Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11th - Then and Now

by Pa Rock
Cultural Historian

Eight years ago I was managing two county offices for the Missouri Children's Division and driving to Columbia, Missouri, from Noel, Missouri, two days a week to take graduate courses in social work. The trip was 270 miles each way, and I was doing two round trips a week. On September 11, 2001, I was sitting on the 7th floor of Clark Hall looking out over the University of Missouri campus when an ashen-faced classmate came in and told us that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. There were only a few of us in the class, and we were all shaken by the terrible "accident." A few minutes later we got the report that another plane had crashed into the other tower, and the thought of an "accident" was quickly replaced by abject terror. The professors set up a television out in the hall, and students from all of the classes stayed glued to the coverage.

Several things happened that morning as we followed the coverage. Word began to come out through the news services that the Taliban of Afghanistan might have been involved. (Nothing was even hinted at that indicated Iraq was involved.) Word went out that the local Red Cross was collecting blood, and several people left Clark Hall to go contribute.

Our small group of doctoral students had a pre-planned lunch with one of our professors, Dr. Marjorie Sable (she is now the Social Work Department Chair at MU), and we decided to go ahead and do the lunch. Margie suggested that we eat at a middle eastern place on 9th Street, ironically called "Osama's." My memory is that it was a very somber meal.

Driving back to McDonald County that afternoon, I couldn't help but notice the long lines at the gas stations. I got in line at a station near the Lake of the Ozarks, and waited half-an-hour to top off my tank. The price went up while I was waiting in line!

One of the things that I remember about that day and the days immediately following the attack was the vacant look on George Bush's face when he was informed of the attack while reading a book to elementary school children in Florida. Even without the commentary of any pundits, it was obvious that he was lost and had no clue what to do. He grew up pampered and cared for, and had no idea how to react in a crisis. I also thought it looked especially bad when Air Force One hop-scotched all over America like a scared rabbit before eventually getting the Commander in Chief back to the nation's capitol. Shouldn't our leader have said something like, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead." Isn't that what a real leader would have done?

I remember that former President Clinton was in Australia at the time of the attack, yet he was able to make it back to the United States and get himself to ground zero well before George Bush did his hardhat and megaphone piece of theatre.

And I remember Bush finally getting his bearings and declaring his wrath at Osama bin Laden - and going to war with the Taliban in Afghanistan. That war, it could be argued, had an element of moral imperative. The Bush administration soon abandoned that imperative as they confabulated a fiction to take us to war in Iraq, a move to secure oil export routes, oil field leases, and burnish the honor of the Bush family by capturing, humiliating, and killing Saddam Hussein, a man and a country that had no involvement in the 911 attack whatsoever.

In just a year or two our country went from a justified moral outrage to a sleazy Middle Eastern power grab and Christian fundamentalist religious jihad. Over the ensuing years, the Republican Party and other conservative elements in society have carefully created a fiction that 911 is a patriotic and religious symbol that belongs to them alone. They quickly moved to paint any and all opposition to the "War on Terror" as treasonous activity.

So anyone who spoke ill of George Bush, Dick Cheney, or Donald Rumsfield was publicly ridiculed as being un-American. (Remember Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks who dared to comment that she was ashamed of our President? The conservative press wanted blood - literally.)

The political culture of the United States seems to have gone into the crapper on the day Skippy Bush left office. Now it is perfectly fine to question the President - as it should have always been. But now that our new President has the audacity to not only be a Democrat, but to also be a mixed-race Democrat, it is suddenly okay, even glorified, to carry guns to Presidential speeches, yell down public officials as they attempt to answer questions and explain policy proposals, pull students out of school so they won't be exposed to the President encouraging them to set goals and work hard, and to scream at a President as he addresses a joint session of Congress.

Good manners need only be exercised when a white, conservative Republican (preferably male) is in charge of things, regardless of whether he is up to the job of leading or not. For anything less, send in the jackasses!

No comments: