The guy who sits in the cube next to me at work doesn't get a birthday this year. Or any year hereafter, presumably. You see, this fellow (we'll call him "Mark," mostly 'cause his name is "Mark") has the newly unfortunate birth date of September 11, 1976. I'm guessing he didn't have much of a party last year, and he'll certainly not have much of a party this year. In fact, he'll be in danger of revealing a traitorous hatred for our country if he even cracks a smile on his 28th birthday. I find this supremely sad, not only because Mark deserves to celebrate his fucking birthday if he wants to, but because this is perhaps the most significant way in which my "world has been changed forever" in the past year.
Right upfront, I just want to say that I mean in no way to belittle the terrible loss felt by those who lost friends and relatives in the terrorist attack of last year, or who lost businesses and livelihoods in the wake of the tragedy. For those people, life has certainly been forever horribly altered. And my heart goes out to all of those folks. But for the rest of us, what difference has the second-most (or most, depending upon how you feel about Pearl Harbor) dramatic attack by a foreign power on U.S. soil really made? Has our world view opened up? Have we looked with compassion or a desire for understanding at the rest of the world? In a word, "nope."
I'm gonna go all mushy-leftist here. In this story I wrote days after the attacks last year, I implored our government (assuming, of course, that among the 500 or so unique folks who visit our site each week, there were several extremely high-ranking government officials) to act with restraint, to value liberty and justice over revenge, and to call upon the basic human compassion of the people of the world, rather than calling out the dogs of war. I think it's obvious to most that our government did not listen to me (note to self: add GWB to the CSP mailing list). What we got instead was a suppression of civil liberty, a gathering of unprecedented Executive power in the hands of our barely-elected president, and such a sense of self-righteousness and frontier lynch-mobism (my new word - you heard it first here), that all but our very closest ally (Great Britain) have become alarmed and disgusted with us. In short, instead of 9-11 waking us up to our place in this new, very small world, and forcing us to try to understand, and hopefully begin to reverse, the hatred of the US that consumes a great part of this globe, we've acted so fiercely and unilaterally, without even a care for what the rest of the world community thinks, that even our friends have begun to hate us.
And, now that all the world (except Great Britain) is desperately trying to talk GWB out of bombing the bejeezus out of Iraq, we pause to remember what, in our minds, started this all. The acts of terrorism that killed 3000 people, and brought our country, at least temporarily, to its knees. Except, 9-11 isn't what started it all. An that's the problem. 24 hours of non-stop sensationalist reporting about what really happened 9/11/01, with pictures of the burning towers and Pentagon flashed onscreen every 3 seconds, and weepy interviews with the deservedly heartbroken family members of the victims, will only serve to re-ignite our anger, and the point will, once again, be entirely missed.
And the point is this: we're fucking it up. Everyday the world is a smaller place. We (the US) are a huge fish in an increasingly shrinking pond. We're eating more than we need, we're shitting more than any fish deserves to. We're thrashing about as we please, without regard for the smaller fish who could and do get hurt with every nonchalant flick of our tail. And we've got to stop. We have a responsibility as human beings to at least try to understand the needs, the wants, the desires and the freedoms of every human being on this planet, and to consider those needs whenever we take any action, inside or outside our borders. We have to stop assuming our wishes and desires are mirrored by the rest of the world. We have to stop assuming that everyone who disagrees with us is wrong. We have to listen. We have to act in concert with our allies, and our increasingly important global institutions (such as the U.N.). We have to put human rights and civil liberties before paranoia and revenge fantasies, and before corporate profits and trade relations. We'll never please everyone and, simply because we are big and powerful, we'll always be hated by someone. But we have to learn compassion, and show our love of liberty and freedom and law and due-process by offering that liberty and freedom and law and due-process to everyone. And, what's more, we have to learn not to be offended if not everyone wants to accept our offerings. Not everyone agrees with us. And that's good, because often we are not right.
Because the reality is this: if we do not start to clean up our act on an international scale, this is only gonna get worse. There are lots of people out there who, for a wide range of often very legitimate reasons, hate us. And every time we reach out and squash one of them without the support of the international community, even if we fear they might be and (probably are) plotting against us, the rest hate us even more, and one or two who were on the fence fall into that "hate us" bucket. And, because we're big and powerful and scary, most of those folks feel the only way to hurt us is by terrorizing our people. For them, 9-11 was only the beginning.
So, as we sit in front of the television tomorrow, teary-eyed and pointedly not celebrating my buddy Mark's birthday, let's pause to consider what the rest of the world is thinking as they watch. GWB may not agree, but it's high time we start to care about what the world thinks. There are worse things than what happened to us a year ago. All over the world, people live with those "worse things" every day. We need to try to understand. If we don't, the hate just continues.