Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 7, 2011

Reflecting on 9/11: P’d-off for Peace

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Mark Chubb on September 7, 2011

This week just about every journalist, blogger, pundit, and anyone else with a pulpit or point-of-view is offering either a remembrance of 9/11, an analysis of the decade since then or more likely some of both. I’d like to say it’s nice to have company, since this blog has occupied that space for much of the time since the attacks, but I honestly can’t say I’ve found the company all that illuminating and rarely all that insightful.

This observation is not, however, offered as a critique. Anyone who lived through the terrible events of a decade ago has every right, if not a solemn duty, to pause and reflect if not now at least every once in awhile about the significance of these events.

I am less concerned with the content and tone of the pieces I have been reading than I am with what they say about my own feelings and observations. For starters, I will admit more than a little ambivalence about the whole idea of recognizing and responding to these events and those who perpetrated them. I prefer instead to pause and reflect not on the attacks but on those who lost their lives trying to prevent more people from dying.

I would like to believe that reflecting on their sacrifices and those of the civilians taken from us under such horrible circumstances would cause us to reconsider our commitment not to punishment but to peace. But that’s a pretty tall order and maybe not all the realistic in light of what happened.

Most of the words that have come to mind as I have reflected on the emotions of the past decade seemed to start with the letter “p.” This probably says more about the quirky way my mind works than the event, but it struck me that I was not the only one who was truly P’d off when the scope and scale of the attacks became evident, so I’m going with the flow of those thoughts and following the thread wherever it leads me …

In the midst of all the pain we felt as we looked on from near or far, it seems only natural that the most powerful responses would take the form of either pride or prejudice and sometimes more than a little of both. I would love to look back now and say that prudence has overtaken patriotism in guiding our approach to extremism, but that would be taking things a bit far. Indeed, one might argue that patriotism, at least a misplaced and ill-informed take on it, poses one of the bigger threats to our republic on 9/10/11 just as it did on 9/10/01.

Instead of hunting down and killing the principals responsible for organized extremist groups at an enormous cost in terms of blood and treasure, we could be investing our efforts in promoting principles consistent with our heritage and highest ideals. But that would require us to get our priorities straight at home as well as abroad. When we consider politicians’ preoccupations with payback as opposed to paying forward, it becomes clear just how implausible this seems.

As a purely practical matter, we still have not resolved how to reconcile competing conceptions of privacy with the imperative of protection. In part, this reflects a community that values persistence over patience.

Notwithstanding this pessimistic assessment, I do see some positive signs. First, our foreign policy shows signs of slow but steady progress away from a position of paternalism toward something that looks more like parenting. And second, I see signs that we are becoming less obsessed with preparedness as an end and more inclined so see it as a means of engaging communities in the work of resilience: presence, participation and partnerships.

I’d like to think that by the time we pause again in another ten years we will recognize that the most significant thing that happened on 9/11 and the thing that should define us most as a nation is not how we responded to the attackers but how we overcame our fears and frustrations to become better people. The passion of our first responders — and I include among them all of the bystanders who sprung into action alongside the public safety professionals — is the one indelible impression of that day that just will not leave me. Their actions were undertaken not only without hope of recognition or reward but, in fact, against hope itself.

This alone should inspire us to work harder for peace, if only to prove their efforts and sacrifices were not in vain.

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5 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 7, 2011 @ 9:24 am

Well my 9/11/01 focus is always largely domestic. Although I find that it took almost the whole decade to get going the Treasury Departments efforts to trace and disrupt terrorist financing is now highly effective. Unless of course you include the BANKS and Bond Ghouls as terrorists. Operated domestically Treasury has really put its shoulder to the wheel on this effort. Congrats.

Now that I have given a congrats out can hand out some demerits. DHS continues as a largely top down organization, largely uniformed, gunned and badged and command and control. Even poor FEMA has increasingly seen its staff wearing hats, teashirts and jackets marked FEMA [this is in HQs not just the field] even as they continue to attend meetings where most of the participants pack their glocks openly and plan on 20 years and out unlike the 30 years and age 55 FEMA types.

As to the STATES and their local governments–apparently most considered the DHS grant programs as general revenue sharing. Well that looks like about to end as PREPAREDNESS is viewed as nice to have not need to have given federal cutbacks.

And the Congress really does not have a clue but perhaps will wake up when GAO issues a comprehensive report on Friday or Monday documenting successes and failures by DHS in its programs, functions and activities as assigned by Congress and the President.

So perhaps Mark’s point is well taken and will take some time to review all this literature to find out what info if any is new and important.

Looks like the 9/11 Commission is going to issue some bullets that will hit home as to the efforts of a decade. And a relatively comprehensive revision to the “LOOMING TOWERS” might be the best bet for a read catching up on the last decade.

This all may be very painful to watch unfurl if you believe that the USA could have done better and should have done better in its response to the events of 9/11/01 that for some reason disrupted the major efforts prior to that date to deal with AQ and UBL and non-state terrorists.

All in all a sad anniversary and sympathy again for all those who lost loved ones or sickened by the response effort. Who exactly is responsible for sending all those first responders into the 9/11 target sites without SCUB [self-contained breathing apparatus]?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

September 7, 2011 @ 7:07 pm

Mark, Thanks very much. I wonder if some of our struggle relates to our sometimes same/often different understanding of peace.

The word derives from the Latin pax and a medieval French twist meaning “free from civil disorder.” The Pax Romana was as much about establishing authority and order as the absence of war.

But for most Westerners there is at least an echo of the Hebrew shalowm in our understanding of peace. Peace is how we translate shalowm, but the Hebrew is something very different than pax.

Shalowm is an experience of individual and community contentment, completeness, wholeness, soundness and health.

It seems to me we often mistake the orderly authority of pax for the fulfillment of shalowm… and are surprised when we achieve neither.

Comment by Mark Chubb

September 7, 2011 @ 9:06 pm

As usual, I think you’re right, Phil. For me, the actions of those who stepped into the breach on 9/11 strikes the same chord within me that resonates when I read the words of Matthew’s very semitic account of Jesus of Nazareth’s Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

For me, true heroism does not involve conquering fear or mayhem, and certainly does not require the restoration of order. I would not say that police officers, firefighters or paramedics were seeking contentment per se through their deeds on 9/11. These actions could rightly be seen, however, as having brought these courageous men and women to completeness of their callings to serve humanity. This is how I choose to remember their sacrifices.

Comment by God Bless Our Republic and Our First Respnders!

September 8, 2011 @ 11:54 am

God Bless our first responders as they climbed and climbed to reach out while passing those in the staircase who fortunately walked to safety despite their challenges that day –

Christopher Tingus

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » 9/12

September 12, 2011 @ 11:26 am

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