Twenty years later
I was still in high school when the towers fell. It’s weird to think that was twenty years ago, it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. There’s a whole generation of young adults who were born after that event and somehow my brain doesn’t like that thought. It’s a reminder of the life I lived I guess and all the years that were shaped by that event. When the towers fell, child me — because really I was still just a kid — bought into all the propaganda and decided that I would serve my country. I obviously have mixed feelings about that choice.
Some choices stick with you. They shape you. Good or bad, those choices define you in ways that are hard to change. Joining the military was one of those choices. When I enlisted, all the branches of the military were working in overdrive to recruit all the people they could and any way they could. We had recruiters at the high school selling us on a better life, a way to serve our country and all the benefits that come with it. Travel, education benefits, girls, the usual things a teenage boy would want. I mean what was I going to do after high school, flip burgers for a living? I didn’t know what I wanted and while there’s nothing wrong with working at a fast food place, I wanted something more.
The Marine Corps was a way to get out of my life. I wanted something I had no idea how to get and because high school was already hellish, to say I was not popular is an understatement, I couldn’t even dream of going to college. The military was the big pause button on having to make that choice and I found that I actually enjoyed the community and family I made while I was in the service. We all were broken in our own little ways, but somehow we all worked together. It’s one of the reasons why I would still be there if I hadn’t gotten hurt. I didn’t always like it, or agree with the way things were done, but the people — for the most part — made it worth it.
War is hell. It’s hard to describe exactly how weird it feels to go into a place where you actively have to worry about surviving. It’s a situation where you’re constantly at an 11 and even when you sleep you don’t find the rest you so desperately need. I’ve been in college for more than twice the length of my military service and I STILL to this day don’t feel like I’ve ever completely left it.
When the towers fell we knew what we were signing up for. We wanted to keep people safe. We wanted to prevent another attack. Maybe we just watched too many cartoons and wanted to be a fucking hero for once in our pathetic, short, and little lives. Whatever the reason we were lied to and having that realization well after the fact makes the sacrifices we made feel hollow and cheap. I buried friends so the government could have political props. So politicians could make millions from lobbyists and so they could wield the weapon of patriotism against their political opponents.
The only good heros are the dead ones because a dead service member can’t speak against the way their sacrifice is being used. It’s a political meat grinder and we were being pushed through it as fast as possible. The dead became a weapon for the living and there was no recourse for it. The dead can’t speak so the politicians speak for them. I can’t speak for the dead, but that is not what I signed up for.
I think the worst part of this whole thing is that no one is safer. We prevented absolutely zero needless death and, if anything, helped cause countless deaths needlessly. I talk a lot about toxic patriotism and jingoism, well when 9/11 happened it really helped set it into overdrive. Not that it wasn’t always there just bubbling at the surface, but 9/11 helped solidify it and forge it into the weapon that is being used to this day. It helped make blatant racism okay, normal, and patriotic. Not that it wasn’t always those things, but like a lot of horrors 9/11 helped amplify it, make it less shameful and less overt.
In the end it’s hard to look back and not question what happened. There were warnings, months in advance, of an attack coming. The Bush administration ignored them and did absolutely nothing. I don’t want to say that they could’ve stopped the attack and we’ll never know if they could, but I will say they did absolutely nothing to try to stop it. In a lot of ways that’s even worse than the fact that we were attacked. What’s more frustrating, is the attack helped Bush and the Republicans more than stopping it ever could. It’s (probably) at least part of the reason Bush even had a second term.
I am left to question the motives of people who benefit so blatantly from a terrorist attack. People who did nothing at all to stop it or even try to prevent it from occurring. The same people who used it as an excuse to occupy Iraq. Because they had wanted to do that prior to the attack and 9/11 only gave them an excuse to do it. There are so many red flags that have come up in the last twenty years since 9/11 that I’m stuck wondering if it wasn’t just so a bunch of politicians could play war. I can’t speak for my military family, but that’s not what I signed up for.
While my choice to serve my country changed me, like it or not, permanently the 9/11 attacks changed the nation. It changed the way politics happened and it forced people to be an American patriot or face the collective wrath of the “real” patriots. It’s how we ended up with asinine things like freedom fries or people NEEDING to put a flag on fucking everything. No one who does that kind of crap actually cares about the people who died or the people who served. It’s performative to the point of absurdity and people eat it up because propaganda works. It really fucking works, take it from someone who bought into it.
It’s been twenty years and the political weapon of patriotism has now been used to stop us from preventing catastrophic levels of death. The same political party who are using the deaths of service members to justify everything from war to the right to own military style weapons are ACTIVELY using toxic patriotism to prevent people from wearing a mask and getting vaccinated. As of this writing there have been 659,000 deaths from COVID. There were only 2,996 deaths due to 9/11. We’ve lost ~22x more people from COVID and that number is only going to keep climbing. In some cases we lose more people to COVID in a single day than we did during 9/11 and we’ve been dealing with the pandemic for years now.
As a nation we were founded on racism. When 9/11 hit it was easy to see that the attackers had a different skin color, prayed to a foreign (non-christian) god, and in response the average American only had to buy a flag to fight back. Unfortunately COVID doesn’t have a nationality. We can’t look at its skin color and judge it as a threat. Instead we blame the country where it first originated, which is just as racist. Unfortunately we needed more from the average American this time. We needed vaccinations and masks.
Instead the GOP turned our best tools to stop the virus into a political game because they know on average Americans are idiots. We will accept whatever we’re told as long as enough people are saying it. They know that they can be kept safe, they are the ones vaccinated, the ones who wear masks, the ones who get tested daily. They know that they have access to things to prevent them from dying that you and I don’t have access to and will never have access to. They sit in an ivory tower formed from our dead bodies and watch us kill each other by spreading COVID. They force schools to remain open, force them to not have masks, and they are forcing people to die.
September 11th was a tragedy, there is no doubt about that and we should never forget it. However, the GOP created an incredibly powerful weapon from that tragedy. There’s no honor in that, but they don’t care about honor, just power. The pandemic is just another game to them, only this time it’s civilian’s who are being forced to play. I can’t speak for America, but that isn’t what I signed up for.
In short, wear the damn mask.