When I got out of work on September 11, 2001, my father called me and told me to remember where I was that day and everything else about it: what I thought, who I talked to, etc., because one day my children would ask me.
When I speak to others who were in school that day, they say that classes stopped and every teen/child sat watching a television, like a car wreck, unable to look away. Yes, the images were frightening, and the youth of our nation were undoubtedly robbed of their childhood too early that day. But it was too important for the adults in the schools. And perhaps it was necessary that day for our children to assume the burden of the coming decade with or without choice.
Sam Harris has a post up on 9/11 that says the obvious:
Ten years have now passed since many of us first felt the jolt of history—when the second plane crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. We knew from that moment that things can go terribly wrong in our world—not because life is unfair, or moral progress impossible, but because we have failed, generation after generation, to abolish the delusions of our ignorant ancestors.
In short, we all wish the perpetrators of the attacks had been more critical. We wish they had more fiercely questioned their religion or their politics or whatever it was that drove them to end the lives of 3,000 innocent people. Our compassion for the innocent dead drew us all together at that time as we rushed to figure out what to do.
We went to war under false pretense. We were furious and clamoring for justice. That war has resulted in the deaths of between 102,417 and 111,938 civilians in a country that had nothing to do with the attack, though support for the war was garnered through the use of the attack as an emotional cudgel.
The truth of the matter is that we should have been more critical. Americans should have more fiercely questioned things. Our failure was not dissimilar from the suicidal monsters in that regard. And those monsters, evil as they were, bear no culpability for the thousands of dead Iraqi civilians who had families and dreams no less dear than those who died in the twin towers. That responsibility belongs to us.
We should have been more critical. Our failure to do so turned us into the monster we swore to destroy.
Back home we became more fractured than ever. The people believing GOP stands for God’s Own Party were determined to follow our leader as he initiated an…
…”arm-twisting offensive” by the United States government to get nations to support it. Although President Bush described nations supporting him as the “coalition of the willing”, the report concluded that it was more accurately described as a “coalition of the coerced.” According to the report, most nations supporting Bush “were recruited through coercion, bullying, and bribery.”
This created a balkanization of our populace. On one side of the spectrum were those willing to question and demand evidence of congress. On the other were people eager to send thousands of those kids, the same ones who recently closed their algebra books to be dragged into adulthood, to seek vengeance for us. The lust for justice itself is not a bad thing, but paired with a lack of critical thought even the best intentions are often twisted into horror. To this day we remain fragmented, and that has resulted in a paralysis of our progress as a nation. This will fall upon the shoulders of the next generation. If the 9/11 attackers did somehow stumble upon paradise they are no doubt reveling in the extended harm we have done to ourselves this way.
We should have healed after the attacks of 9/11. Instead we opened the wound further. It is easy to assign blame to our attackers, but we become reticent to dispense culpability to the face in the mirror. A decade later, it’s not too late to realize we fucked up and to admit that like all people who commit atrocities, not because they are malicious but because they are erroneously trying to do what is right, we should have been more critical. We should have been more critical and we failed. The fault for catastrophe at the hands of human beings seldom lies with intent, but is almost always the exclusive property of malformed ideas about the universe, such as the belief that anything you do in this life, no matter how grandiose or extreme, can prolong it beyond death.
We should be more critical of political leaders. We should be more critical of religion. We should be more critical of ideas. If any lesson should have been learned from 9/11, this is unquestionably it. Modernity has been achieved by generations of consistently trashing bad ideas and keeping the good, whether those ideas are religious, political, scientific, or what have you. Now, more than ever, we should realize the indescribably high value of ideas and we should treat them like they matter. When others fail to be reasonable, we must be vocal about it, even if they cling to unreason for comfort. Ideas are our lifeblood. So many of them are not merely opinions on which we can afford to ‘agree to disagree’, for ideas are the arbiters of our actions, and our actions will always have consequences. After 9/11 we know that all too well.
A decade later we are still bleeding because of poor ideas buried within the bosoms of passionate men. Passion itself is no crime, in fact it has been the foundation for all of the great goods in the history of humankind. But unchecked by reason and critical thought, it can be the heart of world-changing malice, as it was on 9/11. This is not new – it has been this way throughout the millennia. If we are to grow beyond the massacre of 9/11, we need only seek to improve upon the failures of its perpetrators. Like them, our various religions and the idea of believing things upon the flimsy, immoral basis of faith keeps people from doing so.
To all those children of September 11, 2011, I am sorry. Not for the planes crashing or for the American lives lost, but for our own failures as a nation and as thinkers. We should have been more critical. We should have done better for you.
And I am so, so sorry.