What We've Forgotten...

I was up out of bed, cutting paddocks and trimming along fences earlier than was usual even for farm work. I was supposed to go see a concert in DC with the girl I was dating at the time, so the usual work had to be completed early enough to get into DC, have some food and be able to actually enjoy the evening together.

The work was finished, and with enough time to spare, I brewed another pot of coffee and sat down in the living room. My parents, whom I'd left New York to help on their horse farm, liked to have the Today Show on in the mornings. I was just happy to be able to sit for a little while, enjoy a cup of coffee, relax and look forward to the evening ahead. The Today Show wouldn't normally be my choice, but I wasn't about to start complaining.

I can't remember what came before, but I do very clearly remember the moment Katie Couric said the broadcast was going to New York where a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers. For a few minutes, conjecture flew openly and quickly. The second tower was then hit by a plane as well. It became clear to all of us that the first plane was no accident. Everyone knows how the rest went.

The refrain quickly became "Never Forget."

In itself, it's incredibly ridiculous. As if any of us who lived through that day could ever forget the feeling of helplessness, violation and unpredictability that resulted from watching planes crash into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. We basically watched 3,000 people die. No one forgets that. It's not to say that the experience of watching it happening on television was in any way or realm as traumatic as it was for the people who were there living it up close and personal, yet our reaction to it proved the depth of trauma it induced on everyone.

In the name of the dead, it took little time for the warmongers and the profiteers they bed with to come up with the excuses to invade a country that had no responsibility for the attack, which then took one of the world's more unstable regions and completely destabilized it. The growth of ISIS, their ability to take and hold territory, and their reign of horror can be directly traced to that decision. Estimates range from 300,000 to 1,000,000 Iraqi's lost their lives. More than 8,000 Americans died in the conflict as it occurred, without taking into account the ever growing number of suicides among veterans of that war.

Secret prisons were instituted as "The War on Terror" was waged, where it would later come to light, human rights violations were a regular part of business. The more information came out, the more it became clear that very often, imprisonment and violation of those human rights didn't necessarily have to have anything to do with involvement with a terrorist organization. When we had imprisoned people who hadn't previously been involved in terrorist activities, we often kept them in custody for years based on the assumption that since they'd been unjustly imprisoned, they may begin to engage in terrorist activities should they be released. Much of what would become the initial leadership and philosophical foundation for ISIS took shape in those prisons. The only thing possibly more responsible for keeping terrorist recruitment steady than those prisons has been the continued US involvement in the governments of the Middle East.

It would be 2015, a full 11 years, before Congress would agree to fund full health care provisions, and then only under public shame. During that 11 years, many of the same representatives who held up that funding were continually re-elected. Funding for veterans health care, including mental health care, and the Veterans Administration as whole continues to be woefully inadequate, as the growing rate of suicides among veterans attests to.

In the name of subverting terrorist activities, we created the most invasive, most powerful, and until the revelations brought forth by Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, the most secretive surveillance apparatus human civilization has ever seen. The government began collecting and storing information on every citizen of the nation (and many outside of it) with a digital connection of any kind, whether they'd ever expressed sympathy for terrorist activities or not. Combining dissent and organization of just about any kind has become grounds for increased surveillance, whether violence is an acceptable outcome for the organizing parties or not. We've infiltrated Quakers, church groups, environmental groups, etc. At this point, the evidence suggests that anyone involved with activism that is in opposition to government policy should believe they are under surveillance. FOIA requests by journalists are repeatedly turning up reports by various federal law enforcement agencies citing the possibility of terrorist leanings as the reason to implement surveillance against people who have no history of violence, have never claimed to believe in violence as a viable political strategy or have had contact or expressed sympathies with any organization or group that has. In the last few days, we've seen arrest warrants issued for journalist covering a Native American protest against a pipeline that threatens their drinking water and a burial ground that very few, if any other national outlets are covering.

In the ensuing years, we watched a major American city submerged while thousands died and the governmental response was universally recognized as not just inadequate, but shameful, to all of us as a nation. Whether it seemed perfectly clear that the response was as shameful as it was came as a result of the majority of the victims being minorities or because they were poor or some combination of both, it couldn't be argued that the temporary unity following 9/11 was long over. Over a trillion dollars has been spent on a war against a nation that had no responsibility for 9/11, but we couldn't find the will and ability to rescue American citizens from rooftops or an NFL football stadium before thousands of them died. Katrina was a national disgrace we created. Where 9/11 was concerned, questions still remain about what could have been done to prevent it. Where Katrina is concerned, the storm may not have been prevented, but the overwhelming evidence is that the infrastructure failure and the systematic failure could have been. A quick Google search will also produce links to some excellent reporting related to the behavior of "private security firms" following Katrina as well. 

Since 9/11, more Americans have been killed as the result of police shootings than died on 9/11, in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined. The infiltration of the cell phone camera throughout society has resulted in video after video showing what at the absolutely least should be considered questionable treatment of minorities, especially African Americans, have surfaced again and again. The birth and growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, as a result of the continuing revelation of police violence and the growing amount of evidence suggesting the entire justice system has a racist bend, if not being an out and out white supremacist structure, has been met with a level of vitriol and outrage that was at one time reserved for actual terrorists. That label is now given with ease to anyone who even happens to inconvenience other Americans who disagree on a political basis or have chosen to willfully ignore the actual facts on just about any topic. Going back to Katrina, it doesn't take much research to find the number of law enforcement agents convicted of serious crimes, including murder, in the aftermath.

The Great Recession saw the economy collapse, with tens of millions of Americans seeing what savings they had, jobs, and everything they'd worked for disappear. The people who orchestrated the policies that led to this economic disaster, whether in Washington where regulation were sufficiently relaxed to leave the door open for the kind of abuse that took root on Wall Street or the executives on Wall Street themselves, saw no repercussions. What was essentially an extremely intricate Ponzi scheme went unpunished. In the aftermath, the large banks that were saved from extinction by American taxpayers who lost jobs and their life savings, saw fit to find ways to use the legalese of mortgage agreements to essentially steal homes, for which no one saw the inside of a jail cell again.

Right now, in the midst of a presidential election, we have one candidate who essentially believes he can wage a war against people living in the country, has emboldened what the FBI has called the most likely groups to commit an act of terror in the US, threatens to plunge the economy into yet another free fall and has all but said point blank that he would declare war on freedom of the press and free speech. The other candidate is guaranteed to push forward with a foreign policy that will embolden and solidify the recruitment efforts of terrorists in the Middle East like ISIS, along with having a rather abysmal history where speaking out about protecting civil liberties is concerned.

This is to say nothing of the degree to which we have ignored the coming disaster that is climate change. Louisiana just experienced one those consequences. Hampton Roads, one of the largest military installations in the world is also one of the first places under threat from the rise of sea levels, a guaranteed effect of climate change.

What does all of this mean? Why am I bringing all of this up in relation to 9/11?

Following 9/11, the cartoon like refrain "Never Forget" was everywhere. Each year we trot out the video of the planes hitting the buildings, dust and smoke enveloping thousands of people for miles, the piles of rubble being sifted through, dogs searching the rubble, family members in hysterics over lost loved ones, pictures of graves, all of it. We bask in our own horror and we bask in the fact that we were made victims. We were made victims, let's not argue that. What was done to those thousands of people on 9/11 was despicable, deplorable and unspeakable. It was monstrous.

We waxed poetic about "holding on to our values and standing firm on the liberties that have made us different from them." We promised ourselves the terrorists would not win.

What has happened instead is that what we've done to ourselves, what we've done to each other, the things that we have instead chosen to forget on a daily, weekly and monthly basis are far, far worse that what was done to us by nineteen madmen on a cool September morning in 2001. We've done far worse to our own populace than Al Qaeda could possibly have ever hoped to have done that day or if they'd remained intact as an organization to this day. 

9/11 was nothing compared to what we have done and are doing to ourselves since. We forget daily about these things, by choice. We don't want to remember them, because we aren't unwitting victims to them. We're participating in them by forgetting about them because it is too hard to choose to do anything instead. It's too hard to keep track of whether some politician is actually blocking funding to veterans care when we really want to reward them for hating the same people we do. It's easier to blame black people for being black or poor people for being poor than it is to remember that these are our fellow citizens and in that there is verifiable proof that there's more to succeeding and gaining some ground in social status or economic status than just "if you work hard you'll get ahead." This is much harder to address, and it means we've been victims of something much larger than a physical attack. We'd have to admit we've been victims of a lie, having been sold to generation after generation, and that we've participated in the perpetuation of those lies by continuing to espouse the lies we've been taught by good people we love, who'd been taught those same lies by good people they loved.

It means that we have to admit we've been victims of a scam. We'd have to admit to ourselves that the people we practically deified and who we have looked to as examples of success and role models of what it means to succeed have been taking advantage of all of us, and we've participated in that scam by participating in the tribal politics that allow them to have become an untouchable class of citizens in place where we desperately want to believe the rule of law reigns. The executive class running Wall Street has been stealing from us with little to no consequence for decades, and we've applauded them for it.

It is impossible for us to admit that our approach to dealing with crime is a failure. It is impossible for us to admit that the entire basis of the philosophy we have built it on is flawed, and that we have accepted that millions of fellow citizens are paying an exorbitant price for that mistake, on a daily basis. The cost is too often their lives and more often, it is sentences far heavier than people who have lighter hue to the color of their skin pay. It is also living in communities that feel as much like territory occupied by a hostile force of invaders who don't recognize them as human beings.

Questioning the motivations of putting dissenting voices on a list of possible terrorist threats, when they've shown no preference or proclivity for violence, and in many cases have spoken out directly against violence as a form of protest, is harder than just assuming we can trust that the people whose decisions and policies they are often protesting have the best interest of the people of the nation in mind.

These are the things we choose to forget. They don't come with an enemy easy to vilify and dehumanize, because the enemy isn't across the world in some place our imaginations can barely piece together. This enemy lives in our neighborhoods, in our homes, and too often, in our own perspectives on the world and our fellow citizens. The same variety of "Us vs. Them" that makes it so easy to believe justice is necessary in the result of a tragic, horrific event like 9/11, is at work to help keep our fellow citizens as a "Them" we can ignore when they need our solidarity as much as the residents of Manhattan did on 9/11 and 9/12 or the people whose job it was to be in the Pentagon on both of those days.


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