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Saturday, September 11, 2004

Three Years Gone

With each passing year I find myself more skeptical of anyone who claims that "9/11 changed everything." I read countless articles about the "death of irony," and the "serious times" we now lived in. Well, after three years of Martha Stewart, Bennifer, and other such stuff, I am reminded how easy it is to be lost in a moment.

Then I was treated to the bizarre spectacle of watching large chunks of the Republican National Convention devoted to the claim that being in power on that day is actually a selling point for their policies, and thought to myself that maybe irony had become pointless, and that laughter is (or at least ought to be) lurking around every corner. That this technique seemed to work even a little suggests that more serious times may be ahead, and that I may need a healthy sense of irony more than ever.

September 11, 2001 was a horrific day beyond description, but in many ways the tragedy brought out the best in us. The world was by and large with America that day. We were a people ready to sacrifice for the greater good in our nation. It was like a Pandora's Box in reverse, in that hope seemed to be one of the first things to come out.

Then came the anger and rage, which were understandable. But then came three years of a propaganda campaign that is driving a wedge between not only America and the world, but between America and itself. Now we're more divided and polarized than ever. It didn't have to be this way.

Who do I blame for this? I blame those in power, beginning with President Bush, but extending down to nearly all of America's important leading institutions.

The deaths of some 3,000 Americans were used a political tool to promote controversial and wrongheaded policy initiatives, get America into a dubious war in Iraq, and smear the patriotism of millions. And they are still being used, for their shock value, for their fear value, as unscrupulous opportunists troll for votes, ratings, sales, and campaign donations.

The call for shared sacrifice never came, as instead of national leadership, America was instructed from on high to continue to indulge in its national narcissism. Bush's cronies got even more goodies, in the form of tax breaks, no-bid contracts and other sweetheart deals, and less regulatory oversight. The rest of us got stuck with the bill for a grandiose excerise of imperial hurbis in Iraq as more and more found it harder and harder to make ends meet. There are more gas-guzzling vehicles than ever on the streets driving ever more miles, and there is more disposable consumption now than ever; while these are personal choices often with no direct connection to who is in the White House, the tone is set at the top.

Thanks in part to those choices, we are as vulnerable as ever to those who would harm us. But generalized fear and anxiety as personified by vague terror alerts will not help us. Isolating and defeating the real threats to security - and, make no mistake, there are real threats - will involve vigilance, smarts, and resoruces. It will not be as "satisfying" to cable news audiences as the toppling of symbolic statues, or the invasions of world capitals, but it must be done.

Lost in all the arguments about Vietnam, who was on what Swift Boat or F-102, who was in Cambodia or Alabama when, and the authenticity of 30-year old memoranda is a central truth. The world has it eyes on America, and many who would wish us ill are all too ready to have all their easy caricatures of what our nation has become validated in November. I would counsel that we deny them that validation. If you are making new enemies faster than you can kill or neutralize them, you are not winning the War on Terror.


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