Friday, September 9, 2011

War and Remembrance

As we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the most horrendous terrorist attack of our nation's history, many reflections, dark and deep pass through our collective consciousness.

Recollections of loved ones lost.  Shattered complacency.  Haunting images burned forever into our national psyche.  We ask ourselves over and over if we could have prevented it.  If we can stop it from happening again.  We reflect on the test to our national resiliency and character.  We calculate (or try to) what we lost that terrible day, how well (or poorly) we responded, and what we've gained (if anything) in strength and hard-earned wisdom.

All important and natural parts of the healing process.  But, as we seem to loop back in time to that hellish moment, seemingly frozen there yet again like flies in amber, do we reflect on the thousands more who've died since then?  Of the thousands interred not under tons of fallen rubble, but in flag-draped coffins?  And, what of the tens of thousands more in Iraq and Afghanistan killed in wars that perhaps should never have been waged?

Iraq was a war fought not for our national security, but over oil, power and revenge, for grievances that predated the 9/11 attacks by several years.  Yet, it was fought under the pretext of forestalling another 9/11, and like any war, it fed on the irrational and maddening fear of the public.  And, the war dragged on, death after senseless death, until the public's fear subsided, their anger cooled, and we all forgot the reason the war started.  Now, as we withdraw from Iraq at long last, suicidal, murderous violence erupts there again.  The madness of hatred seems never to end.

Many would say our mission in Afghanistan is far more pure.  It is, after all, the country from which the 9/11 attacks were launched.  And, no one, least of all the Afghan people, wants to see the extremist brutality of the Taliban continue.  But, as the wars drag on, with no end in sight, a line of bodies stretching out into seeming dark infinity, should we reflect less on our own pain, and more on how we became mired in the madness to begin with?  The answer to that question (if there is one) goes back more than a century, to when we first began exploiting the middle-east for its oil.  Oil.  That alluring black poison whose addictive hold over our economy we must break.  In trying to establish "stability" in the middle-east (stability meaning our continued ability to control the oil there) we have supported corrupt and repressive regimes, only to see them fall with tragic consequences, as in Iran, fueling hatred of America, which in turn fuels terrorism.  And now, as the great enigma of the "Arab Spring" rises, we must re-examine our role in that terrifying and rapidly changing part of the world.  President Obama and the NATO Alliance deserve praise for militarily supporting the brave Libyan rebels who overthrew the tyrant Muamar Khadafi.  But, what comes next?  Can the nations of the west work together with the emerging fledgling democracies of the middle-east to eradicate those conditions of social and economic injustice in which terrorism thrive?  Or, does hatred stand between us still?

What, ultimately, are America's defining values and goals as we look back over the first decade since 9/11?  It is to our credit as a nation that there has been no massive backlash against Muslims in America (as there might have been in other countries.)  But, the hatred is there, all the same, festering in the shadowed corners.  Islam in any organized form is often met with condemnation in America.  Implicit in the intolerance is a feeling that Islam itself is to blame for 9/11, not a few twisted individuals.  And, the ever-present danger to our precious civil liberties rising out of potentially extremist security regulations remains as dire a threat to our way of life as any terrorist attack.  Are we doomed never to heal?  To keep our wounds green forever?  And, as we look to the dead of 9/11 again and again, have we become desensitized to the new martyrs whose names and faces nightly cross our television screens as the war grinds on and on?

At some point, the mourning must end.  and we must look to the living.  The next generation should not inherit a war whose meaning lay lost in the ashes, and whose goals lay buried in the bloodied sands.

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