Nine-Eleven Plus Ten
Apparently, this is the thing to do now with the anniversary so close. So I will jump in and add my two-cents to the cacophony of 9/11 essays (two particularly good ones are Andrew Sullivan’s and Christopher Hitchens‘ love ‘em or hate ‘em they will make you think). However, in order to properly formulate 9/11 I have to go back a few more years to set the stage for where I was personally at that time. In 1999 I was working at a television studio, doing something that I thought I liked. I hoped that it would turn into something more. Well surprise, surprise things didn’t quite go as a I wanted. Being that I was young and dumb I only exacerbated the situation and proceeded to burn some of the first bridges in my young professional career. I didn’t give a fuck though. I was young and feeling cooped up and I badly needed a change–or so I told myself. So towards the end of 1999 I moved on to a construction supplies delivery job which I half-heartedly worked at (sometimes when I was tired I’d just pull over in a housing community and take a nap). When I got bored with that job I quit. Then my brother started talking about going into the Marine Corps. As he discussed it with me it planted the idea in my head which over the course of the next few months sat dormant in my head but just percolated subconsciously biding its time. About mid-2000 my brother was accepted to Naval flight school in Pensacola, Fl. A fairly difficult school to get into especially when your grades aren’t the best and you’re not a legacy kid. It was about that time that he decided he didn’t want to join up anymore. It was also about that time when I decided I did and I voiced my desire to my family.
I think it’s too harsh to say it was met with outright derision but there was a large amount of skepticism from my father and brother. I mean I was the less athletic brother, I was lazier, and avoided hard work like the plague. But their jokes just strengthened my resolve. I wanted to join not only to prove them wrong (and my ‘friends’ weren’t any more supportive, their mockery was even more infuriating) but because this burgeoning desire to serve my country. I’m not exactly sure where this all came from but I have my suspicions, and I think a large portion of this desire came from my reading list as an adolescent, which ran heavy on titles with Epic poems like Beowulf, The Illiad, The Odyssey and with a different kind of epic like The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. It was definitely a confluence of events though as all these ideas and feelings came together at the same time. Add to that the mockery from a lot of the people close to me and my resolution was set. If there is anything about me that’s true it’s that I a stubborn son of a b.
So I quit my job and went to work at UPS part-time and the rest of my time was spent running and working out. I quit drinking (seriously I’m not lying) and even though I didn’t eat a lot of junk food I quit eating the little that I did. My singular focus was to continue my regiment throughout the winter and go to boot camp in March. But alas, the best laid plans…, as it turned out I never made it to March. Instead, after some poking and prodding from my recruiter, and finally being given some more financial incentives I left at the end of January 2001.
The next three months were a flurry of activity, and much like the four years to come, the days tended to blend into each other. When you spend between 18-20 hours awake a day marching, running, cleaning, reading, etc you tend to forget what day it is, and really what day it is begins to matter less and less. My mind was already thinking about what I was going to do when I was out in four years. Fast forward to September 2001, and I am with my unit training for a war that will never happen (or so we think). It’s peace time and I assumed that after four years of service, to include a couple trips overseas where we’d get to visit some new/interesting countries, and then poof I’d be done and I’d saunter off to college none the worse for wear.
Well the fateful morning of 9/11 changed all of that. Even though I was on the west coast I was up when the attack occurred and we were all sitting in one of the few rooms that got cable watching the television when the second plane hit. All of us knew immediately that are lives were irrevocably changed from that moment on. We were absolutely floored at what had happened especially as the details of the attack started to come in. We knew war was on the horizon and that it was an inevitability. Over the next few days and weeks the base security ramped up, we were put on lock down and then a spate of new training operations ensued. All of a sudden I approached my training with an earnestness that wasn’t there before. While before I just wanted to blow some shit up, now I knew that I was really going to blow shit up. I knew that my targets wouldn’t always be inanimate vaguely Arab looking plastic pop-ups but instead they would actually shoot back (inaccurately as I would find out, much like Stormtroopers in the OT).
That inevitability turned out to be true, however, it wasn’t Afghanistan like we hoped but Iraq that we were sent too. Looking back our sojourn into Iraq looks a bit absurd but then it seemed completely justified. Prior to Iraq we spent six months Djibouti supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. I had no idea of what was happening state-side or the arguments/evidence ‘supporting’ the invasion of Iraq. I did know that the military was prepping for invasion and the rumor was that as soon as we got home we would be right back on our way to the Middle East. As it turned out that was true.
So looking back now on 9/11 ten years later I see an event that irrevocably changed my life but not in a way that most people assume. I joined the military in peace time out of some compunction that I needed to give back. That dream of easy service and even easier college money was shattered by 9/11 and it forced me to focus on the task at hand at a level that I had never before attempted. It forced to pay attention to the minutiae of my job and to live in the here and now. Up until then I’d always had delusions of grandeur and I was always expecting some kind of greatness for myself, albeit without ever really having to work for it. Going to an actual war taught me what truly is important in life. Once you cull through all your possessions what do you have left? What is important to you? I also learned how to not be a whiny ass mother fucking American that complains about every goddamn thing under the sun (this I believe to be one of the most valuable lessons I learned). I became more aware of relationships and how I was presenting myself. If I died how would people remember me? Would they think well of me or not? Is that important to me? You don’t ask yourself these questions until you have to come face-to-face with the fact that you may die, and soon. As I child and adolescent I feel like I was a slave to my emotions. I was particularly prone to fits of rage but now I’m more prone to fits of nonchalance. Perhaps some of these issues would have been resolved just by maturing or just through four years in the Marines. That may be true, but 9/11 was the catalyst for my war, and I believe it acted like a foundry focusing me and burning out many of these childish imperfections (while creating new and different ones huzzah!). Maybe I’m wrong but that’s the way I see it. In those ways and more I have changed and I can recognize the fingerprint of 9/11 and Iraq on my life. However, in ways that perhaps I would be expected to change I have not.
For instance, I worry less about a terrorist attack killing me than I do about my government squashing my civil liberties. And this isn’t some “they’re gonna take my guns” conspiracy theory. This is a fear that 9/11 will become America’s Reichstag fire (technically I haven’t broken Godwin’s Law). When I look back and see how America has changed in the last 10 years it saddens me. I don’t regret my choice to serve my country but I do regret the choices my country made after the attacks–all in the name of security and safety. When I see the curtailment of civil liberties for increased safety and security I get upset. I don’t want anyone tracking my phone or keeping logs of my internet traffic. I’m tired of having to get my balls squeezed every time I get on a plane. For what? Because at one time some crazy bastards flew into a building. So for the rest of my life my balls have to be groped by a stranger at the airport. No thanks. The very essence of democracy and freedom is the fact that in a free society there is an increase in danger and risk. That’s fine if it means I can open my mouth without fear of repercussions from the government that purports to protect me. The fact is I’m more likely to get struck by lightning, or hit by a truck, or die of cancer than I am to be killed in a terrorist attack. A lot of other things changed. 9/11 changed the way I saw my government and the world at large. The black & white dichotomy of these years has continually left a bad taste in my mouth. The us v. them mentality (only the sith speak in absolutes) has really forced me to not want to be part of either group. The idea that people now think that torture is acceptable in certain situations is not acceptable to me nor is the targeting of US citizens for assassination–no matter how repulsive the things he says may be.
All in all I’ve become more cynical and more cautious. Mostly I want the government to get off my goddamn lawn and return to a rule of law. I want torturers prosecuted, rendition stopped, and all these seemingly endless, innumerable wars discontinued. Why am I being told that we’re broke when billions are being spent and so many lives lost in these useless wars that only serve the interests of those who stoke our fears? It’s unfortunate that a president that came to power with a promise to do so much has capitulated to those fears and continued and increased many of the things that he was vehemently against. But yet despite this all I remain an optimist at heart. No seriously I am. The pendulum has swung too far in the wrong direction but as an avowed believer in this American experiment I have faith that sooner rather than later it will swing back to its rightful spot. Then we can all look back on this time as a dark era when we bent but didn’t break. Then we can resolve that the next time we won’t be so quick to throw our ideals away. It 9/11 has taught me anything it’s taught me the true meaning of the ideals of the Constitution and of our Founders. As my father is fond of saying, “anyone can be a good person when people are watching, the true test of character is what do they do when no one is looking?” It’s easy for us as Americans to espouse ideas of freedom and equality when to others. It’s much harder when you have to abide by those ideas to help protect those people who are guilty or have hurt you. That’s the true test of character and that’s the lesson I learned.
(photo via SoHo Blues)
No related posts.