Remembering the victims of 9/11
September 11, 2010
How to memorialize the dead?
I won’t burn a Koran today
or paint a Hitler mustache on the President’s face.
I will not perform a symbolic act
to add to the deeply poisonous atmosphere
of this society.
Yes, I worry about Islam:
but some of my neighbors are Muslims
and some of my students,
and I don’t hate them.
I will try this day to remember
the victims of crimes,
heinous crimes that
it would be well if
none of us had seen.
But, because we have seen these crimes,
because they have occurred
within our living memory,
it would be well if we tried to think about
just why and how they happened.
Two planes crashed into two buildings
and the buildings fell down.
Is that the whole story?
People, mothers holding babies,
jumping from a towering inferno:
These are things that no one should have to see,
yet we have seen them;
they indelibly color our minds.
They are images
burned into our hearts —
the sudden, terrible fall
of mountainous towers, sending up
volcanic white clouds of dust and asbestos,
clouds of silicon and evaporated flesh
settling upon the dazed and stricken city,
settling upon the wounded and bleeding,
men and women, silent, in shock,
making their way on foot
out of lower Manhattan.
And, at the place called “Ground Zero,”
subterranean fires continued to burn
for weeks thereafter
scorching the boots
of rescue workers.
Nothing will ever take away
the dignity of those who acted like human beings
in the midst of this inhuman tragedy.
Yet I am forced to ask again:
Why did this thing happen, and how,
and for the benefit of whom?
By the next day, details emerged
of nineteen hijackers, Middle Eastern
nationals, trained at
American flight schools, who,
carrying box cutters,
took command of the planes
and flew them into the buildings
along with one plane that hit
while another plane, it was said,
was meant to hit the Capitol,
but the passengers put up a resistance, and
caused the flight to crash
in a field in western Pennsylvania.
And all fingers pointed
to a single culprit,
a single, diabolical mind
who had planned and executed this attack
from a mountain cave in Afghanistan —
Osama Bin Laden.
And, after American forces were sent
to bring this man to justice
and destroy his organization,
a somewhat grainy video eventually turned up
in which Bin Laden
(or someone looking somewhat like him)
gloated about his success in this operation
and maintained how he had known,
from prior experience in demolition,
that two jetliners, filled with fuel,
would generate enough force and heat
to bring down the two steel buildings.
Then, to the single culprit,
there was added yet another: Saddam Hussein,
and so a war was fought
to destroy him, too.
And, here in America,
government surveillance of citizens
was greatly increased
in the name of the universal war on Terror.
Like most people, I accepted much of this story,
although I had my doubts from the start
about our purposes in Iraq
and was convinced early on that the pretense of
Saddam Hussein’s involvement in 9/11 was flimsy,
that controlling Iraq and its resources was
a long-standing strategic objective
of Bush and his advisers,
and that they took the attack on America
as a pretext for doing
what they wanted to do anyway.
But I did not doubt the essential part of the story:
that the 9/11 attacks were planned and orchestrated
by an Islamist terrorist organization, Al-Qaeda,
and that violent measures were justified
to stop them.
At this point, nine years onward,
I find much of the original story
hard to sustain.
I do not doubt that Al-Qaeda
had something to do with the attacks.
But I am convinced that, at the very least,
there were people in the American government
who knew that the attacks were going to happen
on that Tuesday morning in September
and who chose to do nothing to stop them.
And it may be that the truth of the matter
is much more damning than that.
I worry that, if, as a nation,
we fail to ask this question about ourselves,
our moral and political rot
will only continue to grow.
When World Trade Center Building 7 fell
some hours after the Twin Towers,
it showed all the signs of
a controlled demolition.
And a serious case can be made,
and has been made by many well-informed,
that the same thing holds true of
the Twin Towers themselves.
Were the 9/11 attacks
a “false flag” operation
designed to lead a democratic country
into wars it would not otherwise
have been willing to fight,
for purposes it would not otherwise
have deemed worthy
of sending its children to die for?
I don’t know.
But that is, it seems to me,
an essential question,
a largely unasked question,
a question that anyone who loves America
needs to ask, and ask seriously,
and not dismiss offhand with the arrogant credulity
of those who think that, by burning other people’s books,
they can solve their own problems.