I am a young man. Impetuous, a true idiot, and far from wise. I say this not to be self-deprecating, or to garner any specific sympathy or support. I say this so you may forgive me if I come across as glib or overly morose. I also say this to make it clear how obvious this situation is.
10 years. A milestone for myriad occasions. High school graduations, marriages, employment. A nice round number: long enough to have seen many changes, not so long as to make you forget where it all began, so you can still recognize change. 10 years since two planes flew into NYC skyscrapers, one into the Pentagon, and one into Terra Firma, PA. Truly a turning point for our nation, but in retrospect, it seems like we may have made a wrong turn.
Historically, tragedy has been a force of growth and definition for our country. Pearl Harbor, for example, galvanized a nation to war, proving beyond doubt our military and economic prowess, which netted us global dominance in many arenas. Granted, we already held international respect for many of our accomplishments, specifically our burgeoning trade and industry. WWII, though, showed the world that we meant business, and while the attach in Hawaii was tragic, it slingshot us to greatness. At least for a time.
Countless regional disasters have also served to gird the loins of American prosperity. The Chicago fires, the major earthquakes in California, etc. Each of these led to a reanalysis of laws, policies, and they were expanded–sometimes created–to create a better place, safer and more conducive to our lifestyle. And after these, we succeeded. We became wealthy, successful, and respected. Not by everyone, of course, but what country is? Then came 2001. We were coming off of a largely economically successful presidency (and there are always arguments on either side of that issue), and hopes were high that it would continue. Then came September 11.
The events of that day plunged our country into a panicked frenzy. Mobs were attacking any brown person around. Merchants were gouging consumers, who were equally scared. Our people were hurting our own out of fear, and maybe even a little greed, but even with that, we eventually learned to quell the violence. But many never learned to quell the hatred. Our news media, the purported voices of reason, spread fear and hate for ratings, and what’s worse, there are people who take the pundits at face value. They spew hatred and intolerance, and people just eat it up. Internalize it. Realize it. As a result, our reputations has become that we are the pulse of intolerance and ignorance. And, simply, it’s repulsive.
It’s now 10 years later, and a lot has happened. We entered two unending theaters of war, we found and captured one dictatorial leader, who was hung amidst celebration by his mistreated people. Then, we actually found and killed the man believed to be behind the very attacks that happened 10 years ago. We killed him, too. Amidst these military victories, we have also given up a number of civil rights, and pieces of our sense of decency. We’ve allowed our disabled and elderly to be humiliated at the hands of under-trained and overzealous airport security guards. We are as confused and scared and flummoxed as ever, and this is after 10 (T-E-N) years.
The media will be talking all day about how we should be honoring the memories of the people who died. But we’ve done a pretty poor job of that in the last decade haven’t we, then? Our grand memorial at ground zero has barely been started, largely due to money grubbing and squabbling amongst contractors. We have let fear take over our media. There is still wide-spread and unilateral hatred of anyone with brown skin. What have we become, really?
We have not honored these peoples’ lives. And we won’t ever, not until we step back and reprioritize. We are losing money hand over fist to two wars, despite our crippling debt, which is made worse by inactive political leaders, too powerful corporate lobbies, and corporations grabbing for every last dollar without giving back to the communities which fostered their grown from their infancies. It’s made worse by desperation and frustration of the millions looking for jobs. It’s made worse by helplessness and hopelessness in change. We really need to just step back and look at what it means to be American. To be us, not to police the world, not to tell any other country what government is good and what is bad.
We need to just “do us,” for a while, at least until we’re back on our feet and not still reeling from poor decision making and a sucker punch that happened 10 years ago. We need to regroup, refocus, and look at what we lost. Then, we need to move forward. Build from that loss, and do what we’ve always done: come back better and stronger than ever before. But how?
I don’t know. How do you get out of the wars we’ve started? How do you step back and regroup? I have no idea, but something’s got to give, and it cannot be the already flagging American vigor and livelihood. The successful plan is the plan which brings us back to our roots. The plan that reignites the ingenuity and sheer force of will that brought us through so many tragedies in the past. That’s the plan I’ll be looking for.
**NOTE: I understand that not everyone who will read this is an American. I am, though, so please excuse me when I say “our country.” I do not mean to imply that you are included in the collective, just me and the rest of the Americans.