Fear is Not the Answer
Remembering 9/11 and its Legacy
We remember that sunny Tuesday morning when news from New York City interrupted our morning activities. The first crash – into the North Tower – happened at quarter to nine. Fires were burning near the point of impact, but at first it didn’t seem catastrophic.
But moments later, another passenger jet crashed into the South Tower. That’s when we knew these were not accidents; these were acts of violence meant to cause fear, destruction and death.
We remember how events seemed to be spiraling out of control. Around 9:30 the Pentagon was hit by a third passenger jet. A fourth plane was reported down somewhere in western Pennsylvania. Many other hijackings were reported, as well as car bombs and fires at the Capitol.
Just before 10 o’clock, only an hour after being hit, the South Tower exploded and fell. We remember the dust, boiling in every direction like a volcanic eruption, hanging in the air and blocking the sun before covering surrounding buildings and the streets below in pulverized concrete and gypsum.
We remember our horror as we watched the television clips over and over again. People were dying, right before our eyes! From the North Tower, up to 200 people jumped to their deaths. Around 10:30, the North Tower disintegrated, just as the South Tower had.
We remember our anger, along with our fear. Who had committed this terrible crime? At noon, Senator Hatch said the FBI and CIA had concluded Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda did it.
That evening, President Bush told his Security Council the Taliban in Afghanistan was to blame along with al-Qaeda. He said: “I want you all to understand that we are at war and we will stay at war until this is done. Nothing else matters, everything is available for the pursuit of this war. Any barriers in your way, they’re gone. Any money you need, you have it. This is our only agenda.” He had already decided that war – and not the rule of law – was the way he would pursue justice and defend America against those who had committed violence against America.
We remember the clean-up at Ground Zero. For weeks after the 9/11 attacks, there were extremely high temperatures in the rubble. “You’d get down below and you’d see molten steel . . like you’re in a foundry,” said a fireman.
We remember the 19 hijacking suspects and how 11 of them received visas through the U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the same office the CIA had used to bring Muslim fighters into the U.S. for training. These 19 men attracted lots of attention. Veteran FBI field agents actively investigated some of them, but their efforts were always blocked by supervisors who later were promoted.
We remember the 9/11 Commission and what chairmen Tom Keane and Lee Hamilton said about it: that it was “set up to fail” and that the Commission was so upset by the shifting and conflicting stories officials told to explain the failure of the air defense system that it considered launching a separate investigation into obstruction of justice by the Pentagon and the FAA.
The Commission’s report did not mention Building 7, a third office tower that imploded on the afternoon of 9/11; did not explain what caused the massive core supports in the Twin Towers to fail; said nothing about the Saudi and Pakistani money supporting the alleged hijackers; waved off suspicious stock trading activity in the weeks just before 9/11; ignored the shocking failure of the NSA to share info about suspected terrorists in the U.S.; and held no official accountable for not heeding the warnings of an attack. No wonder architects, engineers, scientists, military officers, fire fighters, pilots, former public officials and academics have risked their reputations by calling for a new investigation.
We remember the 220 acres of concrete pulverized inexplicably into gravel and dust. Two years ago, chemists published peer-reviewed research showing the presence in the dust of highly manufactured explosives. Can we still say we have a free press if our media does not find this research newsworthy?
We remember October, 2001 and the anthrax letters that said, “Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is great.” Amid the fear and panic, Congress passed the USA Patriot Act, greatly expanding government while diminishing our civil liberties. To this day, the anthrax attacks have not been solved. What has been confirmed is that the anthrax was made in a U.S. military lab and that it had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or Islam. It just was supposed to look that way.
We remember the invasion of Afghanistan. One week after 9/11, the President signed a joint resolution of Congress: Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists. It was not a declaration of war. It simply authorized the President to use violence anywhere in the world against anyone who he thought may have had something to do with 9/11. He could treat them as terrorists and the Geneva Conventions would not apply. It was a blank check, outside the U.N. and international law, and opened the door to abuses such as Guantanamo.
We remember being told that the first purpose of the invasion of Afghanistan was to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, dead or alive. Yet he repeatedly “slipped through our fingers” first in a convoy of vehicles from Jalalabad and then from his mountain hide-away. Only six months after 9/11, President Bush said he wasn’t that concerned about bin Laden.
We remember President Obama twice expanding the war after he promised to end it, using the same rationale as President Bush: al-Qaeda, safe havens, bin Laden, terrorism. But we also recall reports that there are only 50-75 isolated a-Qaeda individuals left in Afghanistan. And now the President Obama says bin Laden is dead.
The war in Afghanistan is the longest in American history. It’s costing us $10 B a month. Why are Americans still fighting and dying there? In July, 37 died; another 31 died on one day in August. IED attacks are on the rise, leaving many soldiers maimed for life. And why are U.S. troops still making those terrifying night raids on private homes? Why are they dropping bombs on civilians who turn out to be kids gathering wood, or families at a wedding feast? Each is an act of terrorism that only creates more terrorists.
We understand that opium dealers, oil companies, defense contractors and the large banks are happy with the present situation in Afghanistan. Twelve military bases are being built there. So it’s a permanent occupation. Unless we change direction, some of today’s toddlers will die one day in the war in Afghanistan.
We remember the invasion of Iraq. In January 2001, at the first meeting of the National Security Council, President Bush spoke of regime change in Iraq. Throughout the spring, Dick Cheney worked on it too – with the oil company executives in secret meetings. On the day of 9/11, Donald Rumsfeld began implementing the plan to invade Iraq.
We remember how Iraq was falsely blamed for 9/11. And how later, President Bush accused Iraq of developing weapons of mass destruction, even though he knew it was not true. The President relied on canned intelligence, publicized forged documents about yellowcake from Niger, promoted the fabricated story of an Iraqi defector, and provoked fear about nuclear terrorism.
But the deliberate lies of our government were only the start. There also was the torture. It started already in the spring of 2002, not to pre-empt another terror attack, but to establish a link between Saddam and 9/11 and thereby justify the invasion of Iraq. The United States has long been respected in the world for its commitment to the rule of law. During these past ten years, our leaders have squandered this treasure and brought disrepute on our country and our people.
We remember the civil war our military fomented in Iraq, the hundreds of thousands who died, the millions made into refugees. We recall the deformed babies of Fallujah and 4.5 million orphaned children. We are ashamed of the human rights violations at Abu Ghraib prison. We grieve for the fallen soldiers and contractors, and for neighbors and friends who carry the scars of war with them every day.
And now our country is at war against Libya, and has launched drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Ask President Obama, Congressman Pitts or Senators Casey and Toomey about this escalation of U.S. violence against Muslims and they will take you back to 9/11, to al-Qaeda, to terrorism, to fear.
We remember the 1990s when we planned for “a peace dividend” after years of high military spending driven by fear of the Russians. Then in 1997, a new group called the Project for the New American Century said military spending needed to increase significantly. It said the public was unlikely to support this new spending “absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event like a new Pearl Harbor.” Many members of this group became part of the Bush Administration.
Our military has always been expensive. But its spending has doubled since 9/11, and that’s without counting the cost of the wars and Homeland Security. The Pentagon maintains around 1,000 bases in at least 38 countries. Special forces are engaged in covert, search-and-destroy actions in over 100 countries. Here in America, law enforcement has begun to manufacture the terror threats it then foils. It wants us to be afraid so we will support the war machine.
We have become a fear-filled people, intimidated whenever the word “terrorism” is spoken. We no longer hold our public officials accountable. We no longer insist on the rule of law. We don’t object to the extension of the 9/11 “state of emergency” year after year, to the full-body scanners and pat-downs at the airports, to the government monitoring of our private communications. We no longer take risks to pursue peace.
Since 9/11, war and weapons have become America’s signature products. It’s what we do. It is the one thing quarreling politicians will always agree about, the economic stimulus they all will vote for. In these 10 years, permanent war has been normalized. It has become our daily bread.
But war is not the answer! It deadens the conscience and makes us calloused and unfeeling. It takes away our God-given humanity. It makes us more afraid while spawning more enemies, more violence, more debt and more tyranny.
How will we break this addiction to fear and violence? By remembering 9/11 truthfully. By reducing our spending on weapons of war. By ending the U.S. occupation of other lands. And by pursuing peace courageously.
This litany was written for a September 11, 2011 public gathering at Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
The gathering was sponsored by 1040 for Peace, Every Church A Peace Church, and the Lancaster Coalition for Peace and Justice.