This is the beginning of the 8th year in which I'll be trying to understand what happened on 9/11. The eighth year in which I'll see a news clip from September 11, 2001, and feel like crawling inside myself. The eighth year in which the there is a hole in the New York skyline, and in lower Manhattan.
A year ago today, John McCain kicked off seven days of war-mongering over Iraq. Seven years ago, he used the attack by al Qaeda (based in Afghanistan, using hijackers mostly from Saudi Arabia) to argue for an invasion of Iraq, telling reporters that, while he never imagined such an attack (despite warnings throughout the summer of an imminent attack), Iraq was surely among the countries responsible (or perhaps Iran, Libya or North Korea). The next day, with national focus shifting to Afghanistan, McCain again tried to distract the nation, telling Chris Matthews "It isn’t just Afghanistan, we’re talking about Syria, Iraq, Iran, perhaps North Korea, Libya and others." A month later, asked which countries he and Bush meant in "reserv[ing] the right to strike other countries," McCain's eye turned again to Iraq. "Well," he told Paula Zahn, "I think very obviously Iraq is the first country."
But Iraq was not the first country. Afghanistan was the first country in terms of our focus on pursuing al Qaeda, but this should have been the first country. Instead, the Bush administration lied to workers at Ground Zero about the health effects of toxic dust there. And when people around the country lived in fear of anthrax attacks through the mail (attacks since traced to American bioweapons labs), McCain used the excuse to gin up support for Iraq, "the second phase" in what then seemed to be a successful war in Afghanistan.
The attacks of 7 years ago were a punch to the gut, but the blows haven't stopped since then. Since then, the blood of American soldiers and innocent civilians has dribbled from lower Manhattan, Washington, and a Pennsylvania farm, to Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and secret prisons around the world. The same indifference to human life abandoned too many residents of New Orleans to flood waters and hungry alligators.
The holes punched by crashing airplanes have healed. The Pentagon is back to business, the streets of lower Manhattan are no longer cordoned off, and the hole in the sky isn't quite so obvious.
But my image of my nation and myself is still raw. I was so proud of the way that people dropped everything and went to help clean up the wreckage of the World Trade Center. It was a pleasure to know that we are all Americans, that the simple traditions of helping your neighbor could carry through to such a grand catastrophe. Human decency shone through the clouds of dust and the smoke of fires that smoldered for months after 9/11. The fact that I couldn't do anything from Kansas was crushing, and for many a morning, I woke up from dreams with the words "I'm sorry" on my lips.
And I remain sorry. Sorry then for the lives needlessly lost, for the shattered lives of families, friends, and neighbors. Sorry for the city I grew up in, and the crushed idea that my nation, my part of the world, was safe from such eldritch horrors as I saw that morning seven years ago.
In our fighting in Afghanistan, bombs fell on wedding parties and schools, but I could understand that accidents are inevitable in war. When it was revealed that we were holding other innocents in jails in the US, in Guantanamo, and in redecorated torture facilities in Iraq, I could not understand that. Nor could I understand the images of children slaughtered by Marines enraged that a sniper evaded them. The sight of American soldiers defiling bodies of Iraqis who appeared to have been tortured to death in our prisons was, and remains, beyond the pale.
And the horrors have not stopped. If John McCain is elected, they will not stop. I say this not to politicize the day, but to make a simple observation, and a partial explanation of the urgency I feel. There's been a hole in my heart for seven year, a hole which could've healed, but which kept getting poked and assaulted. Will Obama be that much better?
All I've got is hope.
Hope for a time to heal. Hope that the American community can come back together from the divisions of the last 8 years. Hope that we can reintroduce ourselves to our neighbors, as individuals and as a nation.
That work is starting. The Obama campaign has trained thousands of volunteers, including me, to get to know their neighbors better. While that will pay off in the short term with more volunteers knocking on doors in Nevada and other states, those door knocks won't stop on November 5. I've already met dozens of new neighbors through the campaign, and will meet many more. We'll find things that we all wished we could fix, and start fixing them together.
That's how we heal, and that's how a great leader works. Not by distracting the world with phantoms of WMDs, but by giving people the tools they need to fix the world. Some things, like filling the holes left by 9/11, are too big for any one person to do.
Thanks Josh, well said.
I am hearing (from greg palast) that one of the major obstacles to an Obama victory will be that republican attorneys general are interfering with the voter registration of some of the most vulnerable. Those made homeless by hurricanes. Even soldiers posted overseas are being removed from electoral lists because they are not resident in their homes.