At the time I watched the towers crumble from the sudden strike of the previously unimagined, I did not realize I was watching a metaphor for the great promise their soaring human achievement beaconed to the world. It is five years later, and I see the vast optimism our nation once promised the world at the tipping point.
In the day’s wake, we have strayed from a nation united with others, to a nation on the brink of wandering a lonely, isolated trail. And a great many of us don’t seem to mind. “Pre-emption is our prerogative.” “Shoot now. Ask questions later.” We no longer care how our actions, right or wrong, are embraced by the greater world. Just get out of our entitled way.
At the same time, we have slowly tightened the noose around the neck of our freedoms—willingly. “I have nothing to hide. Go ahead. Spy on me as you see fit.” It is the least we can do when under siege by the invisible—give up freedoms so that liberty might endure.
Nineteen men, a simple plan executed, five years later, and a great power is floundering. It lurches along a “war” unguided, left virtually alone to attend to a civil mess of massive proportions with no way out and of our own creation. The plan appears to unapologetically embrace the low road at every turn, rebuking every moral departure point for the chance to wrestle in the mud.
Five years later and all we have to show for all of this is a government in political stalemate. Rather than dialogue about how we conduct “the war” or how we improve our vigilance, our partisan leadership debates whether horses should be sold for human consumption, argues about the definition of marriage, writes amendments on burning the flag. And we, the people, don’t seem to care.
What has happened to us? It is as if we are the towers ablaze. Soon to buckle and collapse from the searing heat of 9/11—a white-hot heat that continues to melt the steel-like principles that made us what we were on 9/10/2001.
We talk about not being attacked again since. Some say it’s the result of policy. Some say it’s the result of luck. I think it may be that the first attack is far from over yet, that it continues to burn in ways still unimagined, that it hasn’t run its full course.
I worry that if we do not re-embrace the grand values the rest of the world once rested its dreams on, that one attack—nineteen men and a simple plan—will be, in the end, all it took.
The beacon that once illuminated a better way, is weakening fast, and like the towers, soon to crumple. The consequences of that should haunt us all.
[author's comment: It has been three years since I wrote this, and we are still scrambling: Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, economic collapse and now internal fighting much greater than a democratic family squabble. For god's sake, we are only now beginning to fill the hole in the ground where the towers once stood.]