11 September 2011

9/11 Thoughts

Guest posted by Jim Putnam

All of radio, news magazines and papers, and TV seem to be focusing on the ten year anniversary of 9/11. I’ve listened and read several, and no one has put their thoughts any way near what I have been thinking. So, here I go.

It’s obviously true that 9/11 changed us all in many ways. I’m no different. I remember being at work in Raleigh when someone came in and said we needed to get to a TV. I watched and listened for a few minutes, and left the room before the second plane struck, very saddened. I knew that we would never be the same, individually or as a nation. I wasn’t, and am still not, smart enough to know how we would or still will change, but it seemed inevitable that we would.

9/11 stands foremost as a missed, a lost opportunity. I don’t think any of us could see the true opportunity available to stand atop a mountain and shine as a beacon of hope. Anger crowded reason aside, and we reacted, striking at those who hurt us. We struck at anyone who even looked like the image we built of a Muslim enemy. Because a few hundred, perhaps a thousand, Muslim extremists, perpetrated the terrible acts on 9/11, every one of a billion and a half Muslim people became our enemy. And no matter how much we say that they are not, our actions scream louder. We have become that which we feared the most.We have spent billions of dollars on our internal defenses, telling ourselves that we must be strong, and more billions on external war. I understand that we’ve spent well over a trillion dollars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A billion here, billion there, and pretty soon we have spent real money, to paraphrase Senator Everett Dirksen. We’ve practically bankrupted ourselves with wars and fear.

Hindsight is so much better than foresight. It’s not a good idea to play the “What if ..” game, and I don’t intend to do so now. What is, is, and no amount of what if can change it. But, perhaps it is good to consider what we could have done, along with those that we did. I’m not a political scientist, but it seems to me that there were certainly actions not taken that would have made an enormous, world changing difference.

Perhaps we could have said to the world that we have been grievously hurt, but that we know we are strong enough as a nation that we don’t feel the need to respond to death with anger but with a firm resolve that we are better than that. Can we build on our strengths rather than try to build walls of isolation based on fear?

It’s reasonably clear that there are those who wish us terrible harm. Yes, we must continue to protect ourselves, but isn’t it also clear that security needn’t be the enemy of freedom? To me it is. Very clear. We’ve always been a confident people, and yet we’ve allowed ourselves to relinquish our freedoms for what those who profit from “protecting” us. We’ve allowed our government to tell us that we need to be surrounded by walls, electronic and real. A million or so dollars spent to detect a bomb detection device could be better spent building bridges and infrastructure that make us stronger than any detection gizmo.

I don’t have any idea what to do now about Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention Somalia, Libya, the Mideast, etc. I read that Afghanistan and Iraq would likely be failed countries two years after we would leave, and therefore we cannot leave. Supposedly, as failed countries they would be a training, or to us a more heinously loaded word, breeding ground for terrorists after we leave. Isn’t there a better way to preclude that than by occupying, fighting, and losing our troops? I believe there must be, and surely someone smarter than me has an idea how.

I suppose the base question has to be, “What can be done now, after all these bodies, dollars, and mental, emotional, and physical strength of our country has already been committed?” What can we do NOW? I can’t answer that because I am not at all sure that there is anything that we can do. Nothing, nada, zilch, zero. But so long as words like these can still be written, in despair as well as hope, there may be time to do something, and there may be time for someone who is more capable than I to show us a plan.

Jim Putnam

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