On September 11th, I was in a studio art class drawing something of very little quality with charcoal. NPR broke into the middle of a recorded piece to report on a plane that hit the World Trade Center. Everyone was confused; our teacher told us to get back to work. Then the second plane hit. I ran into the hall to call one of my best friends who was supposed to fly out of Boston that day.
“Seriously–seriously–this shit isn’t funny.”
It wasn’t. All the more terrifying: Ricky is able to see humor in anything.
As dutiful and panic-inducing as the NPR reports were, nothing could have conveyed the images we’d all soon see on the TVs rolled into hallways: faculty and students sitting on the floor together watching our world crumble.
“Michael, do not ride the bus.”
“Mom, I don’t think they’re going to target Austin.”
“The President is from Texas! Who knows where they’ll hit!”
It seemed silly, logically, but every time I rode the bus after that, the backpack in front of me would explode. For months, I had a fiery death right before getting off at 29th and Guadalupe.
Last night, Osama bin Laden, the originator of all our fears, was killed and our nation rejoiced. The Ur Revenge was complete. Jeffrey Goldberg cribbed from Proverbs: “When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.” I understand the relief and certainly don’t mourn bin Laden’s passing, but my celebration seemed a bit hollow.
Our revenge has resulted in 5,885 U.S. military deaths. As President Obama solemnly noted, the legacy of lost loved ones and incomplete families will play out for years to come.
In Iraq, ~105,000 civilians have lost their lives; in Afghanistan: 34,000. However just or well-intentioned you believe our goals to be, our methods and unexpected consequences have been blunt. After living through our nation’s worst day, it is hard to imagine the mind frame of nations who have lived through their worst decades. Our country has also spent $1,188,523,000,000 (that’s 1.19 trillion dollars) on these wars.
The same fear I felt riding on the bus became the basis for a lot of things in the past 10 years. At first, it was unity. It soon splintered into revenge, hate crimes, jingoism, rendition, a war with false rationale, a war on French fries, wiretapping, a rainbow of oblique terror threats, another war, secrecy, torture, a loss of civil liberties, a loss of civility, conspiracy theorists and, ultimately, disunity. George W. Bush was mocked for telling us to go shopping in the immediate wake of the attacks, but the call for getting back to “normal life” was prescribed no matter what your politics were. Except we didn’t: we went shopping and forgot all about our civics.
Compare these investments and compromises–societal and fiscal–to those of the 19 insane hijackers bin Laden deployed. The return on investment is startling. Are the evildoers really cowering in fear from our justice when the effects of their crude missiles are still disrupting our normal life?
I’m not a pacifist (or warmonger, for that matter) but it’s hard for me to believe that investing in education or other non-combative reforms would not have endeared ourselves more to these countries and changed things just as much. It’s hard to disinfect without any sunlight. That version of revenge may be less visceral, but it may be just as effective.
Since it’s been 10 years, it may have been just as immediate, too.
This morning, on the occasion of Yom HaShoah, I received an email forward from my Mom (via a cousin, via G-d knows who) imploring us to all never forget the atrocities of the Holocaust. It was a PowerPoint laced with horrific photos of the Jewish walking dead right after the liberation of the camps and an inaccuracy about current life in Sharia Law United Kingdom. Its purpose was to stoke suspicions and panic for just a slide or two–something palm-to-the-forehead ironic and sad on this day of all days. Nevertheless, it is a reminder to never forget that people–oftentimes acting out of genuine care and real fear–are wont to present situations that will elicit the most action.
Sometimes, there are no great options: We should just make sure that we’ll still have our spirit intact after whatever we do.