Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years ago today... wife was in the air over New York on an 8:30 AM flight from Boston to Washington, and I was glued to the TV having a panic attack. She called me from National Airport (I will not call it "Reagan National") to say that there was some kind of fire that broke out nearby shortly after she had landed, but if I heard anything in the news about a problem at National Airport, she was okay. The fire she saw breaking out, as it turned out, was the attack on the Pentagon, which the TV news wasn't reporting yet.

Five years later, we're bogged down in a war we started under false pretenses without committing enough troops to win, scores of people -- both American and Iraqi -- are dying needlessly every day, their blood is on our hands, and we don't even know where Osama Bin Laden is.

As The New York Times said in its lead editorial this morning:

It was a time when the nation was waiting to find out what it was supposed to do, to be called to the task that would give special lasting meaning to the tragedy that it had endured.

But the call never came. Without ever having asked to be exempt from the demands of this new post-9/11 war, we were cut out. Everything would be paid for with the blood of other people’s children, and with money earned by the next generation. Our role appeared to be confined to waiting in longer lines at the airport. President Bush, searching the other day for an example of post-9/11 sacrifice, pointed out that everybody pays taxes.

That pinched view of our responsibility as citizens got us tax cuts we didn’t need and an invasion that never would have occurred if every voter’s sons and daughters were eligible for the draft. With no call to work together on some effort greater than ourselves, we were free to relapse into a self- centeredness that became a second national tragedy. We have spent the last few years fighting each other with more avidity than we fight the enemy.

When we measure the possibilities created by 9/11 against what we have actually accomplished, it is clear that we have found one way after another to compound the tragedy. Homeland security is half-finished, the development at ground zero barely begun. The war against terror we meant to fight in Afghanistan is at best stuck in neutral, with the Taliban resurgent and the best economic news involving a bumper crop of opium. Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11 when it was invaded, is now a breeding ground for a new generation of terrorists.

Listing the sins of the Bush administration may help to clarify how we got here, but it will not get us out. The country still hungers for something better, for evidence that our leaders also believe in ideas larger than their own political advancement.

It was a very sad day five years ago, and it still is today.


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