Reflections on “Patriot Day”

As Bush continues try to use September 11 as a political Kevlar vest (no doubt the timing of Gen. Petraeus’ “surge” report is mere coincidence), it’s refreshing to see others, from the area blogosphere to national columnists, are attacking the lock box Bush and the right would love to keep the tragedy in. I’ve long contended that rather than honor the victims of 9/11 by using those events to inspire this country to a greater and true leadership role in the world, the tragedy was compounded by the fact it was perverted and wasted.

A recent post at Progressive Historians on how future historians will view this period predicts they will ask questions much like mine: “Why did America abandon its promise at the very moment it had the economic and political power to really accomplish something great in the history of the world? Why did the Americans not … use the international goodwill 9/11 gave them to promote a world order of lasting mutual peace?”

A similar view appears in Susan Faludi’s introduction to her forthcoming book, The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America. She writes that the hoped for sense of national unity and sacrifice disappeared because

no official moral leadership leadership emerged to challenge Americans to think constructively about our place in the world. There was no man in a wheelchair in the White House urging on us a reassessment of American strength and weakness. What we had was a chest beater in a borrowed flight suit, instructing us to max out our credit cards for the cause.

Faludi also posits that baby boomers seemed to retreat into a 1950s style of thinking, almost as if it were some sort of security blanket. To borrow from and perhaps stretch her point, “evildoers” replaced the godless Commies, any who might question the administration’s approach were cast as subversives and fellow travelers (“you are either with us or against us”), and Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld saw themselves as John Wayne in a world they treated as if it were a 1950s western.

Because the real world doesn’t play out like a movie script, particularly one based on fantasy, it looks like a happy ending is impossible. The man Bush wanted “dead or alive” is clearly the latter and probably has more adherents than ever. Thousands of lives have been wasted in a war that not only distracted from the neocons’ self-proclaimed “war on terror” but left us weaker and more vulnerable. That war is an irreparable quagmire that will long continue to putrefy not only our own capabilities and potential but America’s standing and influence in the world. We have forsaken and squandered a short-lived opportunity to assume a credible leadership role in the world and pursue realistic policies for the benefit of ourselves and the international community.

Thus, my reflections on “Patriot Day” both now and in the foreseeable future are far more sad than what is brought on by the loss of life in 2001. It is the sadness that those lives — and many many more — were wasted as 9/11 was turned into a political tool. Discarded just as quickly was the opportunity it gave America to bring about meaningful change in the world. That is undoubtedly the greatest misdeed of Bush and crew, an unpardonable sin that will stain this country and our hopes for a better future for decades to come.

Recovering from our wound and prevailing against our enemies required sagacity and hard realism; instead we dreamed ourselves into a penny-dreadful plot that had little to do with the actual world in which we lived.

Susan Faludi, The Terror Dream

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