Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Confusion, astonishment, horror, sadness

The tenth anniversary of September 11th is this Sunday. I was there then, and I'm not there now. It's an odd feeling.

I was living in a building in Greenpoint, Brooklyn next to the East River, walking my dog Lucy that morning. It was still an industrial neighborhood and two guys were looking toward the river with almost a little amusement. Smoke had started pouring from one of the towers. They thought a plane had accidentally hit the building, like what happened once with the Empire State Building. I walked a little further toward the water so I could see better. By then the flames and the black smoke and the huge gash were apparent. I knew people had already died.

What we didn't know then was how nothing would be the same, how civil liberties would be redefined for anyone who wasn't obviously Us, how we would be constantly reminded to be afraid. I sometimes wonder if we will ever be able to move on.

I quote here from a piece by David Remnick, in this week's New Yorker:

But, for all the recent moments of promise, this tenth anniversary is a marker, not an end. It is a time to commemorate, consider, and reconsider. A decade later, we pay tribute to the resilience of ordinary people in the face of appalling destruction. We remember the dead and, with them, the survivors, the firemen and the police, the nurses and the doctors and the spontaneous, instinctive volunteers, the myriad acts of courage and kindness. A decade later, we also continue to reckon not only with the violence that bin Laden inflicted but with the follies, the misjudgments, and the violence that, directly or indirectly, he provoked—the acts of government deception, illegal domestic surveillance, “extraordinary rendition,” “enhanced interrogation,” waterboarding. The publication of Dick Cheney’s memoirs is the latest instance of Bush Administration veterans serenely insisting that they “got it right,” that the explosion of popular discontent that began in Tunisia last December and spread through the region is the direct result of the American-led invasion and the occupation of Iraq. This is as dubious as it is self-serving. In fact, the Arab Spring was not inspired by the wondrous vision of post-Saddam Iraq. Nor was it the result of Western actions or manipulations; its credibility depended upon the fact that it was unambiguously indigenous and self-propelled. An approach marked by calculation and humility, as well as strength, has served the interests of both freedom and American prestige far better than the theatre of raw power. In Libya, we see that a more supple brand of foreign policy that rejects the swaggering heedlessness of the Bush years need not neglect the imperatives of freedom and human rights. Ten years after the attacks, we are still faced with questions about ourselves—questions about the balance of liberty and security, about the urge to make common cause with liberation movements abroad, and about the countervailing limits. Only absolutists answer these questions absolutely.