On villains and vengeance.

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Earlier today, I had this half-formed thought that I shared on Twitter: “The danger of basing national pride on the vanquishing of enemies is that it requires an endless supply of enemies to maintain.”

“Enemies” is a word I used to make a point. We allow politicians and media to use this word to categorize people — individuals and whole groups — as caricatures that, once extinguished, remove some of the evil from our perilous world.

I just started this post and yet I am written out on the topic. I have said it all before. Nothing and everything has changed. We killed one man, and we gave up a hundred freedoms. And it’s not over. The war isn’t over; which war are we on now? The tiny humiliations, the groping and the radiation, the three-ounce bottles, these little things we have been told are so small and worth our safety now, but who is deciding this worth?

We are still bleeding our fear over the whole world, and I don’t want it to be over. I want it never to have happened.

Osama bin Laden is dead.

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Osama bin Laden is dead. At last, some closure for the families and friends of the victims of 9/11. We still have a long way to go, but this is an important symbol.
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eight years ago

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In remembrance of 9/11, I am sharing these excerpts from my written reactions eight years ago.

From 11 September 2001, “the act itself”:

On the way to work I heard a cor­re­spon­dent on the radio say some­thing about how the act itself was shock­ing, but the fact that it hap­pened was not. This is the scari­est thing I’ve ever heard.

From 12 September 2001, “the aftermath”:

I do not want vengeance. I do not want more vio­lence, and I espe­cially do not want more civil­ians — inno­cent peo­ple, regard­less of nation­al­ity — to die. I real­ize how seri­ous this act was, and is, and I real­ize that our gov­ern­ment will exact pun­ish­ment on those it thinks are respon­si­ble. I also real­ize we may be wrong. If we ever thought our­selves invin­ci­ble, that delu­sion no longer exists. The loss of life, of way of life, has been more than I expected. But it was only a mat­ter of time, as the say­ing goes.

From 13 September 2001, “the current situation”:

Instead of dis­cussing ret­ri­bu­tion, why don’t we con­sider how we got to this point? Can we see our­selves as oth­ers see us? Can we at least try? I’m dis­ap­pointed and dis­mayed about what has hap­pened, but I can­not spon­sor the short-sightedness of an imme­di­ate cam­paign for more vio­lence and destruc­tion. If what mat­ters most to you is a brief period of “got you back!” then clearly you should not be read­ing this ‘blog. I care far more about how this affects us as human beings than I do about what sort of tac­tics and pol­i­tics make for good retaliation.

Also from 13 September 2001, “survivor”:

“After the crash, and amid the scream­ing, he started to pray out loud. ‘I said, “Jesus save me and these two guys with me.” Nei­ther one of them complained.’”

From 16 September 2001, “the ignorant child”:

I am sad­dened to note that no one has come into our library and asked for any infor­ma­tion on the sit­u­a­tion in the Mid­dle East, or U.S. for­eign pol­icy. But they have all been to Tar­get to stock up on their Amer­i­can flags. The lit­tle plas­tic sou­venirs are wav­ing from many car anten­nae, flap­ping wildly as the wind hits them, as we drive fast and faster to war.

From 18 September 2001, “stop, look, and listen”:

And after you under­stand what we did in Afghanistan, per­haps you can con­sider that I am as proud to be Amer­i­can as any of you are, but I am unwill­ing to pre­tend that “Amer­i­can” can be equated with “good” or “right”. Just like human beings are imper­fect, so are the coun­tries they pop­u­late and run. We have made mis­takes, and although I have shed many tears for the attacks on the World Trade Cen­ter and the Pen­ta­gon, we must bring away from this not a sense of vengeance but a sense of under­stand­ing … or we have lost all those lives for naught.

You may wish to contribute your own story to Make History, a project curated by the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

the aftermath

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Last night, I went to bed and wrote in my journal, trying to record all of my thoughts and feelings about what had happened on Tuesday. Chad came to bed and soon after that one of the neighborhood cats was taunting Zen through the sliding-glass door, so we were woken out of half-sleep by howling and hissing sounds. After an unsuccessful attempt to close Zen out of the bedroom (she just pawed and pawed at the door, making enough racket to keep us both awake) we let her back in, and the neighborhood cat was gone. Before long, Zen was curled up next to me and fast asleep.

I, on the other hand, slept mere minutes. I experienced multiple nightmares, some of them thankfully forgotten by now, some of them etched permanently into my psyche. Several times I bolted straight up in bed, squinted at the clock, and fell back in tears of frustration. It was obvious my brain was trying to process Tuesday’s events, even more obvious that it was failing.

Yesterday at work I felt like no one was experiencing the terror and loss as profoundly as I was. I knew Chad was at least with coworkers who seemed to be treating the day with the gravity it warranted, but most of my coworkers were not on my wavelength at all. They may have saved their reactions until after work, when they could be more private about them; I wish I had that type of restraint on my emotions. I did manage not to cry at work, and I tried to joke around in the staff meeting, but it was all very flimsy and lame.

Now I am still in the shock of the aftermath, and wondering if this is as good a time as any for the second wave of a terrorist attack, while we recover from these great wounds. I read Osama bin Laden’s words and I try to understand his anger and his sense of vengeance and his great passion for his people. Then I stop, angry myself, angry that he has drawn this line between his people and my own, because that makes it easier for him to condone acts of violence.

I do not want vengeance. I do not want more violence, and I especially do not want more civilians — innocent people, regardless of nationality — to die. I realize how serious this act was, and is, and I realize that our government will exact punishment on those it thinks are responsible. I also realize we may be wrong. If we ever thought ourselves invincible, that delusion no longer exists. The loss of life, of way of life, has been more than I expected. But it was only a matter of time, as the saying goes.

For now, I watch, and wait, and give, and pray.

the act itself

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Not that we’re in danger on this coast, but I wanted to check in anyway. Some of the students are showing up at the library with no clue what happened, reminding me of the words I once uttered as a college student that my father will never let me forget: “There was a coup in Russia?”

I can finally get to CNN.com, although I’m not sure I wanted to see the headline “America Under Attack” ever. Now, off to email the NYC/DC people I know who haven’t already posted “I’m okay” messages. Bill Shunn has come up with a great idea: a place for people in NYC/DC to check-in. I’m watching it and my LiveJournal friends page carefully.

On the way to work I heard a correspondent on the radio say something about how the act itself was shocking, but the fact that it happened was not. This is the scariest thing I’ve ever heard.