It's Almost 9/11 Again

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It’s almost
9/11 again. On that day in 2001 nearly three thousand Americans
were killed by Islamic terrorists, one-third the number who die
on an average day from all causes. No comparable event has occurred
in the U.S. before or since. Casualties from similarly motivated
attacks in England, Spain and elsewhere have numbered in the hundreds
or less.

The day the
government went nuts. Rifle-toting soldiers in airports. “Take off
your shoes we must check for bombs.” Fighter jets over the capitol.
Code orange. “Duct tape your windows against poison gas.” FBI agents
snooping library records, phone calls, bank accounts and internet
conversations. People locked up. No trial – just prison.

Afghanistan.
Stealth bombers hunting Taliban fighters driving pickups and hiding
in caves. Sheep herders locked in shipping containers awaiting transport
to Guantanamo Bay.

Iraq. “Shock
and awe.” “Piece of cake.” Weapons of mass destruction. “Mission
accomplished.” Abu Ghraib. Improvised explosive device (IED). Body
bags; May 69, June 61, July 44, total 2592.

Last summer
I counseled at a local Boy Scout camp. One day the shortest route
from class to lunch required climbing a steep hill. I watched my
class of 12/13-year old boys surge upward with the energy and enthusiasm
known only to the young. It was a pleasing sight. Taking the longer,
less arduous trail gave me time for the random thinking one does
in contented solitude.

The image of
my boys scaling their hill recalled a time, some decades ago, when
I also thought running uphill was fun, in particular my Army ROTC
training at Ft. Lewis the summer of 1964. Our trainers called it
“platoon in the attack.” Learning how to do it, then lead it were
part of the small role I played in the cold war. Others played larger
roles, like those who faced real combat in Vietnam. My generation
was taught, and I still largely believe, our military service was
required to contain communism, just as my parents generation served
to defeat fascism.

That was then,
this is now. President Bush speaking to Congress shortly after 9/11.
“They [al Qaeda] are the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of
the 20th century . . . by abandoning every value except the will
to power – they follow in the path of fascism, and Nazism.”

Yes, al Qaeda
members are as cruel as any Nazi or Communist ever was. But that’s
where the comparison ends. In their turn, Hitler and Stalin controlled
much of the world’s population and commanded its largest military
force. Al Qaeda is better compared to the U.S. Mafia and Latin American
narcotics cartels. Yet President Bush chose to treat al Qaeda as
an evil nation, rather than an (equally evil) criminal gang.

Politicians
and historians will long debate the factual, logical and legal basis
for that decision. Its consequences are more obvious. We see them
daily in our newspapers and on our TV sets. Some families feel them
more painfully.

I have concern
for America if the foreign and domestic polices spawned by the “war
on terror” metaphor survive the Bush administration, which I fear
they will. For one thing it means many of my Scouts will have their
turn learning about “platoon in the attack.” So may your children
or grandchildren. The truth is it will do most of them good, as
it did me. But only because I was lucky.

When the annual
9/11 media grief-fest begins, honor the dead as they would wish.
Do what you can for the living, particularly the young who trust
us with what is still the best of their lives.

August
14, 2006

Robert
L. Stokes [send him mail]
is a retired college professor who lives, and occasionally writes,
in Spokane Washington.

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