UQ Wire: William Rivers Pitt - Nine Eleven
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Unanswered Questions : Thinking for ourselves.
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Thursday 17 June 2004
Everyone has a story.
My friend Doris has two stories. The first is about a woman she knew who ran out of the Towers, but then realized a co-worker was still upstairs. She ran back into the building to get him. Her co-worker survived, but she was burned to death. The way Doris tells it, he still isn’t right in the head to this day because of her death. Doris’ other story is about a man she knew who called his father as the Tower he was in collapsed. He told his father he loved him, and then he was gone.
My friend Brian has a story about himself, sitting at his desk in San Francisco trying to get clients in New York on the phone. He couldn’t get through, and couldn’t get through, and couldn’t get through. His boss saw him and came to his desk. "What are you doing?" he asked Brian. "Um…working?" Brian replied. "Don’t you know what’s happening?" his boss exclaimed. A few minutes later, Brian realized the people he was calling were either dead or fleeing.
For me, it was the first day of school. I was in my office, getting my notes ready to teach Journalism and then English, when I saw the first report pop up on the New York Times website. Ten minutes later, I was in the library hauling a television out of the AV closet. According to my boss, I turned the color of old cheese as the images flashed on the screen. We had an assembly a few minutes later - a first-day-of-school tradition - and because the students had been in class the whole time, they had no idea what was happening.
As we filed to the assembly, I ran into a senior I had taught the year before. "Can you believe this is happening?" I asked. "What’s happening?" she replied. "Two airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center towers, and they’re on fire. It was no accident." The color left her face and she said, "My father is there today." I ran her up to the principal’s office, and she spent the next six hours on the telephone with her mother, waiting to hear. At the end of the day, we got the word: Her father had gotten down to the lobby when the second plane hit, and he didn’t stop running until he was standing on Staten Island. I spent the rest of that day trying to teach, listening to my students ask me, "Is this World War III?" The best I could do was to say, "Probably."
Everyone has a story, and that is the fundamental key to the power of George W. Bush and his administration. September 11 was shared by all of us. It made all of us bleed somewhere. It made us all afraid. If it is true that we are all connected by six degrees of separation, every single person lost someone important. George W. Bush and his administration positioned themselves as our defenders, the dispensers of patriotism, and the axis of our craved revenge. Every ounce of political strength this administration enjoys flows directly from that day, because everyone has a story.
Adlai Stevenson once said, "Patriotism is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime." As a nation, we have become lost because the frenzied outburst of emotion which arose from the dust and death of September 11 was transformed, with deliberation and intent, into a shield which protects Bush and his people from any consequences arising from their actions. We have become lost because, in that frenzy and fear, millions of Americans were coaxed into believing that Bush alone could protect us, could save us, and any words against him or the actions of his administration were tantamount to treason.
Apply a different context and imagine an America today had September 11 not happened.
Would we tolerate a President who drove us to war on the basis of lies and exaggeration? Would we tolerate a President who used fear against his own people to get what he wanted? Would we tolerate a President whose people destroyed deep-cover CIA agents as a means of exacting political revenge? Would we tolerate a President who gave away billions of our tax dollars to his closest corporate friends, under the cover of the aforementioned lies and exaggerations? Would we tolerate a President who made the torture of fellow human beings an accepted policy, whose advisors and attorneys concocted twisted arguments to defend such torture, who came to the conclusion that the President is absolutely, totally and without exception above the law?
Put another way, would we have tolerated any of this had it happened during the Clinton administration? Certainly not. Had Clinton done even one of these things, he would have been impeached and removed from office, deservedly so, and none of us would have been required to hear about stained dresses and thong underwear.
That was then, and this is now.
The time has come, bluntly, to get over September 11, to move beyond it, to extract ourselves from this bunker mentality which blinds us while placing us in mortal peril. It happened, and it will never be forgotten, but we have reached a place where fear and obeisance can no longer be tolerated.
Everyone has a story, but those stories have not finished in the telling. What final chapter would you write for your story? Will the final chapter of your story be one of fear, one where you staggered along behind grandiose incompetence because you were too afraid to do anything else? Or will that final chapter of your story be one of triumph, of truth, of a day when you chose not to be manipulated any more? Will your final chapter tell how your patriotism became debased to the point where hate, anger and total obedience to a corrupted authority were the hallmarks of your love of country? Or will your patriotism become that steady dedication of a lifetime upon which the fate of this nation depends?
Write your own ending, but make it a beginning.
William Rivers Pitt is the senior editor and lead writer for truthout. He is a New York Times and international bestselling author of two books - 'War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know' and 'The Greatest Sedition is Silence.'
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