9/11: What We Squandered
The air is going to be thick with remembrances today. Where we were six years ago; how the world changed forever; all that stuff.
I don't have any special remembrance tale. It was an ordinary morning. The weather was nicer than today; bright, crystal clear blue sky vs. (desperately needed) rain. Everyone knows what happened. Almost everyone had the same sense of unreality; of desperation; of chaos; of sadness. I also remember the ensuing days of surreality: of grounded airplanes; of unnaturally clear skies and the serendipity of unplanned layovers. Also the shock, which then gave way to rescue and cleanup along with grief and mourning.
But I also remember the unity. The sense of all being in this together. "American" finally stood with meaning, ethnic prefixes banished. The idea of war -- real war -- to go after the men behind this heinous act was strangely acceptable to many of the most doveish among us. Osama bin Laden took his rightful place beside Hitler, Stalin and Caligula as evil incarnate.
What changed? When?
Too soon the Robertsons and Falwells opened their mouths and poisoned the air far more than did the micronized concrete of lower Manhattan. Too soon the Man Who Would be Baseball Commissioner hijacked the tsunami of patriotism more surely than swarthy men with box cutters overpowered flight crews, snatching away his greatest opportunity for true leadership and allowing it to morph into his version of a Father's Day gift. Six years later, the opportunity for a United America to have made a true incursion into the war on real terrorism lies in shambles, bathed in the blood of over 3,000 Americans. How did we go so quickly from near world unity to the butt of world opinion even lower than 9/11/2001?
Would leadership have made a difference? What if we had had a Lincoln; a Roosevelt; a Churchill; a Meir? A Clinton with a closed zipper? The cynical would say no: we get the leadership we deserve; Americans are too self-destructive to maintain that kind of unity. All that bullshit.
Whether or not I believe differently, it saddens me that we will never know.