Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11 Remembered

It would be inappropriate not to blog about the significance of today's date - the anniversary of what might well prove to be the defining moment of my generation. When hijacked airliners plunged into the World Trade Center in New York City, the world changed and it's never been the same since.

I always feel deeply uncomfortable on this day. I wasn't in New York until a few weeks after 9/11 - so whatever contribution I can make to marking his important anniversary seems rather hollow. Similarly, even though I'm fiercely proud of the United States, I'm not much of a flag-waver either - especially since the significance of this date is being hijacked by opportunistic propagandists like the disgusting Glenn Beck.

All I can do is look back objectively at the legacy of 9/11 - to many people, that means 'the war.'

Many people criticize America's military retaliation in Afghanistan - but even though Operation Enduring Freedom launched an ongoing conflict that has cost the lives of hundreds of servicemen, reports like this one highlight an undiplomatic truth liberal-minded people like myself don't like to admit. It worked.

Al Qaeda went from controlling the foothills of Afghanistan to hiding out in caves and sloping across the border into Pakistan. Instead of emerging as a dominant regional collective, the foot soldiers of Al Qaeda are now estimated to number in the mere hundreds - scattered and impotent in the face of remorseless pressure from US and Allied policing.

The war in Iraq is a murkier subject. It's been proven conclusively that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was in no way linked to Al Qaeda or the terrorist attacks on the United States. In fact, he was one of militant Islam's staunchest enemies - and whatever you say about his despicable regime, it was highly effective in suppressing the influence Al Qaeda.

So by invading and toppling his dictatorship, the United States created a power vacuum that extremists like Al Qaeda rushed to fill - perhaps a serious tactical mistake.

But the extremists have so far failed to fill that gap. Even though it comes at a heavy price (the lives of thousands of US servicemen) America's legacy in 'free' Iraq will hopefully be the foundation of a secure government that rejects extremism. Many Sunni insurgents have already allied with Americans instead of Al Qaeda. Hopefully, that alliance will last.

Whether we made the right decisions after 9/11 is a tricky question - and one very few people agree on. What we should agree on, however, is that we're immensely lucky to have hundreds of thousands of men and women in uniform risking their lives to protect us as a result of what happened.

One can criticize the war in Iraq, or the political motivation behind it - but you can't question the motivations of the individual soldiers camped out in the Persian desert. They don't risk their lives for oil rights, or protecting Israel, or empire building (or a hundred other murky motivations detractors have proposed for why Bush went to war.)

The soldiers themselves do it because it's their duty. They do it to protect their families, and friends (and even the ungrateful people waving 'End this War' banners in Washington D.C.) They do it because they believe they're making the world a safer place, to avoid ever seeing another tragedy like when the Twin Towers fell.

And if their sacrifice is the legacy of 9/11 - then it's one we should be very grateful for.


Suki said...

While it's impossible to forget 9/11(or 11/9 as I'd write it!), there are a few reasons why I wouldn't bother posting about it.

1. I dislike attaching importance to dates.
2. The aftermath of 9/11 caused far more deaths than the event itself. You mourn the hundreds of American soldiers - have you counted the civilian deaths in Afghanistan? Has anyone, for that matter?
3. Iraq. No explanation required, is there?
4. Just because it happened dramatically, 9/11 gets all the attention. How about the millions of women being killed in my country, every day? What about the constant religious violence, claiming life after life on a daily basis? Who even gives a damn about the tens of thousands?

So, in short, I can't join the US in mourning the demise of thousands of its own on that day. My feelings on the subject are far more complex than that.

Roland Hulme said...

Hi Suki! Thanks for your comment.

9/11 is significant for me because I live in New York, and first arrived immediately after it happened - but I totally see where you're coming from and can't really argue with any of your points. If there's a legacy of 9/11, it's perhaps an uncomfortable introspective.

But as for why I wrote this - we mourn those who we are closest too - and the worst thing about human nature is that we often ignore human suffering if it doesn't affect us.

What you wrote is entirely the reason why I found it difficult to write about 9/11. I find simple 'God Bless America' platitudes totally hollow - but also don't want to reduce the significance of the event for me, my friends or people who were so close to it.

It's like I can't own it, but I can't ignore it, either.

Suki said...

When faced with an infinite number of points to make(and the prospect of research to prove them), I often chicken out.
I'm glad to see you don't take that route :)