The 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks is in just three days. Much has happened in this country since that Tuesday morning in 2001. Tonight (Thursday), I will moderate a discussion about the political and cultural after-effects of 9/11 for New York Public Theatre's Public Forum program. The evening will offer a reading of author Richard Nelson's new play, Sweet and Sad, as well as insights from radio host and author Kurt Andersen, journalist and author Carl Bernstein and the playwright.
The attacks of 2001 remain unshakably frustrating for me. The US government's response to these events has seemed grossly insufficient and perhaps even negligent in terms of this country's long-term interests. I keep asking myself why the group responsible for 9/11 committed these acts. What did/does the US and its policies represent to these people? Beyond some vague conception of jihad and other fundamentalist Muslim madness that has been introduced to Americans -- and that has been kept fresh in our minds for a decade now -- I often think, "What are the changes we need to be making here at home in addition to the changes we seek to effect elsewhere in the world?"
I refer to real changes; changes in the demands we make as Americans on energy supply, infrastructure, natural resources, the environment and our own health in order to do what Americans have grown to expect as their birthright: to be able to go anywhere, do anything, buy anything and as much of it as they want, whenever they want.
A birthright that is now slipping away -- and quickly.
Is the current, rapid erosion of our standard of living in part the result of our leaders' reactions to 9/11? Did a trillion dollars worth of wars with no tax hikes, in addition to a corrupt, usurious real estate lending market, Europe's financial collapse, China's currency hegemony and their invulnerability to other common market imperatives (e.g., little to no environmental regulation) and a spate of fierce natural disasters collectively bring us to this brink?
Did our response to the 9/11 attacks need to lean so heavily on attacking others? 10 years ago, only a small percentage of this country's federal intelligence community spoke any of the languages of the Muslim world. Has our ability to understand that region, not just linguistically, but culturally and politically, improved? These factors and others like them matter, particularly in light of the Arab Spring and the recent widespread upheaval in that region.
But perhaps most important of all is the question: has American Narcissism changed? By that I mean, how the US has spent so much of the post-Word War II period believing we are always the dominant actor in world affairs and that others must always react the way we need them to.
This evening, I want to moderate a program that touches on the shared horror and grief of September 11th, to honor the lives lost and to celebrate the heroism and integrity of so many Americans in response to that tragedy. But I also want to talk about what we have learned: that 9/11 is a reminder about how, after that day, America is not the same and never will be. I want to talk about how we need to recognize that hard fact before it is truly possible to move forward.
As unimaginable and cowardly as the 9/11 attacks were, it's important to ask ourselves what we must learn from them. Not just about terrorism, but about our country and ourselves as well.