It’s been roughly four and a half years since Sept. 11, 2001, the day that “changed everything” except the things we most needed to change, such as how we protect our country against attacks by terrorists.
Our ports remain dreadfully insecure. So do the nation’s nuclear and chemical plants. So does any tall building in any city in the country you could name.
We dropped the ball.
Osama bin Ladin is still at large, somewhere. I suspect he’s living well, rent-free, with plenty of fanatic food at hand and scores of worshipping minions to do his bidding, like power up the video camera. If the bed he sleeps in every night isn’t soft and comfy, it’s by his own choosing, the better to maintain the persona.
There’s been a lot of fooferall over the release by Universal of “United 93,” the film about the tragic but heroic story of the jetliner that crashed in Pennsylvania on 9/11, far from its Washington, DC target. I have nothing but in my heart but sorrow for the people on Flight 93 – indeed, for the doomed people on all four crashed airliners. And there’s a permanent black hole in my heart for those who died that day in the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon.
There hasn’t been a single day since Sept. 11 that I haven’t thought of it, or felt that grim, futile grief for the all victims.
I won’t be going to see “United 93.” It’s not because it’s “too soon.” That’s silly. It’s because I simply can’t. I can’t watch it – I already know how it ends. The only message it could possibly convey for me is shame.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban is back in sway. The only place in that poor country that has even a modicum of freedom and democracy is in Kabul, where America holds on by her fingernails. I’m not surprised – we were only paying lip-service to bringing democracy there after we re-pulverized the rubble left behind by the Soviets and killed scores of innocents, anyway. Sure, we swept up some hundreds of “al Qaeda” fighters, but today they molder in Gitmo, or in our secret, shameful “black sites” in other parts of the world, uncharged, unrepresented by the law, the vast majority of them either small potatoes or innocent of wrongdoing.
Afghanistan was revenge. But when Osama went to ground (we conjecture) in the wilds of Tora Bora, the task got too hard. And President Bush, basking on his laurels after making cowboy pronouncements about roundin’ up the bad guys, had other, tastier fish to fry.
The War on Terror, always an amorphous concept (you can’t win a war against guerilla fighters – it’s like mole-bashing) became the War on Saddam. And that, too, has turned into a shameful debacle, a civil war with vultures circling, circling, just waiting for the opportunity to gorge on the remains. The captured Saddam won’t even attend his own trial – and laughably, no one makes him.
As all this has played out over the last four and a half years, my mind keeps going back in sadness to the doomed people in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and those airliners. It keeps going back to the wretched wasteland that remains where the Towers stood. There is no memorial there – we keep fighting over what it should look like, and how tall it should be. Bidness-As-Usual wants its office-space back, but so far, no one has stepped forward to sign any leases. Really, who can blame them? Who would want to work in the next unprotected, tallest target in the world? Anything we build there might as well have a big bulls-eye painted on its side.
I remember, in the first weeks after 9/11, hearing about an idea a woman had about how to memorialize the tragedy – and heroics – of September 11. She suggested that a great garden should be planted on the site of Ground Zero, a living memorial to those who’d lost their lives. The idea made me cry; it sounded beautiful. Perfect. Trees could be planted, one for each person who’d died. The garden could be a place where people could go to salve their sadness, their wounded spirits. It could never really be a target for hate again.
Today, those trees would still be fairly small, but they’d be leafing out and flowering, bringing comfort and smiles to all who passed among them. They’d be a gentle, inspiring reminder of the turning of the earth, of time, of history with each passing season. They’d speak of life, not death, of hope and renewal, not cold, calculating profit, gotten while the gettin’s good and to hell with anyone who gets in the way.
I haven’t seen “United 93.” I really, really don’t need to.