The stupidity of this take on why 9/11 matters is agonizing. We have to remember because … it helps the president’s poll numbers. I won’t re-debunk the silliness of the Patriot Act arguments, except to say that the Patriot Act, illegal wiretapping, or biometric whatzits wouldn’t have prevented 9/11. We had the information already, we just lacked the attention of the powerful, and the resources for the law enforcement. In this sense 9/11 and Katrina both represent the same exact problem.
This may also be why people don’t think it’s important to remember No Man’s Land. The president won’t get any bump from reminding us that he waited until the hard work was over in New Orleans before visiting. Nor will anyone soon forget the tremendous vacuum of leadership, the way that bucks were routinely FedEx-ed from 1600 PennsylvaniaCrawford to Baton Rouge. Nor should anyone forget that when America was attacked on 9/11, the President spent the day in hiding, as far from New York or Washington as he could get.
On September 19, 2001, my parents wrote a letter to family and friends about their days following the attacks. Living just across the Hudson River from New York, they were deeply and personally involved in the attacks. The void in the sky confronts them every day, and the column of smoke led them to the scene above, a memorial that the people of the city created in front of George Washington, in Washington Square Park.
My parents’ letter ended:
Now we all know we are in another phase of this event. The missing are presumed dead; the cleanup will take on a regularity; we’re going back to work and daily routines. Our attention has turned to a desire for defense, justice and retaliation – coupled with concern about erring into revenge, retribution or an imitation of the tactics that terrorists used against us. We know we as American people are targets, and we are rightly concerned about the possibilities for being struck again. After all, we are confronted by groups of people whose purpose is to attack us in chilling, crippling ways — and who have shown masterful ability to first plan unthinkable acts, then execute their schemes with precision.
Their deadly game is played by different rules from those the rest of us live by, and that makes our task much more difficult. We as a nation need to defend ourselves, to arrest the perpetrators in our country and to isolate and eliminate their cells abroad – and to do it by our rules and in ways that do not jeopardize the civil liberties and due process that make our nation such a wonderful place to live. We worry that we have a President of limited intellect and vision advised by a cabinet of Cold Warriors and social reactionaries. We worry that the Congress will rush so quickly to new laws that we, the citizens, will not have time to react and guide them. So when we remind ourselves that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, we need to remember to be watchful on many fronts: against external enemies, against those inside who take advantage of our system to murder us, against vigilantism that attacks peaceful people because of how they dress or look or where they come from, and also against the policies of government, however well intentioned, that might destroy freedoms in the name of defense.
The President signed the Patriot Act on October 26, barely a month later.
The only people who have forgotten what happened on 9/11 are those who think that event was a political football, a blanket that could cover any absurd decision, and any abuse of American liberty.
Thanks to Tony for pointing out the inspiring essay.