Ray Mosby column

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 9, 2011

10 years later and we are changed, not for the best

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

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—Benjamin Franklin

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ROLLING FORK: Ten years ago come Sunday, a handful of fanatical thugs flew hijacked American airplanes into American buildings and what both we and the rest of the world had always thought of as America began to almost immediately change. Today, that 10-year-ago image is but a memory.

The true Shakespearean-quality irony of September 11, 2001, what we have come to know as simply 9/11, is that 19 mostly Saudi zealots, armed only with box cutters, accomplished what neither the British Empire nor the Nazi war machine nor the Soviet Union with its nuclear arsenal could do — turn a proud and powerful people into a frightened one.

Little good often comes from fear and little good has.

Men and women, even the best of them, even the smartest of them, stop thinking when they become afraid. Fear robs men and women, even the best of them, of their judgment. Fear robs men and women, even the smartest of them, of their reason.

There’s been a lot written and said in the runup to 9/11, but that is really the legacy of that awful Day — a fear that even yet abides and even yet is manifested in what we do and don’t do in this country.

Folks can quibble with that assessment, I suppose, but to do so is just to continue what so much of the political discussion has degenerated into — whistling past the suddenly uneasy graveyard. I never thought I would live to see the America that has evolved in the 10 years since 9/11. I don’t recognize it because so many of its crucial contours have been eroded away. I find myself a stranger in a strange land because so many of the old American landmarks are no longer visible.

Our own fears have made us do what more than 200 years of enemies foreign and domestic, could not — sit idly by, huddled and cowering in our respective corners as so much of our essence, so much of what defined us as a people, was progressively sacrificed in the ultimately empty names of keeping us safe, and best of all, “homeland security.”

I might not have been able to imagine 2011 America, but George Orwell could.

If you have young children, perhaps you should tuck this away somewhere so that they might someday read about the America that used to be, the United States that existed before 9/11:

• Before 9/11, the United States was not trillions of dollars in debt, and actually had a budget surplus. I know how incredible that now seems, but it’s true.

• Before 9/11, the United States was not engaged in perpetual warfare on multiple fronts and had not seen 6,000 of its children soldiers die and 10 times that many be wounded, many terribly, in combat.

• Before 9/11, there was something in this country called habeas corpus, which meant we could not simply keep somebody locked away, essentially forever, without ever actually charging him or bringing him before a judge or a jury. Really, no kidding, we really did.

• Before 9/11, United States citizens were free from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Believe it or not, the government’s alphabet agencies could not spy on its citizens or collect electronic dossiers on them.

• Before 9/11, the very concept of torture was alien and abhorrent to Americans. We truly didn’t do such a thing, would not consider doing such a thing, rather than playing semantic games with it and arguing over “what the definition of is, is…”

And so, considering all of that, I suppose that September 11, 2001 was above all else an introduction for the United States of America, one foretold by one of its older and better philosophers:
“We met our enemy, and he is us.” — Pogo.  

Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.