Ten years later, I still ask ‘why’
by Kelvin Wade
September 11, 2001. It’s 10 years later and I’m still troubled by a nagging thought. There’s something that haunts me.
I remember Cathi shaking me awake telling me a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I thought it was a small plane. When the second plane hit, I didn’t know what I was looking at. I thought a bomb had gone off. I couldn’t comprehend a second plane crashing into the towers. But the searing images were replayed over and over again. That orange fireball and black smoke, looking like something out of Hollywood.
Can you recall the chaos of that day? Flight 77 crashing into the Pentagon at 530 miles per hour. The rumors of a car bomb at the State Department. Flight 93, with its heroic passenger revolt led by Todd Beamer, crashing in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. There was the feeling that the whole world was coming unglued. What was next?
There was the awfulness of those forced to leap from the burning towers to escapte the searing heat and choking smoke. Over 200 people plunged nearly a thousand feet in eight seconds at 150 miles per hour into oblivion. A couple of people held hands while they jumped.
Remember the buildings collapsing in a cloud of ash, with people running like it was Armageddon. That monstrous gray cloud enveloping lower Manhattan like a belch from hell. Thousands dead in the rubble.
We had unprecedented unity after 9/11. We had the incredibly moving scene of members of Congress spontaneously breaking into “God Bless America” on the Capitol steps after condemning the attacks. President Bush’s approval rating hit 90 percent, which was amazing considering this was a president who’d lost the popular vote and many thought stole the election a year earlier.
Rudy Giuliani became “America’s Mayor” the way he stepped up and reassured the nation in the midst of the uncertainty.
President Bush climbed atop a pile of rubble, grabbed a bullhorn and steeled the national spine saying “I can hear you and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”
Police, firefighters and other first responders became our heroes again.
Flag sales skyrocketed. We were proud to be Americans.
Our Special Forces, CIA and military routed Al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan in a matter of weeks.
And then…we lost our way.
Why didn’t our leaders call for us to sacrifice? Why didn’t we forego those tax cuts in order to buy enough armor for our troops or just to simply finance our homeland’s security? Why weren’t we asked to pay more for gas to finance new technology to eventually lead us off fossil fuels? Why didn’t we have to sacrifice like Americans always have during war? Why’d we try to have guns and butter? Why weren’t we asked to volunteer for our country? Why did we allow ourselves to go on as if nothing happened?
Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan recently said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, “….the United States is in virtual headlong retreat from the world….We are bankrupt as a nation. We cannot balance our budget. The great blunder was made by George W. Bush when he had the whole country and the world behind him, and he went up to Congress and declared ‘now we’re going after an axis of evil; Iraq, Iran and North Korea.’ We are plunging into that part of the world instead of fighting al-Qaeda and handling it the way he should have. As a consequence of that, I think he broke the Republican Party and frankly, he broke the United States as a superpower.”
With the Iraq invasion, Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, secret prisons, torture, violating treaties, warrantless wiretaps and the Patriot Act, we squandered our moral authority and international good will. We can blame George W. Bush, but we all went along with it. We never demanded the reins be pulled in. We never held anyone accountable.
From the out of control spending, housing bubble, unfunded Medicare benefits, tax cuts and on and on, we’re all culpable. We participated in this pillaging of our own nation. Even today, an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll says two out of three Americans say it’s okay for the government to sacrifice privacy to fight terrorism.
It took nine years to set up a compensation fund for first responders with 9/11 related ailments. But in doing so, Congress exempted cancer as one of the covered illnesses. A recent study found that firefighters who worked at Ground Zero are 19 percent more likely to have cancer than those who did not. This is how we treat our heroes?
Now we have a president with a 41 percent approval rating and a Congress with 13 percent. A poll came out this week saying 54 percent of Americans would vote to replace every single member of Congress if they could.
Now we’re back at each other’s throats. Unity is out the window. We claim to be red, white and blue but we’re back to being just red and blue.
There’s probably no greater symbol of American impotence than the fact that 10 years later, Ground Zero is still a construction site. If this attack had occurred in France, China, Japan, Canada or almost any country you can name, they would be unveiling new completed buildings this year or would have done so in years past.
So on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I’ll fly my flag. I’ll remember the brave first responders. I’ll think of all the families of the victims. I’ll pay tribute to the soldiers who went to battle to protect us. I’ll remember how I felt on that fateful day and probably watch some of the tributes on television. I’ll even toast Osama Bin Laden’s death. And through the tears, I’ll be proud to be an American.
But in the back of my mind, I’ll wonder if we’ve broken the country in the interim. I’ll wonder if, since 9/11, we did what Al-Qaida couldn’t.