Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Re-open wound

"World Trade Center" comes out today. The film resurrects the Twin Towers so that they may be cinematically destroyed - in turn resurrecting our fearful memories of the date that President Bush (in fact, the entire American government and echoing press) has since turned into a cheap Pavlovian trigger. [Aug 29: I previously mistaked this as a "Skinnerian" response - while the two psychologists conducted similar research, my friend Tim pointed out the error.] Like the bell that makes the dog salivate - ringing "9/11" somehow works to make our nation a little more innocent, our conquests a little more justified, our ignorance a little more reasonable, and our obedience a little more necessary. The collective effect seems to be a profound chilling of public discourse about what really has happened since September 11, 2001.

When the first plane hit in New York City, it was about 5:30am here in Seattle and I was a junior in high school. As a member of the jazz band, I had daily jazz rehearsal at 6:30am, and so I was surprised to awake to confused NPR voices reporting a very unusual airplane accident. I turned my alarm clock off and listed into the shower, silently remembering to flip on the television downstairs before I left for school to see some pictures of what the radio was talking about.

My initial reaction was: what was wrong with this pilot? I also felt a little weird... and then as I stared at the billowing smoke in the corner of the living room, the reporter suddenly began to scream and the camera panned out to show a dark spot racing towards the other tower. The second plane disappeared into the first fireball I'd ever seen on live TV. I'm shivering a bit as I write this.

A few kids in the jazz band knew what was happening, but most didn't - most weren't news junkies like me. But when first period started and the rest of the band arrived for symphonic rehearsal, the towers were all that anyone talked about. My friend Tim tried to convince me that the Pentagon had been hit, but I thought that was the most ridiculous thing I'd ever heard. Mr. Rice left the classroom to find out what was going on. Someone stood on a chair to turn on the TV in the band room, and we all gathered around to watch. One of the towers was now missing. The camera showed footage of trapped office workers jumping. And in front of our eyes, the other tower sank into itself, leaving dust and an image I'll never forget.

The next morning, our ASB president went on the school intercom to urge careful consideration of what had happened, and especially respect for students from the similar backgrounds as those who had perpetrated the attack. Many of my friends joined bands of students on freeway overpasses to wave gigantic American flags. I almost went too. I found myself chanting "USA! USA! USA!" at least twice within that school year. I remember supporting completely our invasion of Afghanistan. Editorial cartoonists across the country drew Lady Liberty with her head in her hands, weeping. I cried when I first saw it.

About one-and-a-half years later... President Bush delivered his cowboy ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, threatening destruction if he didn't comply. By this time, America had succeeded in completely alienating the entire diplomatic community except for Tony Blair and Ariel Sharon. That night, I recall an acute sense of shame for being a citizen, a voter, in a country that was committing a gross abuse of power. I knew back then that Iraq had no weapons - as did France, Russia, and China. The former chief U.N. inspector, an American named Scott Ritter, had been making an exhaustive circuit of Sunday morning news programs to call the Bush Administration on its lie and to appeal to Americans to demand more evidence of Iraq's capability and belligerence. Unfortunately, he failed.

Joe Lieberman has only just now paid the price for kneeling to Bush's clutch of arrows. But Lieberman is hardly the only one to lose due to the American conquest - 40,000 Iraqi civilians, 2,500 American soldiers, and countless families displaced and wounded...

When the Twin Towers go up and down again on the silver screen these next few weeks, there's no reason we shouldn't remember and venerate those moments that day that brought out a nationalism in even someone as resistant to it as me. But to stop there would be to DENY the lives lost since then in the name of that same day. To take away only pride and self-righteousness from this film would be to close our eyes to the destruction America has wrought upon its neighbors worldwide, and to ignore the fear that has spread within the Republic itself. This film must also remind us of what those in power have used 9/11 for: empire, profit, polarization, and crusade.

The wound of 9/11 was bandaged with snake-oil. Now a film opens the cut again - this time, with the benefit of history, we can begin to set things right. The balm for deception is resistance.

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