Tuesday, January 22, 2008

My 9-11-01

It's been more than six years since terrorists slammed planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and United Flight 93 crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania. Just a few days earlier, I was finishing up an international assignment (with CNFA) in Moldova. Little did I know what loomed ahead -- a punctuating end to the Cold War, with the first shots being fired in the new War on Terror. I guess I was lucky that I was able to fly home, because in a few days I wouldn't have been able to, at least not until after a long delay.

Halal meat store after 9-11Like many people who remember where they were when Presidents Kennedy and Reagan were shot, I remember where I was when the 9-11 attacks occurred. I was attending a "Small Grain" breakfast (for farmers) at the Holiday Inn in Salisbury. I was in class at Ohio State University when Reagan was shot and in the playpen (I don't actually remember) when JFK was assassinated. When I got back to my office on September 11, 2001, I became glued to a TV, waiting to learn the plight of Flight 93 and the twin towers. Seeing the towers crumble to the ground is a site that I can never forget.

Recently, I watched a movie about United Flight 93. There are two movies. I saw the made-for-TV movie. It was very good. I thought the filmmakers handled a delicate subject very well. They were respectful. They avoided politics. They used unknown actors, no special effects, and took few creative liberties. To their credit, they did not show the plane crashing. Mostly, the movie moved back and forth between the families of the victims and the activity that took place on the plane.

Our primary insight into what happened on Flight 93 comes from the cell phone conversations between the doomed passengers and their families and the recording of the flight box. Flight 93 is a difficult film to watch, but at the same time triumphant. We don't know exactly what transpired in the air, but there is compelling evidence to suggest that the passengers and crew fought back against their aggressors. They may indeed have prevented an attack on the White House, Capitol, or another important government installation. Even if they didn't, they were courageous and all died heroes.

A month after 9-11, I traveled to New Jersey and New York City to participate in a tour organized by Cornell University to learn about sheep and goat marketing. We visited many places that were owned and frequented by Muslims. We were told that Muslims were staying inside, concerned for their safety. Strangely, 9-11 had an impact on the sheep and goat markets, since Muslims are a major consumer of both meats. We saw many American flags hung in the windows of stores and butchers shops, including on many Halal shops. We ate dinner at a white table cloth restaurant in Manhattan, then traveled as close to Ground Zero, as was possible. We could see the smoke. It was a strange feeling. Very eery.

memorials of 9-11A couple of years ago, I attended the retirement ceremony of the wife of a friend of mine. The ceremony was held at the Pentagon. She was retiring from the Army. While there, besides touring the massive facility that symbolizes American military might, we saw the memorial to the victims of the 9-11 tragedy. Construction had not yet begun on the memorial park, which will honor each victim of the attack.

I generally supported the decisions to employ military action in Afghanistan, then Iraq. I know that things have not gone as well as we would have liked, but we have made progress and need to remain steadfast in our support of these fledgling governments. Since Europe, the media, and public are so opposed to the war in Iraq (and probably would be opposed to any war, not matter how noble a cause), it's hard to know exactly what is going on or if we are even doing the right thing. History will be the only judge. In the meantime, I stand with my President and our men and women in the armed forces.

Yet, while military action might offer a short-term solution, I think the long term solution is far more complex. I believe energy independence to be the most important part of the solution. We've got to stop waging war for OIL. Energy independence will take many years to accomplish. I hope it could happen in my lifetime. It will take political will. I'm not sure we have it. It will require the cooperation of the public and private sectors. All energy sources and policies will need to be on the table. It will require sacrifice on the part of all Americans, sacrifices I'm not sure most Americans are willing to make. The American public complains about Bush's war in Iraq while driving their big SUVs and lawn tractors and heating their big houses -- with Saudi and Iraqi oil. Movie stars are the biggest hippocrits, living in their big mansions and jetting around the world in their private airplanes. I wonder what percentage of our gas expenditures end up in the hands of terrorists?

At the same time, a reduced dependence on Middle Eastern oil is not likley to eliminate ALL potential conflict between East and West. Israel is an imporant American ally and we will stand by her side. Israel is a Democratic nation that has a right to exist, as does Palestine. Perhaps, creating a Palestinian state and making Jerusalem an international city would resolve this long-standing conflict between Jews (and Americans, by association) and Muslims.

Even if oil is out of the picture, the U.S. will (and should ) always be concerned about rogue nations (or the terrorists they "breed" and/or support) having or pursuing weapons of mass destruction. At the same time, it is probably small arms which are the greatest weapons of mass destruction, yet we freely trade them with these nations. There needs to some consistency in our policies. I'm probably asking for too much. After all, we supported Bin Laden in the Afghan War and helped give rise to the Taliban. We tolerate human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and Egypt because they are our "allies" -- but hunted down Saddam Hussein for his. Egypt is no more a democracy than Iran. Saudi Arabia practices a very strict form of Islam and considers women and children to be household property.

I hope we will always be concerned about human rights and not let "cultural differences" allow women and others be be persecuted in the name of religion freedom. Perhaps, we'd find more success in our foreign policy if we were concerned as much about the situation of women and other ordinary people in these countries as we are about the source of our next barrel or oil. Our future depends upon the plight of the youth in these countries. How can we encourage these young men (boys, really) to pursue a path different than the hate and intolerence they're being taught in "religious" schools? We'll need more than the promise of 72 virgins. How do we empower young Muslim women? Our policies need more balance. I'm not opposed to the use military force, but we need to work other avenues as well. Books instead of bullets. Education instead of occupation.

If I was a journalist, I'd always refer to the terrorists as godless, women-hating cowards who exploit poor, uneducated people to promote their perverted interpretation of Islam. While it may take courage to die for your cause, I think it takes more courage to stay alive and stand up for your beliefs. Not to mention that suicide is forbidden in the Qur'an. Of course, the "real" terrorists aren't the ones who strap bombs to their bodies or drive planes into buildings. They're the ones that recruit "followers" and plan the attacks, while safely sipping tea and watching CNN in their bunkers. Talk about cowards!

I'd never write or say anything about Islam, because terrorism isn't about religion anymore than Nazism was about Christianity. The God (Allah) that Jews, Christians, and Muslims ALL worship does not condone the taking of innocent women and children and other non-combatants. Period. Unfortunately, like the Bible, the Qur'an can be taken out of context, giving hopeless young men a twisted "justification" for their criminal actions.

Nowadays, we often talk about the pre and post-9-11 eras. It's often asked if we feel safer since 9-11. I do. I think. I know that a lot is being done to prevent acts of terrorism here and on foreign soil. There's a lot that we don't even know about. Though I get irritated when I go through airport security -- especially when they take my toothpaste -- I'm sure that security measures are having an effect. I'm also realistic. Unless we and our European allies become police states -- which we don't want -- there's no way to prevent acts of terrorism 100% of the time. It's the world we live in. I understand. We all need to.

I would like to visit the crash site and memorial in Shanksville, PA. I would like to visit Ground Zero in New York City. I want to see the Pentagon Memorial Park when it is finished. I don't think visits to these sights would be enjoyable. It's like when I visited the concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland -- it's a moral obligation. We always need to remember our dead and learn from our mistakes.

While I'm proud of the passengers and crew of Flight 93, the firemen, policemen, and others who responded to the heinous attacks of 9-11, and I grieve for the families and friends of the victims, I am disgusted by some of the 9-11 aftermath: complaints about the memorials, squables over compensation to the victims, rescue workers, and their families, ridiculous conspiracy theories, political manuvering and partisanship, criticism of our government's response to the attacks, and endless lawsuits.

While dying due to a terrorist attack or during the response to a terrorist attack is horrible, it's no more dead than when a soldier is killed, a child's parent is killed by a drunk driver, or someone's spouse loses their battle to cancer. I, for one, would rather have seen those billions of dollars spent on erecting memorials, taking care of our men and women in uniform, and generally protecting our nation from future acts of terrorism.

In the end, the blame for 9-11 lies solely with the terrorists and those who support them with their money, rhetoric, and/or silence.

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