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I remember 5 years ago today I woke up in a small motel on the Oregon Coast and jumped in my car to rendezvous with friends for a week long camping trip. I was out of my room at 6:00 am PDT without having switched on the tv or radio, and when I got on the road a few minutes later I flipped on the radio and heard the first reports of a plane that had crashed into one of the WTC towers in lower Manhattan. A few minutes into the confusion the report came in of a second impact, and then a few minutes after that a report came in that the Pentagon had been attacked.

More after the flip . . .

I drove around for a few minutes that seemed like hours before I found a hotel lobby with a television and I'll never forget that awful footage -- seeing the impacts for the first time, seeing the footage of people falling to their deaths from the 100th floor of a building that I'd visited occasionally and seeing the collapse of the towers burned into my brain in a way that I won't soon forget. It was as dark a day as I had witnessed in my life, and at first, I was terrified.

I thought it through, though, and soon came to a couple of conclusions. First, having flown hundreds of thousands of miles in the prior years on business I decided that it wasn't all that hard to hijack a plane -- the novel improvement, if you will, was that the guys who hijacked these planes didn't follow the usual plot line -- rather, they turned 'em into missiles, and that was an advancement in the state of the art that would be easy enough to contend with in the future. After all, I thought, if somebody tried that on a flight in the future we'd all know what to do . . . at the first sign of trouble the burly guys sitting on the aisles could take out four scrawny highjackers without a problem --- it wasn't that the highjackers had any kind of superior numbers, it's just that they were playing a different game, and like a quarterback sneak it's hard to get away with that kind of play twice.

The other thing I reasoned was that as horrible as that day was, in the overall history of the United States the deaths of so many didn't have to be more than a pimple on the ass of an elephant. We'd made 200+ years as a free and open society, and I thought that no matter how bad the day appeared to be, that we could shake it off and move forward. It seemed pretty obvious to me that the only way the terrorists could "win" was if we somehow changed our way of life. I reasoned that we're a smart, resilliant and clever group of people who would be able to hunt down those responsible for the assault and bring them to some sort of rough justice in an expeditious manner and move on.

Anyway, I'm thinking about all this and about the same time I made it okay in my head my cell rang and there was my Mom, the Original Business Traveler, calling to let me know that she wasn't on one of the flights and checking in on me as well. Actually, I tried to call her straight away as she regularly traveled from Boston and New Jersey to SFO but cell service was spotty at best where I was and the lines were all jammed so it took a while . . .

When I talked to my Mom she threw cold water on my optimistic outlook -- she said that while she didn't fear the terrorists, she feared the guys running the United States government. She's 18 years older than I am, and she remembered Cheney and Rumsfeld along with second tier players like Abrams and Wolfowitz well from the Nixon, Ford and Regan administrations. She told me that those guys would over-react and lead our country to war and worse. She told me that they'd drive this country to a terrible place behind the attacks, and she told me she feared for future -- she was in as dark and as cynical a mood as I've ever heard.

I did my best to cheer her up -- I tried to argue that while GWB had been unimpressive in his first few months in office he was surrounded by smart people like Colin Powell and Condi Rice, that his Daddy was a wise man who, while not always agreeable, had a comprehensive worldview, and I argued that Americans were smarter than that . . . that we wouldn't let ourselves be manipulated by a few over what would be seen as a great national tragedy. I told her that some things make us stronger even when they're painful, and that in a weird way we'd have to confront some essential questions about who we were and why we were under attack . . . and the answers, I assured here, were that we were an open and peaceful society living under the rule of law, a law crafted by some unusually prescient and wise men who had the uncanny ability to imagine both a present and a future framework of governance that was the envy of the world. That's why we were attacked, I told her, and I was sure, absolutely sure, that we'd all know the very best way to win was to deny the terrorist that what they wanted -- we'd not let them provoke us to madness and we'd never forget who we were, and more importantly, who we are.

We closed that conversation with neither of us feeling much better, and eight days later I was finally able to fly home on one of the first commercial flights out of SFO. Man, you wanna talk about weird; I'd been in the woods for a week and drove straight in without stopping for anything other than a quick shower. I looked like a close relative of the Unibomber, and I distinctly remember the looks on the faces of my fellow passengers -- I think there were just 7 of us -- and I finally explained myself to two or three guys that were eyeing me most closely and we all had a laugh.

I think that was probably the last time I laughed about 9/11 -- and friends, I'm here to admit today that my Mom is the smart one in the family and that I was as wrong as Dick Cheney on Iraq, Head Start and Nelson Mandela. The bastards -- that's our administration, btw -- have fucked this country beyond belief and have made us less safe for our trouble.

We've invaded two countries but still haven't caught the warped and evil bastard who lives by a book that tells him we're the great Satan and must die, we've become allies with an Islamic country that harbors not only the evil bastard we ostensibly wanted to bring to justice but that also harbors A.Q. Kahn, a guy who ran a nuclear arms bazaar that enabled North Korea and Iran to build or attempt to build nuclear weapons. We've destabilized the Middle East to the point where Iran is the most powerful country in the region and Afghanistan is run by warlords and has produced 130% of the world's opium supply in the last year. What's worse, we've been revealed to be a dishonest broker, and whatever prestige or influence the US has wielded in the Middle East is gone, gone, gone, just like the trillion dollars in both hard cash and opportunity costs that the 'war on terror' has cost us.

As a guy who thinks of himself as a patriotic American, I'm pissed off that our elected leaders think of themselves as our rulers, not our servants, and have manipulated the good will and honest intentions of the American people in such a way that has destroyed our national prestige, has cost thousands of American lives, and have ransacked both the intent and the specific law contained in the very constitution our President and Vice President swore to uphold. We've become a nation that tortures, that eavesdrops, that can "disappear" civilians at will, that believes that the right to a fair trial isn't reserved for anyone they label a "terrorist", and our leaders blatantly and repeatedly lie about their motives and intentions. This administration has used 9/11 to reshape this country in the image of a third rate dictatorship where the rule of law is replaced by the rule of men who create laws for expedience and the operative concept is "to the victors go the spoils".

Last time I checked the government of the United States was meant to be "of the people, by the people, for the people", not some sort of theocratic kleptocracy where law is based on a narrow interpretation of the Bible and the treasury is meant to be plundered as a spoil of political victory.

I owe my Mom an apology; she was right and I was wrong.

The victims of 9/11 deserved better; the mastermind of the plot to kill so many innocents in the name of his god still roams free, and the American people are less free than at any time in the history of our country. I wish more Americans traveled as all you need to do is to go abroad to understand that our actions have erased the admiration that so many felt for America and her people; in many places we're regarded with contempt or even revulsion, and if you were to poll the world I'm sure that many, many more would see George W. Bush and his administration as a far greater threat to world peace than any "Islamic fascist " movement. Given what happened to Saddam, many rational people reason, Iran both needs and deserves the bomb to defend itself -- after all, the great lesson of the invasion of Iraq is that we could only do it if Saddam didn't have one.

We're not the victims any more, we're the problem -- that's the legacy of 9/11, and I fear Osama bin Laden has won a greater victory than he ever imagined was possible the day those four planes took to the sky.

And the worst of it, IMO, is that we did it to ourselves.  We've become the Great Satan that bin Laden said we were, and we did it in the comparative blink of an eye.  

And what will we do next?  Who among us will rise up to prove him wrong?

~j

Originally posted to leo fender on Mon Sep 11, 2006 at 10:50 AM PDT.

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