Calhoun's Cannons for September 2, 2011
We do not see our hand in what happens, so we call certain events melancholy accidents.
Like all of you, I remember that morning. I had been out at dawn running the dogs in the chaparral behind the Los Osos Junior High. It was a clear, beautiful morning, the air sharp with the tang of the sage and eucalyptus. When I loaded the dogs back into the car and turned the key, the radio came on and as I drove home I listened in puzzlement. A plane. The Twin Towers. What the hell? Oh, please, not another crazy guy with family and IRS problems and a Piper Cub. Then I got home and turned on the TV, along with the rest of the world, and saw. It wasn’t a Piper Cub. It wasn’t even a crazy guy.
And here we are, ten years gone and still the heart hurts. A photo or an old piece of film unspooling and my body winces. A glimpse of the two towers, the plane, the falling man. Like a glancing blow to the chest, the breath stops, the pain is sharp, then gone.
And as my memory pulls back from that moment of impact and expands out to cover the years afterwards, in place of sadness, more and more I can only feel a kind of sick exhaustion. Because the attack unhinged America and sent us into a ginned up war of revenge against the wrong country, the dead of 9/11 will never be free to be mourned alone. The body count’s too high now for any hope of clean sorrow.
But then, clean sorrow is very likely a folly. The thousands who died in the 9/11 attack were not the victims of a random act of nature. It was not an indifferent lightning strike or an earthquake that toppled the towers. They were the end-game of a long history of cause and effect. Osama bin Laden, rotting away under the sea, was a creation of western imperialism, oriental despotism and religious fanaticism, all acting on the other until they came home to roost on that fateful day.
We live in a constant web of reciprocity, the connected dots all around us, too often unseen. The world ripples with unintended consequences, patterns hidden until it’s too late to change their deadly stitches and hems. Abdul Wahab, an 18th century holy man arises out of the Egyptian desert and 300 years later, the Twin Towers fall. The planes that brought them down were arrows from his bow, Osama bin Laden merely the archer.
And the Twin Towers were no accident. World Trade Center, symbol of western capitalism, imperialism, decadent materialism, home of the money-grubbing infidels. Osama bin Laden knew the West like he had knitted a sleeve of it. He knew our shoot first Cowboy President, knew the jingo rage of a furious population blinded by revenge, led by too many people with shock and awe disaster capitalism agendas. He was betting our response would be one of overreaction that would lead us into self-destruction and financial ruin. And he was right.
Russia and America begat Afghanistan begat the mujahidin, begat Osama bin Laden, begat Al Qaeda begat 9/11 begat George Bush’s Iraq war, begat a bankrupt nation bleeding treasure and blood back into the wilds of Afghanistan.
Round and round it goes in one exhausting spiral, each turn creating one more call and response. The world vibrates and the body count grows and grows, from the still-dying soldiers in Helmand Province to the multitudinous victims of jihadi murderers in their bomb vests, to the New York first responders now starting to sicken and die from the deadly toxins they inhaled while searching the rubble for bodies in lower Manhattan. It never stops. Which is why a tenth anniversary celebration of remembrance seems premature. What we really have here is an ongoing funeral service interrupted by constantly arriving new coffins. With no end in sight.
Unless the end can be found in the various “Arab Springs” that have awakened so many people of the middle east from their nightmare lives that were hemmed in by cat’s paw dictators, thuggish thieves protected by outside nations and corporations eager for their cut of the plunder. And perhaps those Arab Springs will also awaken the people from the grip of ignorant tribalism and a corrupted Islam and allow them a chance to join the world as a free people.
If this comes about, then perhaps the circle of death and destruction that started on that terrible day will be complete and will bring about a rebirth in many countries, including our own. Perhaps then the coffins will stop coming, the dead will be left to bury the dead, and the ripple started that clear fall day in New York can come to rest. And we will finally be able to mourn cleanly without additions and footnotes. Perhaps then the pain in the heart will abate, and in its place will be the silence of remembrance.
Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.