I talked about earlier. Several months after the attacks, the despair she felt as she looked at that big hole in the Manhattan skyline came to be too much for her. She moved to Seattle in 2002, where she expected to be wildly unpopular at baseball games whenever the Yankees came to play the Mariners (Although she was pleasantly surprised to find out that the Yanks had a solid following even there).
She and I crossed paths in early 2003. I made her laugh when she cried at night; She took the edge off of my anger. We did that for each other for years. Occasionally, we’d switch places. I would tell her about one outrageous thing or another that the White House had done that day, and she would get so frustrated she couldn’t even speak. “What do you mean he— How could he— [sigh]”… The sigh was so damn cute that I found myself winding her up just to hear it.
But there was something else going on.
By the time Mr. Resolute made his “wanted dead or alive” statement, she’d had something growing in her lungs for weeks. By the time she entered my life, she had a persistent, though not particularly menacing-sounding cough. I always thought it was a bit strange for someone who had never smoked a day in her life, but it was there. We always figured it was something she was exposed to that day, and I always thought I might lose her before her time because of it.
I just wasn’t prepared for how soon.
She sighed her last on February 23, 2006. The light that she carried with her everywhere she went was forever extinguished. She had been officially diagnosed with lung cancer only two weeks before, and it had spread through her body at an alarming rate. The pain in her back that she had thought was the lingering effect of a car accident was actually a rapidly growing tumor.
She shared the fate of the other 9/11 victims. She had a few more years walking around than they did. But their fates are forever intertwined.
I don’t need to see the towers crumbling. I don’t need to see the planes flying into them. I don’t need a reminder every September.
I carry it with me every day.
And if I don’t wrap this thing up soon, it will 1821 days since he said “dead or alive”. And that will mean I’m simply one day more pissed off than I already was at that feckless dilettante that masquerades as a commander-in-chief.