September 11, 2011

Chris Hedges/A Decade After 9/11: We Are What We Loathe.

The following article was in Nation of Change. They got it from truthdig. I spent half an hour trying to get the original from truthdig, but it turned out to be impossible. All you get is: "Database Error: Unable to connect to your database. Your database appears to be turned off or the database connection settings in your config file are not correct. Please contact your hosting provider if the problem persists. "
You can make your way to read the other articles on truthdig and they are worth it. Maybe it will be fixed by tomorrow.
In the meantime, here is a copy/paste from Nation of Change.

by Chris Hedges
I ar­rived in Times Square around 9:30 on the morn­ing of Sept. 11, 2001. A large crowd was trans­fixed by the huge Jum­botron screens. Bil­lows of smoke could be seen on the screens above us, pour­ing out of the two World Trade tow­ers. Two planes, I was told by peo­ple in the crowd, had plowed into the tow­ers. I walked quickly into the New York Times news­room at 229 W. 43rd St., grabbed a hand­ful of re­porter’s note­books, slipped my NYPD press card, which would let me through po­lice road­blocks, around my neck, and started down the West Side High­way to the World Trade Cen­ter. The high­way was closed to traf­fic. I walked through knots of emer­gency work­ers, po­lice and fire­men. Fire trucks, emer­gency ve­hi­cles, am­bu­lances, po­lice cars and res­cue trucks idled on the as­phalt.

The south tower went down around 10 a.m. with a gut­tural roar. Huge rolling gray clouds of nox­ious smoke, dust, gas, pul­ver­ized con­crete, gyp­sum and the grit of human re­mains en­veloped lower Man­hat­tan. The sun was ob­scured. The north tower col­lapsed about 30 min­utes later. The dust hung like a shroud over Man­hat­tan.

I headed to­ward the spot where the tow­ers once stood, pass­ing dazed, ashen and speech­less groups of po­lice of­fi­cers and fire­fight­ers. I would pull out a note­book to ask ques­tions and no sounds would come out of their mouths. They for­lornly shook their heads and warded me away gen­tly with their hands. By the time I ar­rived at Ground Zero it was a moon­scape; whole floors of the tow­ers had col­lapsed like an ac­cor­dion. I pulled out pieces of paper from one floor, and a few feet below were pa­pers from 30 floors away. Small bits of human bod­ies—a foot in a woman’s shoe, a bit of a leg, part of a torso—lay scat­tered amid the wreck­age.

Scores of peo­ple, per­haps more than 200, pushed through the smoke and heat to jump to their deaths from win­dows that had bro­ken or they had smashed. Some­times they did this alone, some­times in pairs. But it seems they took turns, one body cas­cad­ing down­ward fol­lowed by an­other. The last acts of in­di­vid­u­al­ity. They fell for about 10 sec­onds, many flail­ing or repli­cat­ing the mo­tion of swim­mers, reach­ing 150 miles an hour. Their clothes and, in a few cases, their im­pro­vised para­chutes made from drapes or table­cloths shred­ded. They smashed into the pave­ment with un­nerv­ing, sick­en­ing thuds. Thump. Thump. Thump. Those who wit­nessed it were par­tic­u­larly shaken by the sounds the bod­ies made on im­pact.

The im­ages of the “jumpers” proved too grue­some for the TV net­works. Even be­fore the tow­ers col­lapsed, the falling men and women were cen­sored from live broad­casts. Iso­lated pic­tures ap­peared the next day in pa­pers, in­clud­ing The New York Times, and then were ban­ished. The mass sui­cide, one of the most piv­otal and im­por­tant el­e­ments in the nar­ra­tive of 9/11, was ex­punged. It re­mains ex­punged from pub­lic con­scious­ness.

The “jumpers” did not fit into the myth the na­tion de­manded. The fate of the “jumpers” said some­thing so pro­found, so dis­turb­ing, about our own fate, small­ness in the uni­verse and fragility that it had to be banned. The “jumpers” il­lus­trated that there are thresh­olds of suf­fer­ing that elicit a will­ing em­brace of death. The “jumpers” re­minded us that there will come, to all of us, final mo­ments when the only choice will be, at best, how we will choose to die, not how we are going to live. And we can die be­fore we phys­i­cally ex­pire.

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The shock of 9/11, how­ever, de­manded im­ages and sto­ries of re­silience, re­demp­tion, hero­ism, courage, self-sac­ri­fice and gen­eros­ity, not col­lec­tive sui­cide in the face of over­whelm­ing hope­less­ness and de­spair.

Re­porters in mo­ments of cri­sis be­come clin­i­cians. They col­lect data, facts, de­scrip­tions, basic in­for­ma­tion, and carry out in­ter­views as swiftly as pos­si­ble. We make these facts fit into fa­mil­iar nar­ra­tives. We do not cre­ate facts but we ma­nip­u­late them. We make facts con­form to our per­cep­tions of our­selves as Amer­i­cans and human be­ings. We work within the con­fines of na­tional myth. We make jour­nal­ism and his­tory a refuge from mem­ory. The pre­tense that mass mur­der and sui­cide can be trans­formed into a trib­ute to the vic­tory of the human spirit was the lie we all told to the pub­lic that day and have been telling ever since. We make sense of the pre­sent only through the lens of the past, as the French philoso­pher Mau­rice Halb­wachs pointed out, rec­og­niz­ing that “our con­cep­tions of the past are af­fected by the men­tal im­ages we em­ploy to solve pre­sent prob­lems, so that col­lec­tive mem­ory is es­sen­tially a re­con­struc­tion of the past in the light of the pre­sent. … Mem­ory needs con­tin­u­ous feed­ing from col­lec­tive sources and is sus­tained by so­cial and moral props.”

I re­turned that night to the news­room hack­ing from the fumes re­leased by the burn­ing as­bestos, jet fuel, lead, mer­cury, cel­lu­lose and con­struc­tion de­bris. I sat at my com­puter, my thin paper mask still hang­ing from my neck, try­ing to write and catch my breath. All who had been at the site that day were no­tice­able in the news­room be­cause they were strug­gling for air. Most of us were con­vulsed by shock and grief.

There would soon, how­ever, be an­other re­ac­tion. Those of us who were close to the epi­cen­ters of the 9/11 at­tacks would pri­mar­ily grieve and mourn. Those who had some dis­tance would in­dulge in the grow­ing na­tion­al­ist cant and calls for blood that would soon tri­umph over rea­son and san­ity. Na­tion­al­ism was a dis­ease I knew in­ti­mately as a war cor­re­spon­dent. It is anti-thought. It is pri­mar­ily about self-ex­al­ta­tion. The flip side of na­tion­al­ism is al­ways racism, the de­hu­man­iza­tion of the enemy and all who ap­pear to ques­tion the cause. The plague of na­tion­al­ism began al­most im­me­di­ately. My son, who was 11, asked me what the dif­fer­ence was be­tween cars fly­ing small Amer­i­can flags and cars fly­ing large Amer­i­can flags.

“The peo­ple with the re­ally big flags are the re­ally big ass­holes,” I told him.

The dead in the World Trade Cen­ter, the Pen­ta­gon and a field in Penn­syl­va­nia were used to sanc­tify the state’s lust for war. To ques­tion the rush to war be­came to dis­honor our mar­tyrs. Those of us who knew that the at­tacks were rooted in the long night of hu­mil­i­a­tion and suf­fer­ing in­flicted by Is­rael on the Pales­tini­ans, the im­po­si­tion of our mil­i­tary bases in the Mid­dle East and in the bru­tal Arab dic­ta­tor­ships that we funded and sup­ported be­came apos­tates. We be­came de­fend­ers of the in­de­fen­si­ble. We were apol­o­gists, asChristo­pher Hitchens shouted at me on a stage in Berke­ley, “for sui­cide bombers.”

Be­cause few cared to ex­am­ine our ac­tiv­i­ties in the Mus­lim world, the at­tacks be­came cer­ti­fied as in­com­pre­hen­si­ble by the state and its lap dogs, the press. Those who car­ried out the at­tacks were branded as ris­ing out of a cul­ture and re­li­gion that was at best prim­i­tive and prob­a­bly evil. The Quran—al­though it for­bids sui­cide as well as the mur­der of women and chil­dren—was painted as a man­ual for fa­nati­cism and ter­ror. The at­tack­ers em­bod­ied the ti­tanic clash of civ­i­liza­tions, the cos­mic bat­tle under way be­tween good and evil, the forces of light and dark­ness. Im­ages of the planes crash­ing into the tow­ers and heroic res­cuers emerg­ing from the rub­ble were played and re­played. We were del­uged with painful sto­ries of the sur­vivors and vic­tims. The deaths and falling tow­ers be­came icono­graphic. The cer­e­monies of re­mem­brance were skill­fully hi­jacked by the pur­vey­ors of war and ha­tred. They be­came ve­hi­cles to jus­tify doing to oth­ers what had been done to us. And as in­no­cents died here, soon other in­no­cents began to die in the Mus­lim world. A life for a life. Mur­der for mur­der. Death for death. Ter­ror for ter­ror.

What was played out in the weeks after the at­tacks was the old, fa­mil­iar bat­tle be­tween force and human imag­i­na­tion, be­tween the crude in­stru­ments of vi­o­lence and the ca­pac­ity for em­pa­thy and un­der­stand­ing. Human imag­i­na­tion lost. Cold­blooded rea­son, which does not speak the lan­guage of the imag­i­na­tion, won. We began to speak and think in the empty, mind­less na­tion­al­ist clichés about ter­ror that the state handed to us. We be­came what we ab­horred. The deaths were used to jus­tify pre-emp­tive war, in­va­sion, Shock and Awe, pro­longed oc­cu­pa­tion, tar­geted as­sas­si­na­tions, tor­ture, off­shore penal colonies, gun­ning down fam­i­lies at check­points, mas­sive aer­ial bom­bard­ments, drone at­tacks, mis­sile strikes and the killing of dozens and soon hun­dreds and then thou­sands and later tens of thou­sands and fi­nally hun­dreds of thou­sands of in­no­cent peo­ple. We pro­duced piles of corpses in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pak­istan, and ex­tended the reach of our killing ma­chine to Yemen and So­ma­lia. And by be­at­i­fy­ing our dead, by ce­ment­ing into the na­tional psy­che fear and the im­per­a­tive of per­ma­nent war, and by stok­ing our col­lec­tive hu­mil­i­a­tion, the state car­ried out crimes, atroc­i­ties and killings that dwarfed any­thing car­ried out against us on 9/11. The best that force can do is im­pose order. It can never elicit har­mony. And force was jus­ti­fied, and is still jus­ti­fied, by the first dead. Ten years later these dead haunt us like Ban­quo’s ghost.

“It is the first death which in­fects every­one with the feel­ings of being threat­ened,” wrote Elias Canetti. “It is im­pos­si­ble to over­rate the part played by the first dead man in the kin­dling of wars. Rulers who want to un­leash war know very well that they must pro­cure or in­vent a first vic­tim. It needs not be any­one of par­tic­u­lar im­por­tance, and can even be some­one quite un­known. Noth­ing mat­ters ex­cept his death; and it must be be­lieved that the enemy is re­spon­si­ble for this. Every pos­si­ble cause of his death is sup­pressed ex­cept one: his mem­ber­ship of the group to which one be­longs one­self.”

We were un­able to ac­cept the re­al­ity of this anony­mous slaugh­ter. We were un­able be­cause it ex­posed the awful truth that we live in a morally neu­tral uni­verse where human life, in­clud­ing our life, can be snuffed out in sense­less and ran­dom vi­o­lence. It showed us that there is no pro­tec­tion, not from God, fate, luck, omens or the state.

We have still not woken up to whom we have be­come, to the fatal ero­sion of do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional law and the sense­less waste of lives, re­sources and tril­lions of dol­lars to wage wars that ul­ti­mately we can never win. We do not see that our own faces have be­come as con­torted as the faces of the de­mented hi­jack­ers who seized the three com­mer­cial jet­lin­ers a decade ago. We do not grasp that Osama bin Laden’s twisted vi­sion of a world of in­dis­crim­i­nate vi­o­lence and ter­ror has tri­umphed. The at­tacks turned us into mon­sters, grotesque ghouls, sadists and killers who drop bombs on vil­lage chil­dren and wa­ter­board those we kid­nap, strip of their rights and hold for years with­out due process. We acted be­fore we were able to think. And it is the sa­tanic lust of vi­o­lence that has us locked in its grip.

As Wordsworth wrote:

Action is transitory - a step, a blow, The motion of a muscle - this way or that - "Tis done; and in the after-vacancy We wonder at ourselves like men betrayed: Suffering is permanent, obscure and dark, And has the nature of infinity.

We could have gone an­other route. We could have built on the pro­found sym­pa­thy and em­pa­thy that swept through the world fol­low­ing the at­tacks. The re­vul­sion over the crimes that took place 10 years ago, in­clud­ing in the Mus­lim world, where I was work­ing in the weeks and months after 9/11, was nearly uni­ver­sal. The at­tacks, if we had turned them over to in­tel­li­gence agen­cies and diplo­mats, might have opened pos­si­bil­i­ties not of war and death but ul­ti­mately rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, of re­dress­ing the wrongs that we com­mit in the Mid­dle East and that are com­mit­ted by Is­rael with our bless­ing. It was a mo­ment we squan­dered. Our bru­tal­ity and tri­umphal­ism, the byprod­ucts of na­tion­al­ism and our in­fan­tile pride, re­vived the ji­hadist move­ment. We be­came the rad­i­cal Is­lamist move­ment’s most ef­fec­tive re­cruit­ing tool. We de­scended to its bar­bar­ity. We be­came ter­ror­ists too. The sad legacy of 9/11 is that the ass­holes, on each side, won.

-thanks to truthdig and Nation of Change

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