A Look in the 9/11 Mirror

by Berry Friesen (September 11, 2015)

It has been fourteen years since terrorism in New York City, in Washington D.C. and in the skies above Pennsylvania took nearly 3,000 lives.

That was our final test as Americans, our last opportunity to assert ourselves and insist on integrity and accountability from the people and structures in which we place our trust.  We failed miserably. 

Our leaders led the way, of course.  Ted Grimsrud, author of The Good War That Wasn’t—And Why It Matters, identifies the summer of 1990 as their point of decisive failure.

It was a time, Grimsrud says, when “the Soviet withdrawal from the Cold War helped move the world closer to peace than it had been any time since Hitler gained power” in the 1930s.  The Soviet Union released its hold on the nations of Eastern Europe and even allowed its constituent republics to declare their independence.  Both the Soviet Union and the USA reduced their nuclear arsenals.  The “doomsday clock” was turned back to seventeen minutes before midnight, its earliest point ever. There was much talk of cutting military spending and the upcoming “peace dividend.”

That August, the Iraqi army under the command of Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.  He had worked closely with US officials over a decade on an agenda that included the invasion of Iran and the use of chemical weapons to gas the Shia, the Kurds and the Iranians.  The U.S. ambassador to Iraq had led Hussein to believe that the USA no more objected to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait than to prior Iraqi atrocities.  But this time, U.S. President George H.W. Bush described Hussein as Hitler incarnate; the Gulf War began five months later. 

The USA has been at war in the Middle East ever since—a quarter century through a dozen Congresses led by each of our major political parties, ten years under a Republican president, nearly fifteen under a Democrat.  Needless to say, there has been no peace dividend.

Grimsrud notes that throughout the seventy years since the end of World War II, whenever peace seemed close at hand, something always came up to make Americans feel afraid and thus save the military-industrial complex from being cut.  The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait perfectly fit this pattern.

Still, 9/11 was different.  It was such a visible event, right here in our country, and such a complete debacle from one end of the government to the other:  visa control, border security, the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, airport security, air defense, Pentagon defense, White House communications, public safety.

And then, after this avalanche of so-called errors, the entire matter was “solved” by the identification of all the guilty parties within a few hours of the attacks. 

The official investigation compounded the calamity.  The steel from the destroyed buildings was shipped off to China before it could be adequately inspected. Witness reports of explosions and molten metal were ignored and discounted.  Routine forensic tests for explosives were not conducted.  Pentagon officials repeatedly lied to the 9/11 Commission about the failure of air defenses.  The President and the Vice-President refused to testify publicly or under oath.  Critical witnesses were not called and critical material evidence was ignored.  The Commission’s final report offered no comment whatsoever on how or why all of the massive steel supports of the Twin Towers failed so quickly, completely and simultaneously, nor did it even mention the third skyscraper that fell into a heap of rubble that day, allegedly due to office fires. 

Many New York City first responders gave their lives that day in attempts to save others; many who survived have since died of diseases acquired that day as they breathed air declared “safe” by public officials. 

Yet not a single individual in the various chains of command was ever disciplined for failure to carry out required duties and many were inexplicably promoted.

Obviously, there was (and is) a lot to question about 9/11.  But we, the American people, have meekly allowed the questions to be shoved aside, even joining the media’s ridicule of anyone who objected.

Now it seems too late to demand answers; the American people have shown they don’t care if their leaders mislead them, even about matters of life and death.  Let the wars go on, let the military-industrial complex bleed us dry, let our leaders tell us lies that cause a million deaths, it doesn’t matter. 

How could it not matter? 

Because we Americans no longer perceive the difference between what historian Andrew Bacevich describes as “our country” and “the state.”  In other words, we can’t imagine an “us” that isn’t defined by the conceit that the USA is the world’s indispensable nation.  Within such a worldview, embracing lies is a small price to pay.

The Bible describes that state of mind as a kind of bleak and barren captivity.  For those who desire liberation, it describes a costly but authentic new life.  As we reflect with shame on all that 9/11 has shown us about ourselves, do we also dare to ask whether at long last, we desire new life?