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.