September 10th. The last good night, the last before of 2,996 afters. The 12th anniversary of the last night of not knowing something we wish we didn’t know now, of what we’ve seen – planes into buildings, memorandums floating on the air, mangled fire trucks – that we can’t unsee now.
September 11th was the rallying cry of the worst president in history, arguably, though most of America was only too happy to tie yellow ribbons on everything, fly the stars and stripes (cheerfully made in China) on every auto. I hit the street in protest as that war started; most everybody here did. But America was still chanting about towelheads and willing themselves, in misguided Freedom isn’t Free! patriotism, to believe it was Iraq on 9/11 so George Bush could have his Daddy’s war. Propaganda so effective that fully seven years later the Republican Party actually made a serious try to lob an underbright Alaska governor to the heartbeat-away slot in the White House, who actually thought 9/11 was Saddam. And wasn’t kidding.
The takeaway for the American people, after years of being fooled, was finally to see the world as progressives saw it plain and almost immediately; that ‘enemies’ aren’t interchangeable, that it’s better to understand the attack in some context, however painful, that our hands are not clean says much of the world, and that we owe our precious soldiers the respect of deploying them only when absolutely necessary.
Clearly, the president had some trouble with that takeaway. And that’s troubling, given why we elected him, and how he took pains to distance himself from his foolhardy predecessor.
But I think what we saw in tonight’s inelegant speech is a president forced by the rest of us – war-weary voters, stoplossed military families, and congress members across all spectra – to do the harder work of finding diplomatic solutions, and engaging the community of nations (where there’s some doubt who perpetrated this). This is not what President Obama wanted, but in the spirit of something other than trumpeting American exceptionalism, it is a saner approach – particularly from the nation with which napalm, Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are associated. I know I’ll take a hit from some people on that.
Without the wisdom, the questions, even the anger of the American people, without the brakes Congress applied, and without the takeaways of more than 10 years of war by fools, President Obama might have made a different speech tonight. We have many people to thank for the possibility of a non-military solution now. Obama gets credit for listening.
Every year this night I begin reliving September 11th. I’m not alone. Part of this is the guilt of the dislocated; I was in Detroit, where National Guardsmen sat in Jeeps on Woodward Avenue, rifles on their shoulders. But I wasn’t here where middle school kids learned their fathers were missing when hysterical mothers came to collect them, where ordinary people tried to drive carloads of boots to the city, because they heard on the radio the steelworkers needed them. Most of all I relive it to keep faith with my Ohio fire chief grandfather, who I see in the faces of all lost firefighters. And to acknowledge the unknowable stories of the jumpers, whose quarter-mile fall from the sky are the mysteries of my nightmares.
I support public release of more of the video and info members of Congress have seen; we owe to the dead of Syria to witness it. But if I thought lives would be saved in Syria if we bombed, I’d back the President right now. I don’t see how we can even consider it until all non-military solutions are exhausted.
And it’s a bad day to remind me of battles begun in the name of a war on terror.