The Six-Year Story: Lost Opportunities, Poor Choices
The children of this country who started kindergarten this past month were not yet born when the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001. And the children who were in kindergarten that awful day are now nearly teenagers. Six years may be a relatively short time in the life of a nation; it is not, however, a short time in the lives of its citizens.
Soon, a whole new generation of Americans will have known nothing but a post-9-11 world with all of its twisted sensibilities and its alarming concerns; a world bequeath to them not only by the actions of fanatical murderers in the Middle East but also by the reactions of those who represent the "Greatest Generation" and the "Baby Boomers" and the members of Generations "X" and "Y" and "Next" and all the rest.
It is a world of war and terror alerts; of "suspicious packages" and metal detectors; of higher gas prices and a continued dependency upon foreign oil. It is a world where money for American schools and health care and infrastructure renovation goes instead to prop up small businesses owners in Baghdad or, worse, to line the pockets of private contractors who've snuggled up to cynical bureaucrats.
It is a world where our government still gets away with blocking from public view the arrival of caskets at Dover Air Force base; where our military has to beg for recruits to back up our government's overextended foreign policy commitments and more and more political leaders talk about reinstituting some sort of draft. It is a world where political staffers--"rally teams" they are called-- are formally instructed by manual how to deflect, defuse and destroy war dissent at public appearances by the President.
It is a world once again obsessed with insipid celebrity "drama." Our nation's airwaves and papers are filled with news about Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan and Michael Vick and Anna Nicole Smith and Britney Spears. We have apparently learned nothing from the summer of 2001 when our attention was riveted upon the saga of Chandra Levy. And when we aren't being bombarded with that journalistic offal, we flock to our TiVos to watch reality shows or talent contests. You can't go one night without running into one of those. But did any television networks provide gavel to gavel coverage of key hearings about terror law issues? Of course not.
It is a world where the presumed best and brightest in our government still haven't figured out the proper legal balance between providing better security against terrorism and ensuring people the protections guaranteed by the Constitution; a world where in the 2191 days since 9-11--have again as long as it took us to win World War II-- we have been unable to get our anti-terror crusade right and fair under the law thanks to political greed, partisan pettiness and a lack of common respect and decency for the rights of individuals.
It is a world in which American citizens abroad often are bombarded with angry denunciations. The colossal outpouring of support and sympathy we felt from all over the world on 9/11 and its immediate aftermath has crumbled into the dust and debris of Iraq, into a miasma of suspicion and fear and disrespect. The political leaders of the "Coalition of the Willing" still say the right things in public. But just ask the citizens of those countries what they think of the way the United States has handled itself in the post-9-11 world--we both know you'll get a much different answer.
It is a world which has seen America squander opportunities at virtually every turn. As the smoke still rose from Ground Zero we pledged to sacrifice but were told instead to "go shopping" and leave it to our leaders to guide us in the new way forward. In the name of political expediency, we were told that we could obtain retribution and revenge against our enemies without each of us having to pay a meaningful price. That price, indeed, has been paid almost exclusively by our nation's brave soldiers and military families. Our leaders did not lead as much as they pitched like the characters on Mad Men. We needed a Churchill or a Roosevelt or at least a reasonable facsimile of either and we got instead Karl Rove.
When the nations of the world stretched out their arms to us in friendship and compassion we took those hands and guided our allies into a military, political, diplomatic and religious morass in Iraq under negligent if not deliberately false pretenses. When we pledged to get Osama Bin Laden we got Saddam Hussein instead and today six years later bin Laden still mocks us from a hiding place believed to be in Pakistan, one of our so-called allies in the war on terror.
We all knew when we woke up on the morning of September 12, 2001 that the world we be a very different place. And, indeed, it is. But we owed-- and we owe-- much, much more to that new generation of Americans for whom that awful day six years ago will be an experience they glean mostly from their history books and the stories their parents tell. For them, if not for us, we just have to do better
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