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I first want to apologize to those expecting my follow-up articles on the history and significance of the national political conventions. I am now teaching a class at Rutgers University, as well as in charge of the Rutgers-New Brunswick for Obama-Biden effort; as such, I've frankly been swamped. I hope to finish and post the rest of the series in the next few weeks.

Today, I want to take an altogether different tack, as we mark the 11th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. As an 8th grader in the New Jersey suburbs of New York City, the images I saw - the Towers, the faces, the tears - are seared into my memory. For 13-year old students like me, it was the first time we would hear about Al-Qaeda, or look for Afghanistan on a classroom globe.

Today, powerful and ordinary Americans across our country - and many more across the world - are vowing to "never forget" that day. It is, I fervently pray, a vow we will keep as long as we live. What is it, however, that we seek to never forget? In my mind, it is not just who, but what  must be remembered if 9/11/2001 is to be more than a date in a history textbook 100 years from now.

Who we lost

We have a number - 2,977. 2,624 Americans and 353 citizens from other countries. It's a meaningless - and, frankly, insulting - way to note who lost their lives at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon and in the skies over Pennsylvania. Each victim had a life, a family, a future, that was snuffed out like a candle flame struck by a sudden blast of wind. Not only lives were lost, then - so too were hopes, dreams, the safety and happiness of those they loved and cared for.

Many never had a chance to see the sun rise the next day; many others chose to give "the last full measure of devotion" in the effort to save others. The term "hero" is grossly overused in this day and age; but those who entered the Towers to help those inside to exit, those who pulled the wounded out of rubble at the Pentagon, those on Flight 93 who chose to die on their own terms - they are heroes.

The names that are being called at Ground Zero as I write this are, in truth, more meaningful than themselves. For those they knew and loved -husbands and wives, parents and children, friends and co-workers - their loss cuts far deeper. Their lives changed dramatically on that day; physical wounds can fully heal, but not the human heart.

When we pledge "Never Forget", we vow to remember not only those who perished, but those whose lives were irrevocably altered in the process.

What we lost

We know who we lost on September 11th, 2001. Yet I would argue that to "never forget" means remembering what we lost as well. Three things come to mind:

Innocence - children like me who'd never heard of, let along thought about, people like Osama bin Laden, or of the cities and mountains of Afghanistan. Hell, how many 8th graders, including me even knew where Afghanistan was on a map? How many of us knew what Al-Qaeda was, or how easy it was for 19 men to board a plane and hijack it? The media, some will recall, was agog about Gary Condit and shark attacks in the days before. It was a time when the vast majority of Americans thought war meant a few waves of bombing to remove some tinpot dictator in obscure parts of the globe.

I don't know a single person who wouldn't want to live in a world where September 11th, 2001 saw us at home, watching the same TV shows we had the week before, knowing that Pearl Harbor was the last time an enemy took life from the skies.

Safety - by and large, we've been taught to be afraid. "If you see something, say something"; security with guns in our cities and transportation hubs; body scans and removing our shoes at the airport; and many other realities that would have been inconceivable to most on September 10th, 2001. Safety, particularly for those who outside of poverty, was an illusion that September 11th rudely dispensed with. How many of us see an out-of-place stranger on the street corner, or hear a conversation in a language we don't understand and wonder, even if for a moment, if we ought to tell others? Would we really have been as likely do that 11 years and 1 day ago?


I don't know a single person who wouldn't want to live in a world where boarding a plane only affected people with sensitive eardrums.

Liberty - the Patriot Act was passed just days after the attacks. Only Senator Russ Feingold voted against it; indeed, I doubt anyone outside those already concerned with civil liberties opposed the Act when it was proposed.

Since then, we've seen Americans locked in prisons without trial; the physical and psychological torture of human beings without major repercussions; lifelong Americans persecuted for their religious beliefs, sometimes with violent results; war heroes like Max Cleland and John Kerry demonized as terrorist sympathizers  for daring to dissent; and, worst of all, our nation manipulated by our leaders into an act of preemptive aggression against a nation which had nothing to do with the deaths of nearly 3,000 victims.

"Us versus them" has always been politically potent. Since 9/11/2001, it has become a mantra to tear our people apart, to say nothing of other peoples around the world. We live today in a climate where, for far too many Americans, "moderate" is a 4-letter word and compromise equals unconditional surrender. It's a climate that permits people to discredit the President of the United States not because of what he has proposed, but by who they believe he really is.

I don't know a single person who wouldn't want to live in a world where Abu Gharib is just a place, people can protest without physical and political reprisal, and demagogues that put Joe McCarthy to shame never take a seat in Congress. Nor, for that matter, would we prefer a world where the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives was exceeded by the millions of Americans who lost their homes or savings, and the trillions in debt we racked up to pay for an immoral war and an equally immoral economic policy.

We tried to disregard the warning Benjamin Franklin gave us over 200 years ago. In the vain search for a little security, we sacrificed so much of what makes democracy possible - our freedom.

When we vow to "Never Forget", 11 years after a clear, sunny morning in New York, Washington D.C. and rural Pennsylvania became shrouded in darkness forever, let us also vow to remember the following:

That who we lost goes beyond the dead, to all they knew and loved.
That what we lost goes beyond destroyed and damaged buildings, to the destruction of nations and peoples, and the damage to our discourse, our Constitution, our economy.

Above all, that to "Never Forget" means to vow, with equal strength and honesty, to repair the damage and renew our commitment to the principle that defines our nation: "To form a more perfect union".

Originally posted to stephenyellin on Tue Sep 11, 2012 at 08:49 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Let me know what YOU think (5+ / 0-)

    As always, I truly appreciate the comments and questions fellow Kossacks have. I will try and respond to them throughout the day.  

    "We are the leaders we've been waiting for." - Paul Wellstone

    by MrLiberal on Tue Sep 11, 2012 at 08:51:36 AM PDT

    •  The rest of the world had a different perspective (7+ / 0-)

      The rest of the world had been suffering outrages by non-governmental terrorist groups from the early 1950s onward.

      Granted, 9/11 was the one of the most devastating terrorist outrages of the last 100 years.   It killed nearly as many people at one stroke as die each year from handgun crimes.  And besides,  many people feel that when a great many people die of the same thing in the same place  at the same time,  THAT is more significant than much larger number of people losing their lives in different places at different times ...

      So ... emotionally considered,  "9/11" is far more significant than "tobacco" , "asbestos" , "drunk driving" "guns", "drugs" or "poverty."  Only "AIDS" even comes close.

      And of course OUR victims of terror  are terribly important to us -- but English, Irish, Israeli, German.  French, Greek and Japanese victims of the several Terror Wars waged on behalf of different  dissident/revolutionary causes since the end of WWII -- well, "not so much."  And as for Russian casualties of  Islamic Terror  -- not at all.

      So ... we have built a magnificent memorial and visitor's center at public expense to keep the memory forever fresh.  

      And every once in a while we can expect "wars of choice" justified by NineEleven ,  and the occasional incident private revenge -- like the Wisconsin Sikh Temple shooting  

      The reason the "wound in America's Heart" has become "the Scab on America's Soul" is because we think it's a Sacred Duty to pick, pick pick at it.

    •  Pearl Harbor...2400 killed & 1200 injured (0+ / 0-)

      Do we still tear our hair out every Pear Harbor Day?  No...we...most of us...don't even remember the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

      I think that is as it should be.  I don't like mythologizing and cleaving onto victomhood or martyrdom.  Learn from the mistakes, for sure...and plan accordingly.  

      When you read American History, and especially Civil War History...so many more people were killed and maimed.  Monumentally more people.  We don't rip our shirts every year, on the anniversary of Appomattox or Gettysburg or the Battle of the Wilderness.  

      And so shall it be with 9/11.  The sooner, the better, as far as I am concerned.  All it brought us was an assinine federal bureaucracy, a bunch of surly employees at our airports who wouldn't know what to do with a terrorist if one slapped them in the face, but they sure know enough to demand that you take you fucking shoes off, and your belt, etc.etc.etc....

      9/11 should be commemorated on a stamp.  That stamp should show a TSA agent patting down a 95 year old grandmother who breathes with an oxygen tank.

      Oregon: Sure...it's cold. But it's a damp cold.

      by Keith930 on Tue Sep 11, 2012 at 08:26:53 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The Day That Will Live In Infamy For Me (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      VictorLaszlo

      Was the coup that was perpetrated against Al Gore the night on November 7 2000. There is no 9/11 under a Gore Presidency. Feel free to read that statement any way you like.

  •  If you want to think of individuals who were lost (6+ / 0-)

    as opposed to a number, this is a good place to start.

    I'm giving to the ACLU, who keeps working to protect our liberty.

    Ancora Impara--Michelangelo

    by aravir on Tue Sep 11, 2012 at 09:00:26 AM PDT

  •  Pfft. *I'll* never forget who was pres. on that (7+ / 0-)

    day and whose administration ignored all the warnings and failed to take any action to prevent the whole thing.

    "When and if fascism comes to America...it will not even be called 'fascism'; it will be called, of course, 'Americanism'" --Professor Halford E. Luccock of Yale Divinity School; New York Times article from September 12, 1938, page 15

    by demongo on Tue Sep 11, 2012 at 03:41:56 PM PDT

  •  This rings very true. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    exiledfromTN, AoT, WakeUpNeo

    We lost, what, three thousand people that day, but we also lost our innocence and our sense of invulnerability. Whether we're better for that as a nation, honestly, one has to doubt.

    Fuck me, it's a leprechaun.

    by MBNYC on Tue Sep 11, 2012 at 04:50:54 PM PDT

  •  We should never (11+ / 0-)

    forget the utter cynicism with which 9/11 was used as a means to an end by many Americans.

    That is the most important lesson.

  •  There are a number of things to remember (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    zett

    The first thing I remember is the coup in Chile.

    I also remember the Battle of Sterling Bridge.

    I also remember my friend's birthday, which I will never forget now.

    But most of all I remember "The Case for Rage and Retribution" in time magazine, printed ten years to the day before the start of Occupy Wall Street.  I remember being one of the few people who warned that we shouldn't go into Afghanistan.  I remember getting in screaming matches and being physically threatened because I wasn't patriotic enough.  I remember still hating Bush and still not trusting the government to protect us, because why would I.  I remember the hate and rage that flowed from even the most reasonably seeming people I knew.

    Most of all, what I remember was seeing the video on the TV on constant repeat and thinking "Oh, shit, they did it."   Not knowing who 'they' were, but knowing, after a background in Poli Sci, that this was in fact chickens coming home to roost in one form or another.  Which, make no mistake, doesn't mean that the people who died in the attacks or have died since deserved it in any way, they didn't, but this attack was an inevitable result of a long history of global oppression by the US.  I don't like that that's true, but it is.

    The revolution will not be televised. But it will be blogged, a lot. Probably more so than is necessary.

    by AoT on Tue Sep 11, 2012 at 06:02:30 PM PDT

  •  I don't think lost innocence conveys it (5+ / 0-)

    American had seen, in the 20th century, World War I through Vietnam. We weren't really an innocent nation.

    It wasn't merely an embrace of evil either.

    It was an officially acknowledged, intentional embrace of evil. Here's Dick Cheney, five days later:

    We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we're going to be successful.

    Meet the Press, September 16, 2001

    Cheney is gloating, on national TV, about the secret September 17 kill and capture Memorandum of Notification.

    We've seen many of the other Bush-era memos. All the memos we've seen have been rescinded.

    We haven't seen the September 17 memo. And according to all best guesses, it is still in force. It hasn't been rescinded. The Dark Side memo is the fundamental underpinning of how we still operate the war on terror.

  •  Two things I never want us to forget, I either: (0+ / 0-)

    My. Pet. Goat.

    and

    Osama bin Laden is dead.

  •  A small daily reminder of 9/11. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AoT
    and many other realities that would have been inconceivable to most on September 10th, 2001.
    After 9/11 the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit System) bathrooms at underground stations were closed due to “heightened station security”.
    •  And they still are (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AdamR510

      Every time I'm taking BART and have to go to the bathroom I have an overwhelming urge to stand next to the bathrooms and yell "This proves the terrorists won!!!"

      The revolution will not be televised. But it will be blogged, a lot. Probably more so than is necessary.

      by AoT on Tue Sep 11, 2012 at 07:49:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Yes, and can we also not forget (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MeToo, WakeUpNeo, ebgill, zett

    That more than double the number of Americans as lost their lives that horrible day lost their lives in the pointless wars that followed and that some multiple of that were horribly maimed and that some multiple of that non-Americans also lost their lives in those wars and had their lives irrevocably destroyed in a way that most Americans can't even imagine.  Can we be bothered not to forget how our country is going bankrupt thanks to those wars?  And can we be bothered to not forget how bellicose stupidity is never a strategically sound response to evil.

    I really hope we never forget how the Taliban offered up Osama Bin Laden if only we would negotiate with them, which we ended up doing anyway, and we said, "No!  We don't negotiate with terrorists!  We just bomb them (and nearby wedding parties)!"  It would be great if we could never forget that.

    Alas, it seems we have already forgotten how we dishonored our dead by killing in their name... or maybe we didn't forget because we never knew it in the first place.

    •  plus..11 years later, the world trade center still (0+ / 0-)

      isn't complete.

      JFK pledged to put a man on the moon in 1961, and 8 years later, by God, we did it.

      These days...we can't event build a fucking skyscraper in 11 years.  It's pathetic.  As a people, we just can't pull together anymore and agree on anything, and say "Yes, by God...we are going to DO THAT."

      The only thing you hear these days is "What about MEEEEE?????????????????????????????????"

      Oregon: Sure...it's cold. But it's a damp cold.

      by Keith930 on Tue Sep 11, 2012 at 08:41:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  We don't build skyscrapers. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ebgill

        Corporations do.  So it's kinda apples and oranges.  Corporations don't reflect national aspirations, nor bend to the national will.  They do whatever the fuck they want, as long as the bottom line is green.

        How's the demand for commercial real estate in lower Manhattan these days?

        Early to rise and early to bed Makes a man healthy, wealthy, and dead. --Not Benjamin Franklin

        by Boundegar on Wed Sep 12, 2012 at 02:18:54 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  My memories of 9/11 are different (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ebgill, zett, Shockwave, Lily O Lady

    I remember an orgy of ridiculous panic in parts of the country that never were, and never will, targets of terror.  I remember local law enforcement districts requesting and getting federal funds to "protect" things such as soybean festivals, NASCAR races, and countless other mundane events in America's heartland from "terrorist attacks"....as if that were even remotely likely.

    I remember it as an excuse for an orgy of spending upon ridiculous purposes, because no politician wanted to be seen as being "soft on terrorism", or uncaring to the unfounded fears of the most local yokel in the country who said "it could happen here,"

    9/11 prompted a surge of the most irresponsible and foolish spending this country has ever seen.  In the most unlikely of places.

    It is a truly disgusting chapter in this country's history.

    Oregon: Sure...it's cold. But it's a damp cold.

    by Keith930 on Tue Sep 11, 2012 at 09:01:26 PM PDT

  •  #1 - things are not always as the seem (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shockwave

    the closer you look the more questions remain

    Knew a PA cop whose body was found in the lobby of the north tower - and a few more people unaccounted for.

    Life isn't fair but you should try to leave it fairer than you found it.

    by xrepub on Wed Sep 12, 2012 at 07:45:50 AM PDT

  •  Rather late, but a correction is needed. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shockwave

    One thing you forgot to mention:

    While Feingold was the only one in the Senate to vote against the so-called patriot act, there were 66 House votes against it as well.

    Feingold's lone Senate vote was a politically heroic act, IMO, but I don't want the impression left that he was the only one in all of Congress because that's simply not correct.

  •  We lost the ability to keep the neo-cons in check (0+ / 0-)

    Therefore Iraq.

    I remember that for quite a while many blamed Saddam Hussein for 9/11;

    A poll released in April 2004 revealed that 20 percent of Americans still believe Iraq is responsible for September 11 and that this misperception is still a significant predictor of whether or not Americans support the ongoing conflict in Iraq. In addition, according to a poll taken a few months before the 2004 election, those who believe that Iraq provided support to al Qaeda were nearly five times more likely to report an anticipated vote for Bush in November.

    None of this is surprising, given that Iraq and al Qaeda continue to be linked in the Bush administration rhetoric. On September 14, 2003, in an interview on “Meet the Press,” Vice President Cheney said, “If we’re successful in Iraq . . . then we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11.”

    In a speech to first responders in Wisconsin on March 30, 2004, President Bush discussed 9/11 and the war on terror immediately preceding a defense of the decision to go to war in Iraq: September the 11th taught us another lesson, that this nation must always deal with threats before they fully materialize. . . . I want to remind you that I saw a threat. I looked at the intelligence and saw a threat in Iraq. . . . September the 11th taught us a lesson.

    Given this ongoing entanglement of Iraq and September 11, it is understandable that the public continues to hear and accept erroneous linkages. In a PIPA/Knowledge Networks poll taken in June 2003, 71 percent of respondents once again said that the Bush administration had implied a link between Iraq under Saddam Hussein and 9/11.

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Wed Sep 12, 2012 at 11:35:01 AM PDT

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