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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

9/11 and The Inevitable Fade of Memory

Photo © 2011 by Ralph F. Couey

"Time moves in one direction;
Memory in another."
--William Gibson

Copyright © 2015
By Ralph F. Couey

Tomorrow marks the 14th anniversary of the events which transpired on September 11th, 2001.  On that bright, beautiful late-summer morning, terrorists took command of four airliners.  Two were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.  A third crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and the fourth dove into a old strip mine near Shanksville, Pennsylvania after passengers and crew, alerted by what had already occurred, assaulted the terrorists, nearly reclaiming control of the aircraft.

As the images of the disaster poured out of our televisions, America was stunned.  We knew that terrorists did attacks, but they were always far away; Europe, Africa, the Middle East.  Surely, this couldn't happen here.  But on that day, the shock, sorrow, and anger that had been felt by others was brought home and deposited squarely in our laps.

America has been surprised before, most notably at Pearl Harbor in 1941, and again in Korea in 1950, and the question of "how?" is always asked.  The answer is usually tied to failures of intelligence or training and leadership.  But there's something larger at work, from a purely philosophical context.

America is very good at fighting wars, as countless enemies can attest.  But we are not a warrior race.  Our practice has been to commit to battle when forced to, defeat the enemy, and afterwards rebuild and make friends with them.  When the battles cease, we can't wait to beat our swords into plowshares, and go back to our lives.

Warrior cultures do not operate like that.  In Japan, it was the culture of the Samurai that overtook the government and the nation.  Their soldiers fought with brutal efficiency, and ignoring international law, regularly tortured and executed prisoners, even civilians, sometimes for entertainment.  For them, the end of one battle only signals the beginning of another.  Those of the leadership who did not surrender, took their own lives.  That same paradigm has been seen unfolding in the Middle East as radical Jihadi groups, living by a twisted interpretation of the Quran and driven by an all-consuming hate, have unleashed untold violence and shocking brutality on largely innocent people.  Americans simply can't comprehend that kind of mindset.  

Which is why we get surprised.

This is a different fight for us.  We can no longer point to a place on a map and say with certainty, "there lies the enemy."  With few exceptions, these groups operate outside of any national sovereignty.  For the first time in our history, we're not fighting a government.  We're fighting an idea; the idea that there can be only one God, one religion, and all others, along with their practitioners, must be eradicated.  The tough thing about an idea is that it can't be held in by a border, or restricted by a no-fly zone, or blockaded by ships.  It can't be bombed or shot. Ideas spread through the multitudinous forms of human interaction.  We could no more contain the spread of an idea than we could cage the restless desert wind.

I don't know if this is a war we can ever win.  But I do know is that this is a battle we must never stop fighting.  To lay down our arms and walk away assures their victory.  You see, they've learned from our history.  Wait us out, kill a few of our people, and eventually we will lose interest and walk away.  We did it in Vietnam, we did it again in Somalia.  We completely ignored Rwanda and the Diamond Wars in West Africa, because we feared getting involved in a potential morass.

So here we find ourselves , fourteen years after the most emotionally devastating day in our history, still trying to live our lives in a state of utter disconnect from the rest of the world.  While we will remember the events of 9/11, we can never again relive the emotion of that day.  We still live with the aftermath, one only has to take an airline trip to see that.  But time has, and does provide a sort of insulating blanket between present and past.  It's part of what is called "the healing process."  But it is important for us to take at least some notice of not only what we saw, but what we felt on that day, and pass that along to future generations.  9/11 has become the primary driver that explains the world we now live in, and the dangers we all face.

Something else has been lost as well.  For a few precious weeks afterwards, we all came together in a sense of unity not felt since 1941.  It was a wonderful, almost magical time.  We were all together; all on the same page; all clear on what had to be done.  But over time, our division reappeared, and over the past decade, our political divides have become ever deeper and wider.  We are no longer one nation.

For many of us who were alive and aware that day, September 11th will always be meaningful.  We lost a lot of people that day whose only crime was living their lives, pursuing their happiness.  The delusional shield we thought stood between us and the rest of the world, turned out to rusted and shot through with holes.  Our lives will never be the same, and while the wound healed, we'll always carry the scar. 

Perhaps tomorrow, we should take a moment, touch that scar and remember the pain.

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