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9/11: Lessons Learned?

photo cindyBy Cindy Gomez-Schempp

(Originally published in the High Plains Reader)

9/11: Lessons Learned?

By Cindy Gomez

I had just crossed into Mexico the evening of September 10th, and didn’t get to sleep until sometime in the wee hours of September 11th. Later that morning in El Paso, while waiting for my huevos rancheros, I sat staring at the TV in the corner of the restaurant. I was watching what seemed to be some sort of news report about New York. I could hear reporters talking about some airplane crash, but was only half listening. When I realized the news people were talking about a possible terrorist attack on the Twin Towers of New York, I knew it must be some new hip movie I had not seen yet.

“What is this?” I said to a waiter.

“It’s gringo news,” he responded, “Cablevision.”

“Nah, it just seems like news,” I explained to him. “I’ve seen movies like this where they hire real news anchors to play a movie role. This isn’t really happening”.

Unfortunately, as I would come to realize only after someone got up and showed me that all the news channels were carrying the same “movie”—did I accept that it was really happening.

The U.S. was being attacked. People were jumping out of buildings to their deaths. The Pentagon was attacked. Thousands were dead, and the country was horrified.

Soon after the second tower toppled, people were interviewed on the street. With angry cracked voices and in tears, they demanded justice!

As I drove away from the border and toward the heart of Mexico City, I wondered: (1) how soon will war begin to avenge the attacks; (2) what dangers will arise in the United States; and (3) will the U.S. ever be the same?

The answers to my questions—so far—are: (1) almost immediately and in more than one place; (2) soon everything will be seen as a “threat” to Americans; and (3) No. Probably not.

The greatest casualty of 9/11, in my estimation, is the loss of our peace of mind. The great fear that those attacks instilled in the U.S. has been the catalyst of many policy decisions we are still grappling with today. Everyone remembers the weapons of mass destruction that never were.
We all learned just enough about Al Qaeda and Hezbollah to be scared out of our minds. Terror alerts became part of our daily lives. Airport security has never been the same.

We became so driven by fear, from enemies seen and unseen, real and imagined, that as a nation we began to isolate ourselves from the world and each other. Increased security became tighter immigration policies and border security. Eradicating terror cells in the U.S., turned into depriving Americans of privacy through the Patriot Act. Checking out suspicious people is now mutating into profiling, hunting, and removing anyone who doesn’t “look” American.

An internationally unpopular “war on terror” turned into two unpopular and costly wars. Hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of dead soldiers later, our country is still looking for another fight. Iran is high on our list, as is North Korea. But let’s not forget the threats in Lebanon, Pakistan, and of course “the war next door”—as it has been called—in Mexico.

On this anniversary of 9/11, we ask ourselves: Have we learned the lessons of 9/11?

But perhaps the question should be: Did we learn the right lessons? Fear has taught us to be needlessly over-defensive and stifled our ability to heal from the losses. We keep flushing money down a never ending rat hole of weapons, war, and death—abroad, on our border, and within our country.

Meanwhile unemployment is rampant and steadily rising. Homelessness, especially among single mothers with children, is increasing. Taxes, so that our children have teachers and adequate educations, are rising. Calls for acts of patriotism wrapped in televangelist style pseudo-news speak are growing. Reports of police brutality, profiling, and abuses of authority—all are rising. The only thing not rising is our collective IQ.

With the speed of information, and our short attention spans, it is not that surprising that we miss the lessons of history and of wars like Vietnam. But the last 10 years should serve as a reminder of where we should be versus where we are.

We’ve seen where isolation, fear mongering, and mass stupefaction have gotten us. Will we—like lemmings—keep walking over the precipice, though knowing where it leads?

Apparently so. Queue the circus music while we give you the rundown of events.

The Limbaughs and O’Reilly’s of the world tell us to examine with a jaundiced eye the President, Muslims, our border neighbors, and anyone else with brown skin.

The unfortunately named “Dove World Outreach” center in Gainesville FL is gearing up for “International Burn a Koran Day.”

A candidate running for Afghan Parliament in the September elections is calling for Muslims to react to Koran burnings, stating “wherever Americans are they will be killed.”

Meanwhile, General David Petraeus and others who fear for our soldiers (including Secretary of State Clinton and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder) are practically begging for this type of “hate” to stop! Not even the likelihood that “Ugly American” behavior will cost us the lives of our soldiers abroad and increase the risk of terror attacks at home seems to deter us.

Recalling our pain and loss over the 9/11 attacks is important, meaningful, and inevitable. Getting stuck in fear and anger is not.

We are caught up in the matrix right now, and we don’t know it. But we can unplug ourselves and live in reality. Turn off the news and Glen Beck—believe me, they’ll still be there when you get back—and walk outside your house. Talk to your neighbors. Don’t let some talking head tell you what is going on—go find out yourself. What is needed in your community? How you can help?

We can stop ourselves now and take inventory of what we are achieving, and where we are failing ourselves—and change course. 9/11 was a horrible chapter in our country’s history. Let’s not prolong it by pouring salt on wounds that need to heal.


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