Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September 11 Then and Now

I remember the day as being warm and filled with sunshine. There was a brilliant blue sky, much like there is today. Summer was grudgingly fading, but true autumn had yet to appear on the southern plains.

I was driving a cab then. It was just another dead end job in a series of dead end jobs meant to stave off the bill collectors as a second novel failed to find a publisher. I was headed west on Britton Road in northwest Oklahoma City. I was quite nearly to May Ave. which runs the entire length of the town from north to south. The dispatcher came across the air, in response to an unheard question and said, "Yeah, a plane crashed into the World Trade Center."

There was a moment of odd irony. Six plus years before, in 1995 as I was finishing that novel, it had dawned on me that I was making far less money as a free lance writer than was the average homeless alcoholic who was begging for change on street corners. I had begun to drive the hack in March of that year. In April Tim McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. That morning, another clear beautiful day, I saw the smoke rising up in a great pall from downtown OKC and my first thought was that a plane had crashed there.

There on Britton Road on September 11, I remembered that initial impression from the Oklahoma City bombing and then quickly assumed some goof had driven his Piper Cub, or his Beechcraft twin engine prop into one of the towers. It was another hour or so before I realized airline jets had been hijacked and the United States of America was being assaulted by a ruthless bunch of kamikazes.

Later, I ate lunch at a deli that was managed by a friend of mine. He was convinced that U.S. fighter jets had downed United flight 93 over Pennsylvania. He wasn't alone then and even now there are those who think that is exactly what happened.

The ensuing chaos touched everyone and everything. My father compared it to December 7, 1941. During the hours and days following the hijackings high profile people from different walks of life received mail laced with toxic anthrax spores. All commercial airline traffic was shut down. The skies over America became void of any sort of civilian aircraft.

Eleven years after the fact the final statistics still aren't in. More and more survivors and respondents are succumbing to all manner of cancers and lung ailments. Then there are the U.S. troop casualties in Afghanistan which continue to mount. What we do know is that in those first frenzied hours 2,606 died in NYC. 125 were killed at the Pentagon. 246 passengers on the four hijacked planes died as did the 19 savages who perpetrated the crimes.

Of the dead, 372 were New York City Fire Department personnel as well as 23 NYCPD cops, 37 Port Authority Police, and 15 Emergency Medical Technicians. 372 foreign nationals are included in the initial casualty list.

In October American warplanes began bombing Taliban positions in Afghanistan. Eleven years later and after 2,000 U.S. troops have been killed we're still there and so are the Taliban, although they aren't in power any more, well at least not for the time being.

But, you know all of this don't you. You know that September 11, 2001 changed the country forever and in ways that aren't entirely good. In fact it changed the country in ways that are downright frightening. Since 9-11-01 the government, in the name of national security, has rendered the concept of habeas corpus moot. If you are considered enough of a threat, or are simply suspected of being a threat you can disappear for years. That right to a speedy trial thing and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment have gone as extinct as the Brontosaurus. America, since 9-11, has been in a constant state of war and while the constitution still receives glowing lip service from many quarters in reality it has become irrelevant.

G.W. Bush, who was president on that awful day lives in Dallas now, retired and generally ignored by everyone, especially those in his own party. He used 9-11 as a pretext to settle an old score with Saddam Hussein in Iraq while forgetting about Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the attacks. Bin Laden himself was whacked by a bunch of Navy Seals in May of 2011.

So who won?

al-Qaeda certainly didn't. The life expectancy of an al-Qaeda leader is now numbered in days as opposed to years. The Taliban didn't, at least not yet. They were forced out of power and into the hills by U.S. and allied military forces. Saddam didn't either, although no one has ever proven to me and scores of others what he had to do with all this in the first place. If Bush hadn't had such hard on for his ass he'd probably still be running things in Baghdad for ill or good.

And finally we didn't either. We've given up too much, become too intolerant, become too willing to say yes to whatever new police power the government wants to implement. We are too willing to give up freedom to preserve freedom. We've replaced the communist menace with the Islamic menace. Just ask an American Imam how easy it is to get some land zoned for the construction of a mosque anywhere in this country. The general public immediately shrieks and starts shouting about centers of terrorist activity.

Osama bin Laden's people killed nearly 3000 human beings eleven years ago today. We're the ones, however, who have continued to eat away at our own personal freedoms and privacy. He committed his act out of hate. We have and are committing ours out of fear. Only time will tell who, in the end, inflicted the most lasting damage to the republic.


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