There are very few “it moments” in life. The moments where you view your life in terms of before “it” and after “it”. “Before I got married”. “After Dad died”.
Six years ago today was one of those days on a global scale. For people around the world now view their lives through the prism of “before 9/11” and “after 9/11”.
Save for nineteen, neither the passengers nor crew on those four planes that cool Tuesday morning had any idea that as they walked towards their planes, death walked among them, elbowing its way through the crowd like some obnoxious tourist.
Nor did any of us have any idea that six years later, their murders and the murders of the thousands inside the World Trade Center and Pentagon would be largely unavenged, their president using their lives and deaths as leverage to bargain for the war he wanted rather than the war that began that day.
Freedom is but a flickering candle in the gale force wind created by an administration that saw 9/11 as opportunity rather than tragedy. As the flaming remains of the World Trade Center leapt into the New York skies, spreading the residue of burning jet fuel and the ashes of the fallen into the lungs of the brave souls who dug through the rubble searching in vain for survivors, the White House planned an assault on two fronts.
One seemed a logical counter response to the administration’s claims that “they hate us for our freedom” by eliminating that which it claimed they hated. A set of laws that only Stalin could have loved wound its way through the corridors of Washington DC, voted on by a Congress full of enablers and “opposition” that were too timid to risk being seen as “un-American” by the very people that did their level best to destroy all that America was supposed to stand for. The USA PATRIOT Act, Orwellian in both name and scope, ushered in the era of “sneak and peek” warrantless searches and national security letters, closely followed by a warrantless wiretapping program that the founders of this nation would have horsewhipped anyone for suggesting.
The second front was a war not against those who attacked us, but against those that this administration prioritized out of sheer dislike. Certainly, our armed forces made a brief pit stop in Afghanistan— But there was never any doubt that all roads led to Baghdad. Before he even addressed the nation over the World Trade Center attacks, George W. Bush was bellowing “Saddam! Iraq! Iraq! Saddam!” to his cabinet.
The administration used strategy in Iraq that would have to be improved upon before it could even be called “dismal”. It waged a proxy war against those who attacked us and the government who harbored them not because it was strategically sound, but because doing it right would have meant that the American people were weary of war long before George W. Bush got the conflict he wanted. Al Qaeda pumped millions of dollars per year into a nation where the average annual income for a family of four was under $25. The militias that fought on our side in Afghanistan cared nothing for the murders of our people in Washington DC, New York City, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania— They cared about taking their country back from another violent militia that left them out of the loop. We liberated the Afghan people from a government of murderers and delivered them into the hands of people that think murdering a former president and dragging him through the street is an honorable means of transferring power.
And for what? So we could spend our “six days, six weeks, I doubt six months” taking down Saddam Hussein, he of the terrible Weapons of Mass Destruction Program, he who cavorts with Osama bin Laden, dancing on the graves of New Yorkers in drag in the pale moonlight.
Of course, all that we were told in the buildup to the war with Iraq that had any resemblance to reality is that yes, there is a nation called Iraq, and its capital is Baghdad.
Saddam was scum. Whether you opposed the war or thought of it as a nifty idea (Presumably while sending someone else’s kids off to bleed the desert red), he was indeed scum.
But “He’s scum” isn’t a proper justification for warfare. So the American people were fed a steady diet of fiction with a thick layer of “9/11” spread across the top like icing.
2,998 people were murdered by a madman that twisted and distorted the Koran into a justification for murder. And the legacy of those 2,998 people has in turn been twisted by a madman into a war which, while it might wear noble trappings, feels just as murderous to the innocents caught in its crossfire.
Just as the people in the Towers and the Pentagon needed rescue while the president impotently read a children’s book for seven long minutes, the legacy of all those murdered on September 11, 2001 must be rescued. For every injustice committed by our government in the days since has been committed in their name.
We “need” to let the federal government listen in on phone calls— It’s the only way to prevent another 9/11. We “need” to go to Iraq because Big Bad Saddam with his “nookyaler” missiles might bring down another 9/11 on us. And now, we “need” to stay there because fighting them over there means we don’t have to fight them over here.
Our government shows just how much they believe in that notion every day of our lives— If fighting them over here was what it took, why would we need to dispense with civil liberties here?
The soldier that dies in Iraq today does not do so because the White House wants to avenge two-year-old Christine Hanson, whose trip on United Flight 175 was her first and last, or its own Solicitor General’s wife, conservative pundit Susan Olsen, or Todd Beemer, the man that uttered the “Let’s roll!” sentiment that has been misappropriated by men far less courageous than he was, or even Betty Ong, the flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11 who was the first to alert anyone that there was even a problem. The soldier on the battlefield may well have had any and all of the four or the 2,994 other souls that perished with them when he agreed to trust the commander-in-chief to expend his life wisely rather than recklessly. But this White House has no such concerns.
It now invokes 9/11 only as a shield to deflect criticism of its disregard for the basic liberties guaranteed by the Constitution or in telling us why we have to fight a nation that had nothing to do with the attack.
Today, we will all take a moment today and pause, thinking of the horrors of that day, saying a prayer either silent or aloud that their souls have found peace.
And then pray that we become better at guarding their legacy so that the dimming, flickering candle of freedom is not extinguished by this or any other administration.