9/11: Ten years later, who have we become?
Ten years and two wars later, Americans face the monetary and psychological costs of both militarism and Wall Street materialism, effectively bankrupting the country; not to mention the casualties of war at home, and in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Sept. 11, 2001. Sept. 11, 2011. It’s been 10 years. The horror of innocent noncombatants, civilians, targeted, with thousands killed and injured. In the months following the attacks, Americans and others expressed themselves in symbols and practices of the sacred, expressing unity through flags, flowers, commemorations, tears and vows for the future. Ten years later, where are we? Who are we? And perhaps most importantly, who have we become?
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, it seemed that Americans were united. Today, it seems that we are a people bitterly divided. What happened?
Perhaps the horror at the violence unleashed on 9/11 was less powerful than the desire to imitate the violence, to seek revenge on our enemies and on scapegoats who had nothing to do with the attacks of that day, in a spiral that has yet to be exhausted.
Now, 10 years and two wars later, Americans face the monetary and psychological costs of both this militarism and Wall Street materialism, effectively doubling the national debt – which now stands at some $14 trillion – and effectively bankrupting the country; not to mention the casualties of war at home, and in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Yet in our national psyche, the awareness of many of the real reasons for our massive debt crisis and related spiritual crisis seem poorly understood, if at all. While trillions went to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and trillions more to bail out Wall Street, in the recent vitriolic national debate on the debt ceiling there seemed to be an almost total lack of awareness of where a substantial part of our debt came from. And this amnesia played a crucial role in the attempt to reconcile our finances by cutting money to students for education, for working and middle-income families and the poor, for the elderly and those needing health care.
Where can American turn to for hope, for solace, for solutions? Who might be able to counsel us, in the face of apocalyptic violence, in a time of national crisis, in a time when our public discourse seems corrupted by rancor without reason and rage without understanding? Moreover, how do we address not only the nation’s fiscal crisis, but its larger crisis of meaning, of purpose, of community?
In these trying times, we might turn toward our latest monument on the National Mall, and the only one dedicated to an African-American. I’m talking, of course, about the new monument for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. King and his brethren in the civil rights movement expressed, as few Americans have done, before or since, a creative nonviolent solution to apocalyptic violence and hatred. King called for a revolution in values, saying that Americans should get on the right side of the world revolution, something prescient today.
Indeed, as Cornel West noted recently, King called for nothing less than a revolution; a revolution of values, away from materialism, and toward tending the poor and sick; a revolution away from militarism and war abroad, toward the pursuit of peace and social justice. Where some counseled rage, King preached peace and reconciliation, empathy and understanding. And he did this not by himself alone, but with a massive civil rights movement, led by African-Americans but with the significant participation of whites, Latinos and a host of other groups that are an essential part of the American fabric. As King understood and articulated in his “I Have a Dream” speech, it is this fabric of multiculturalism and mutuality that has always been America’s strength, most especially in times of crisis. At a time of increasing anger in America, often targeting strangers and immigrants, these are important lessons to remember.
A recommitment to King’s inspired vision might just be the best thing that could ever come out of the horrendous death and destruction of 9/11: a commitment to live, a commitment to love, and a commitment to peace and social justice. But in the face of seemingly implacable adversaries, should we really try to seek peace? And if so, what is this peace that we should try and seek?
King said, “Peace is not merely the absence of conflict. It is the presence of justice.” And that seems like a good way forward for America, as an entwined domestic and global vision, 10 years after the horrible events of 9/11, as we seek to transform such sorrow into a positive force for mending our broken world.
Photo by _PaulS_'s