9/11: On memory and messaging

Dear friends,
I am a reluctant observer of 9/11, whose tragedy came hand-in-hand with a jingoistic and racist fervor that had direct negative impacts on my multicultural family and changed the tenor of American politics forever for the worse. 
I remember exactly where I was when I heard that the Towers had been attacked: I was stopping for a coffee on my way to Arabic class. I remember my friend completely distraught in class, shaking scared as she raced back home so she could be next to the phone to receive news from her family in New York. I remember a heady confusion of shock, tears, anger, concern, hope, pride, and solidarity as people all over the world came together in sympathy and support.  I remember the shockingly immediate negative reactions of suspicion, distrust, and even hatred that I saw right here in Wisconsin, and all over the country. I remember my disgust at how the tragedy was exploited into war-mongering. I remember how within weeks if you didn't plaster American flags all over your car, yourself, your words, you were "with the enemy."  I remember the stories of the victims' families who were not afforded insurance coverage, the rescue workers who continued to suffer injuries, faces of kids who would never again see their parent, parents who would never again see their children. I remember all of that. 
So 9/11 is always uneasy. For all of us.  We want to honor the dead, honor the day. But every year it seems increasingly impossible to do that without politicizing and romanticizing the tragedy, and the way our emotions and memories are so predictably manipulated is growing tedious and offensive. We need to be firm about facing up to the realities that led to - and from - that day, but we also need to keep the humanity of that tragedy in focus.  I found this beautifully sobering photo today on facebook on the Tom Joad page and think the caption really puts things into perspective. I repost it here with permission. 
I hope one day we find a way to honor the dead in a way that disrespects neither the living nor the truth.

Well, it's 9/11 again and that means it's time for us all to remember that we're Americans and put aside our differences, right? It's the day the entire world came together and people from Iran to France, from Brazil to Malaysia, were waving American flags and holding candlelight vigils. Yes, there was a candlelight vigil in Tehran for the victims of 9/11. Do you remember?

No, we don't. We've forgotten all about that. We've forgotten who to blame and how it was allowed to happen. There is all manner of filth and lies being told on conservative Facebook pages today about how Democrats are to blame for the attacks of 9/11. It made me stop and think back to the things that I recall about our national nightmare.

I remember White House counterterrorism coordinator, Richard Clarke, prowling the halls of the West Wing, BEGGING National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice for a meeting - but the responsibilities for counterterrorism had been assigned, by executive order, to the office of the Vice President, Dick Cheney. Mr. Cheney resisted any meeting, finally scheduling one for September 10th. Remember?

I remember CIA counterterrorism chief, J. Cofer Black's warning to then-CIA Director George Tenet about the likelihood of an attack, within the United States, by Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorist organization.

And I remember that George made a compelling case for NSA Rice, pulling together all the fragments of intelligence his agency had gathered, bringing into sharp focus the very real possibility of an attack within our borders. All summer long, the CIA chief kept pressing Rice for a policy position or authorization for assets from the White House.

From all reports, this was weighing heavily on George Tenet. He wasn't sleeping well, because he was steeped in the details of his analysts and told Richard Clarke "I feel it coming. This is going to be the big one." Both men did whatever they could to get the Bush White House to authorize immediate action - and allow the agency to coordinate with other branches of the federal government to take action. They wanted to put defensive positions in place that might curtail, or minimize what they felt would be a devastating attack.

Do you remember what J.Cofer Black said following the CIA's meeting with Sec. Rice? Because I remember him saying "The only thing we didn't do was pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head."

I also remember the intelligence brief labeled "Bin Laden Threats Are Real." I remember the Presidential Daily Brief with a similar title: "Bin Laden determined to strike in US." And I absolutely, positively remember that the day after Bush received that sobering assessment of the threats facing the American people, he was carefree and joked with the press corps (while on vacation at his ranch in Texas) about his impending 55th birthday - not the impending attacks.

I remember the Project for a New American Century bemoaning the lack of political will to invest more billions into NextGen military hardware "absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event — like a new Pearl Harbor."

I remember that intelligence services from at least eleven other countries sent urgent warnings to their counterparts in the States about the impending attack.

I remember George Tenet recalling that “the system was blinking red.” And I remember that, despite routinely being scrambled within twenty minutes when contact is lost with any airplane, on 9/11 our fighter jets were on the ground two hours into the event.

I remember Bush reading "My Pet Goat." I remember that millions upon millions of dollars were made in the stock market, betting against American and United Airlines.

And I remember that the Bush administration stonewalled the investigation into what happened on 9/11 for 441 days, until shamed into doing something by the Jersey Girls, four widows of 9/11 who were relentless in their pursuit of the truth. And I know that the truth of what happened, is not contained within the pages of the report finally filed by the The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

I remember 9/11. Do you?

 - by  Tom Joad


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