09 September 2011

9/11 ... Ten Years After Pearl Harbor

We won't forget ... ten years or a thousand.
The Twin Towers coming down in such ignominious fashion has always left me embittered.  I will never forget --  We will never forget -- the shock to discover our national vulnerabilities revealed on the brightest of world stages and our collective cocksuredness mussed much in the same way a tall distinguished man in a handsome 3-piece feels and looks after he has tripped and tumbled in the public square, tearing his otherwise impeccable pinstripe suit, with cane and briefcase spilling about before him, scuffing hands, a knee, and perhaps even losing a tooth.  This is a raw moment of embarrassment and shock and pain.

But, America didn't stumble.  We were tripped, and by a schoolyard coward who couldn't or wouldn't walk up to us and take a shot.  No, there was no honor in this knock-down that we were handed ten years ago.  And, the subsequent geopolitical machinations, in all their ugliness and complications and import that we've engaged in since, have been hard on us in more ways than we can count. The thousands of lives lost and families forever impacted that fateful, perfectly clear day in New York and DC and Pennsylvania.   Hundreds of billions of dollars spent and thousands of lives of US service men and women lost and given to help this gentleman get back up, and to protect the others of us in the public square.  There's much honor there that needs to be recognized as well.

The pride is also there when we remember and recognize the first-responders and fellow-passengers who knew they would likely die and yet didn't hesitate to act.   They climbed staircases and walked into a burning Pentagon and carried injured men and women or they charged into a barricaded cockpit with nothing but a rebel yell knowing they would never make it out of those buildings or get off of that plane.

My children and I routinely waive at our local firehouse trucks from LA City station No. 66 as they drive here in South Central Los Angeles.  These men risk their lives for these same citizens in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country.  We waive at our local LAPD as they drive our streets.  I thank the service men and women I see in the airports that I travel through when I'm hopping on some plane.  Not always, and not as much as I used to after 9/11 ... but more than I used to prior.

There was another cheap shot taken on America by Imperialistic Japan on that now infamous date of 12/7, known today as Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.  Only two generations later and most young Americans don't know that date.  There is no lingering animosity between our countries and cultures to aid in such a recollection.  It was a date that, as FDR said, would live in infamy.  My two boys know that date as their mother's birthday, not a deadly attack against our fleet in the Pacific.

Our countries today are both democracies with a supreme focus on the free market.  Japan is one of our closest allies, and not just in Asia.  Our kids rock the same asymmetrical haircuts.  They wear the same fashion, play the same video games, and listen to the same rock (usually) and jazz and classical music.

A scant ten years after 12/7, Japan was a nascent democracy and on its way to finding its place in the free markets of the world.  Two decades later theirs was a booming inchoate economic powerhouse readying itself to one day soon take on the US.  Now look at her.  Japan is absolutely one of the jewels of the G8, a consistently supreme economy in finance, manufacturing, technology and the list continues to grow and impress.

Compare ten years post 9/11 to ten years after December 7th, and the difference is both striking and stark.  There is no former nationalistic adversary, no country to point at as a worthy opponent.  We in the West can only look at a worldview that hates anything that reflects or embodies modernity or even promotes human rights.  It is a worldview that engenders fear and hatred against anyone or thing or system that puts women in schools or takes them out of a hijab.  It is a worldview that radicalizes young men who would ordinarily say peaceful prayers and lead productive lives.  It is a worldview that is stuck in the dark ages and can now only find pride in hating the West -- that has become their raison d'etre.

Each major religion has gone through some sort of reformation.  This worldview that I write about has not as of yet.  Perhaps with the "Arab spring" this might be possible.  But, it is ten years after 9/11 and our chances of having a cordial statecraft relationship in the Middle East is perhaps possible only because the U.S. brought order to Iraq and Afghanistan.  Gadaffi basically laid down in submission after we wiped the floor with his neighbors, and said "Don't attack me! I'm with you guys on this terrorist thing!  Oh, yeah, and I love Condi Rice!"

The Arab street and the movements in Syria and Egypt and elsewhere, owe much thanks to an American and Western policy of helping to rebuild after conflict.  Look to Europe and Germany and the Marshall Plan and to Japan and Korea and to any region where our footprint (sometimes a bit too heavy) has "veni, vidi, vici'd" its way to victory and then departed only to remain allied with the former enemy and their new and improved economy (but don't look at Vietnam -- Look away!  Look away!).  If we can help Iraq and Afghanistan rebuild to a new future that is in their own hands (and not the hands of a despot and his psychotic children), and if Saudi Arabia reform a bit like Jordan, and if we can help them both open up towards democratization, then perhaps we'd see a true Arab spring that would bloom like flowers in a desert oasis, and perhaps Syria and Libya and Lebanon will know what true freedom looks like.

As it says in Isiah 35:

"The desert will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.  Like the crocus it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy … water will gush forth in the desert and streams in the desert.  The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs."

If only.