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NB: I start this post off with a fairly long and rambling recollection of my memories of 9/11/2001. If you don’t want to read this (and I won’t fault you if you don’t), please consider scrolling down to the asterisks, where I actually start talking about political stuff that may interest my regular readers. -jd
It was an awful day, a day I and many – most – others wandered through in a sort of state of shock.
I was living in California at the time, still working as a lawyer. The first plane hit one of the towers just before my alarm clock went off that morning, The drive-time DJs chattered on as usual about nonsensical matters I can mercifully no longer remember, unaware of the unfolding tragedy until the woman who gave the traffic reports joined them on the air a few minutes later and told them to turn on a TV if they had one in the studio.
I turned my own TV on immediately, and thus had the dubious honor of watching the second plane hit the other tower as it was happening.
I stumbled around my apartment that morning, somehow getting ready for work, largely on autopilot, in shock. My brother called from Colorado. Was I planning on going to the office? Yes, I said. I had a meeting scheduled about a contract I was working on, I had to at least go in to see if it was still happening.
I was a lawyer, and lawyers aren’t supposed to react to emotional events the way other humans do, because lawyers aren’t supposed to be human, to suffer human weaknesses. I never got my emotional circuits disconnected (nor do most lawyers), but I often felt like I was obligated by my status to act as if I had – like many other lawyers did that day.
My brother was worried, because I worked in a tall building. Not the tallest in the city I was living in at the time, not by a long shot, but it was a crazy day, and no one was thinking logically. I certainly wasn’t. The biggest mass murder in our country’s history and I was putting on a suit and acting like I could ride out a day at the office.
It was a ridiculous notion, of course, but the truth is, I didn’t know what else to do. I lived alone, and had only recently moved to this city, so I didn’t have any close friends close by. My family was half a continent away. Practically the only people I knew locally were my co-workers. I think that’s the real reason why I went to work – I didn’t want to be alone on that horrible day, watching the news coverage by myself.
Probably only about a third of our staff showed up for work that day, mostly people with urgent meetings or people who like me didn’t think they were allowed (by whatever entity it is that allows these things) to take the day off. No work actually happened, at least as far as I saw. We congregated in a conference room where the head of our department had set up a television. Someone brought in a tray of bagels and a thermos full of coffee, which were largely ignored by everyone present. As if we could have eaten on that day.
We were all mentally or literally going through our rolodexes, trying to figure out if anyone we knew was likely to have been in one of the towers. I was one of the lucky ones – no one I knew, at least that I could think of at the moment, was likely to have been in either of the towers that day, though I did know several people who worked in one of the buildings across the street from the towers.
A co-worker – one of the ones who did not show up at the office that day – was not so lucky. Her mentor from a firm she had worked for earlier in her legal career was at a breakfast meeting in the restaurant that was on the top floor of one of the towers. He was among the missing.
We sat in the conference room, speaking in low voices, watching the scraps of news as they came in. Praying silently for the safety of people that we knew. Praying for all the people we didn’t know – the missing, and the people who would be missing them.
Every now and then, someone’s cell phone would ring, and the phone’s owner would walk quickly out into the hallway outside the conference room to take the call away from the rest of us. Sometimes, the news was good – someone they knew had received confirmation that someone else they knew was okay, was safe at home, was out of town, had taken a later flight, was not among the missing. Sometimes the news was less good – there were lots of reports of unanswered calls to mobile phones, or reaching answering machines at the homes of friends, or of not being able to get through to New York numbers at all.
By noon, I had had enough of pretending to work. I walked home from my office, got out of my lawyer costume and into comfy sweats, and started calling every single friend and family member I could, all over the country, trying to make sure that people were okay, trying to reassure myself that the world was not ending. And by and large, the news from my circle of friends and acquaintances was good.
There were some near-misses, though. A family friend who works in investment management and retirement planning was supposed to be flying from the west coast to New York to meet with some people from Cantor Fitzgerald that evening. His flight was canceled before it had a chance to board. The people he was scheduled to meet with were all among the missing. Another friend was a regular on one of the flights from Boston to LA that was hijacked. In other weeks he might have been on the plane, but something had caused his schedule to change that week.
The day passed slowly, with information trickling out in small bits between the endless replaying of the videos of the second crash and of each tower collapsing. Wild rumors circulated, and were duly reported by the media, albeit with strong caveats that they were unconfirmed rumors, because actual information was scarce.
It quickly became too painful to listen to the reporters, so I muted the television and started going through my CD collection, looking for music that might bring some comfort. John Lennon’s Imagine destroyed me – I listened to it twice, and cried for the lives lost. Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World was very cathartic, as well. I tried listening to Beethoven’s third symphony, Eroica – my favorite of the nine – but quickly abandoned it as inappropriate to the mood of the day. Ditto a Mozart concerto. I finally settled on the Cowboy Junkies’ Trinity Sessions with the volume turned down low. The entire album has a very mournful sound to it, sad and soothing, something that could be listened to without fear of offending the souls of those who lost their lives that day.
As night fell, I lit candles in my apartment, in the spirit of hope that more who were currently listed as “missing” would turn up alive and well. I brewed chamomile tea, which I sweetened with too much honey and sat on my bed staring at the TV, half-listening to the Cowboy Junkies, and wondering vaguely what could possibly drive people to fly airplanes into buildings.
At some point, I fell asleep, lights still on, music still playing, TV still flashing endless loops of planes crashing and towers falling.
A new day dawned, and the entire world had changed.
* * *
You may wonder why I’m writing about all this. My story of that day seven years ago is not dramatic, and it’s not as if anyone who was alive and aware of the world around them at the time of the attacks couldn’t tell a similar tale.
In truth, it is not what I had intended to write about when I sat down at my computer. But these were the words that came out, and I let them, because I feel it is appropriate to honor the memory of that day, as horrible as it was, and to honor the lives lost there – particularly the sacrifice by those who were trying to rescue others caught in the inferno of the towers before they fell, and the lives of the people on flight 93, who, having heard what happened with the other hijacked planes, fought back against their hijackers and prevented their plane from being used as a fourth weapon of horror at the cost of their own lives. Likewise, it is appropriate to honor the suffering of all those who lost friends and loved ones on September 11th.
Moments of silence, flags flown at half mast, prayers and religious services are all appropriate tributes to the losses suffered on that horrible day. Likewise the haunting sounds of Amazing Grace played on the bagpipes or a stirring rendition of America the Beautiful.
These are the things that civilized people do when faced with such a tragedy.
What civilized people do not do, is to use the memory of that horrible day and the lives lost on it to score political points.
Yet today, we are seeing exactly that from the Republican party.
Last week, they showed that appalling 9/11 “tribute” video as part of the run-up to John McCain’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. The video was apparently sprung on the cable news networks covering the convention without warning, and without the opportunity to screen it prior to its airing.
It was graphic and jingoistic, and it was clearly designed not to honor the memory of the lives lost or the heroic efforts of those who worked feverishly to rescue people from the rubble of the collapsed towers, but rather to inflame the worst aspects of the American public’s memory of that horrible day.
Worse still, it attempted to tie the attacks to Iran – a nation that had no part in planning the attacks – and to reinforce the idea that Iraq and Saddam Hussein were also somehow involved in their orchestration, despite no evidence to support this notion and massive evidence to the contrary. But tying Iran and Iraq to 9/11 serves the political agenda of certain people in the upper echelons of the Republican party (and, let us not forget, the agenda of the corporate interests and radical religious groups supporting certain GOP candidates).
Minutes after it aired, Keith Olbermann was apologizing to MSNBC viewers for the inappropriate nature of that video. And last night, he rightly castigated the Republican party leadership for the showing of the video in one of his excellent special comments.
Unfortunately, it seems we can expect many more actions of this nature from certain groups backing McCain and the Moose Killer over the next few months.
According to Denise Dennis, writing at the Huffington Post:
This past Sunday, in presidential-election swing states across the country, the New York Times came bundled with a dvd of the documentary “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” a controversial film on the threat Islamic terrorism. The documentary is set for release to retail outlets this week — the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks — but has been shown at college campuses for nearly a year now, presented largely by Jewish student organizations and as part of Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, the national “conservative campus protest” organized and sponsored last fall by conservative author David Horowitz’s Freedom Center.
As it happens, I find myself in possession of a copy of this DVD. I did not buy it, though it lists a manufacturer’s recommended price on the front cover. Apparently, someone thinks it is worth $19.95, though I would disagree with that appraisal.
The copy I have was pressed into my hands by an earnest-looking young woman on a Denver street corner two weeks ago during the Democratic convention. She said something about it being about the distinction between peace-seeking Muslims and terrorists. I thanked her for it and shoved it in my bookbag without much thought or attention at the time. It remained in a stack with all the other political literature and similar offerings that I picked up as I wandered around the convention venue until last night, when I saw Ms. Dennis’s story on Huffington Post and the movie’s title rang a bell in my memory.
I have now watched the first forty minutes of the one hour video. That was enough.
More than enough, actually.
It is a piece of propaganda, plain and simple. Like the 9/11 “tribute” video from the RNC, it is designed to reawaken the public’s fear off terrorism. It displays graphic images of people injured in terrorist attacks. It shows maps with ominous x’s at the locations of various events. And it shows clips of various men in Muslim attire, with subtitles full of scary threats against the west, and particularly against America.
The video purports to distinguish between most followers of Islam, who are as horrified by the terrorist tactics used by al-Qaeda as the rest of us, and the radical Islamists who actually support or engage in terrorist acts. In reality, what it does is paint the Muslim religion as a threatening “other”, both opposed and a threat to “our way of life.” It blatantly states that Muslim people will say one thing when non-Muslims are present, and another thing when only believers are present – thus, by implication, no Muslim person can be trusted, because you can’t tell the radicals from the non-violent majority.
Someone has obviously spent a lot of money to make sure this DVD is widely circulated in swing states. The copy I have was presented in the standard DVD case, with a cover that looks like it was designed professionally like any other commercial DVD. I would assume the same can be said of the copies that were sent to the New York Times subscribers. According to the above-cited Dennis piece, the DVD “was bundled into newspapers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, Iowa, Florida, Wisconsin, Nevada, New Hampshire and Virginia.” Make no mistake. The distribution of this piece of political propaganda cost a fair chunk of change.
Why would someone go to this incredible expense?
It all comes back to fear, and to terror management theory.
As I have noted previously in this space, reminders of 9/11 and the threat of terrorism have been shown to influence opinions expressed by voters on a variety of political issues, and on average to sway those opinions in the conservative direction.
The stronger the reminder about the threat, the greater the number of voters likely to be swayed by such tactics.
Certain Republicans want to set up Muslim citizens as the “other” in society, to be hated and feared, because it will give mainstream voters a visible threat to fear.
They are using graphic reminders of the attacks that occurred on this day seven years ago and the lives that were lost on that day as a means to accomplish this end.
They are doing it shamelessly and without apology.
There is a word for this sort of political tactic.
It is obscene.
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, obscene means “objectionable or offensive to accepted standards of decency.” It then goes on to further define the term in primarily sexual contexts, which is how that term is usually interpreted in the legal arena. But the first sentence of the definition certainly applies to this tactic, so I will use the term obscene to describe it.
The people who lost their lives seven years ago today deserve better treatment than to have their deaths turned into a political tool. The people who lost friends and loved ones seven years ago deserve better. The American public deserves better.
And yet, as appalling as it is, there are politicians, corporations, and religious groups who are foisting this obscenity onto the American public, and who will continue to do so between now and November, all for the sake of winning a presidential election – an election which they in no way deserve to win after the horrible catastrofuck resulting from the past eight years of Republican “leadership.”
I cannot begin to describe how angry this makes me.
Mere words cannot suffice. I could paint you a picture, but I don’t think I have enough cadmium red or alizarin crimson – indeed, there may not be enough of either pigment in the world to convey my anger about the cynical use of our memories of 9/11 as a means to a political end by people who want to see John McCain elected in November.
Instead, I will leave you with this. It’s another Roy Zimmerman song, about someone else who tried to use 9/11 in a semi-political, semi-religious context:
It’s been several days since McCain made what should have been one of the biggest speeches of his career, and I’m still not sure what to say.
When you’ve got someone lying and bloviating in his speechifying like that, where do you start?
Well, that, and I had a hard time staying awake for the entire speech. I felt like a little kid trying to behave in church or something – I knew I should be paying attention, but it was soooo boring, and the couch was so comfy, and my eyes were kind of tired anyway and…well, you get the idea.
Not only was the speech poorly delivered and mind-numbingly boring, it was without substance. Obama’s speech was a generational call to arms to disaffected Americans who are sick and tired of the paralyzing partisanship and unacceptable status quo. Mccain’s was boilerplate
There was one thing I found a bit disturbing, though.
Well, no, actually, there were a bunch of things I found a bit disturbing. But this is an aspect I haven’t seen commented on in the blogs or news sites I read, so I thought I ought to mention it.
About eight minutes into the speech, McCain speaks directly to Barack Obama:
And finally, a word to Senator Obama and his supporters. We’ll go at it, we’ll go at it over the next two months, you know that’s the nature of this business. And there are big differences between us. But you have my respect, and my admiration. Despite our differences, much more unites us than divides us. We are fellow Americans, and that’s an association that means more to me than any other. We’re dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal, and endowed by our creator with inalienable rights. No country, no country ever had a greater cause than that. And I wouldn’t be an American worthy of the name, if I didn’t honor Senator Obama and his supporters for their achievement.
All well and good. He doesn’t congratulate Obama outright on being the first African American to win a major political party’s nomination for president, but the allusion to both the Declaration of Independence (“all men are created equal, and endowed by our creator with unalienable rights”) and Lincoln’s Gettysburg address (“dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”) make it clear enough that this is what he is speaking of. And of course, honoring Obama on his historic achievement is an appropriate, honorable, and classy thing to do.
But then he looks at the audience of Republican convention delegates and party bigwigs — the overwhelmingly, disproportionately, almost unbelievably white audience — and says:
But let there be no doubt my friends, we’re going to win this election. We’re going to win.
Emphasis as in the original.
Yes, he really emphasized the “we’re” both times. Immediately after the sentence about honoring Obama and his supporters for their achievement.
And all I can think, is that he means, “We, the rich white people, are going to win.”
Maybe I’m reading too much into things. I’ve been known to do that on occasion. It may be that McCain didn’t mean “we rich white people,” but instead merely meant “we Republicans (most of whom happen to be white).” Maybe he even just meant, “we Republicans.”
I’ve watched this portion of the speech several times over the past few days, trying to figure out if I was just imagining it, or if he really had emphasized the words in a way that would suggest that he meant my first interpretation of his words.
And I still kinda think he meant it that way.
So I guess I need a reality check. I’m including a YouTube video of the speech below. Use the slider bar to fast-forward to about 8:22 into the speech, watch it for yourself, and tell me what you think:
Am I reading too much into it?
I thought last night’s RNC speeches were bad, but apparently they were just softening us up for tonight’s performance.
I don’t even know what to say about Lindsay Graham’s speech, beyond asking, “Is he talking about the same war as the rest of us?”
The 9/11 video was beyond appalling.
And the raging insincerity and verbal gymnastics inherent in the various speakers’ attempts to distance themselves from the debacle of the last eight years under a Republican president while at the same time trying to generate enthusiasm for a candidate that promises four more years of the same policies are producing seizure-inducing levels of cognitive dissonance.
I just don’t know what to say.
…for calling the Republicans on the appalling use of that 9/11 “tribute” for political purposes. –jd
Have I mentioned lately that I adore this man and all he does to call the mainstream media and political talking heads on their bullshit? Sure, he can be a little too nice sometimes when he’s got them face-to-face on his show, but then he does zingers like this, and all I can do is applaud.
P.S. Sorry, I tried to add the Comedy Central video here, but WordPress wasn’t cooperating.
…but it’s hard, because I have to keep hitting myself on the side of my head to get the bullshit out of my ears.
I don’t know. Maybe my insincerity and hypocrisy detectors are calibrated too sensitively.
Maybe the Republicans are only targeting voters incapable of critical thinking.
But can anyone be buying this shit?
…that if certain people on the Christian right are going to claim that natural disasters are their god’s way of punishing certain groups in our society for immorality, they must at least do so consistently?
Say, when not one, but two hurricanes are scheduled to make landfall in predominantly red states during the Republican national convention?
So it turns out that McCain’s vice presidential pick – you know, Sarah Palin, the one who’s supposedly all big with the Christian values and teaching abstinence instead of birth control (which she opposes) – well, her unmarried 17-year-old daughter is apparently pregnant. Like, five months pregnant. According to the New York Times article, the girl (Bristol) will be keeping the baby and plans to marry the baby’s father.
To Palin’s credit, she is being a supportive mom for her daughter.
To McCain’s credit, he is not throwing Palin under a bus. And at least one account I’ve seen says he knew about the impending joyous event when he chose Palin as his VP candidate.
Of course, I have nothing but good wishes for Bristol and her pending bundle of joy. Good for you, kiddo, if you’re doing what you want to do.
But next time – you might want to look into some of that birth control that your mom is so opposed to. Because seriously, you’re seventeen – do you really want to have to become a grown-up this fast?
NB: There were already rumors circulating that in fact Palin’s youngest child is not hers, but her daughter’s – delivered when Bristol was sixteen. According to witnesses, Palin did not look pregnant even on the day she claims to have delivered the child – indeed, she flew from Dallas to Seattle to Alaska while she was allegedly in labor, something no sane pregnant woman would ever do. So why did she do it? Because, the story goes, she wasn’t having a baby, and she needed to be in the city where the baby was being born on the day of the delivery if she was going to claim that the child was hers and not her daughter’s.