On the eve of 9/11 2014, President Obama admitted, “Still, we continue to face a terrorist threat,” adding:
We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm. That was the case before 9/11, and that remains true today. That’s why we must remain vigilant as threats emerge….
Moreover, I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.
In these words echo the same bravado expressed dozens of times by President George W. Bush in the days and years following the U.S. horror now known simply as 9/11.
Today, 11 September 2014, imagine a world we could have before us if we had then responded with humility instead of bravado.
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Imagine a world in which the most powerful country in the world recognized the shared humanity that was rained upon us in the form of commandeered airplanes flown with the express purpose of taking our innocence in the form of casualties targeted merely for being the U.S.
Imagine a world in which the political and military leadership driven by the U.S. public embraced compassion and empathy, swearing never again to be on the wrong side of taking innocent lives in other countries simply because the act isn’t on our soil, isn’t aimed at our people.
Imagine a world in which the U.S. led not by military might but by honoring the basic humanity and dignity of all people in our actions and rejecting the politics-as-usual of wrapping warmongering in patriotic rhetoric.
Former lead singer of R.E.M., Michael Stipe was in New York city during 9/11. Writing about Douglas Coupland’s 9/11 artwork, Stipe confronts the bravado in the face of terrorism:
The Freedom Tower was meant to inspire patriotism and instead embodies the darker sides of nationalism. The 9/11 attacks and the Bush administration’s response, buoyed by the media, and our shock at having finally been direct victims of terrorism, paved the way for a whole new take on “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” There was no longer any need to explain or publicly debate militaristic power, or the police state mindset. To do so was to be the opposite of a patriot.
And then Stipe asks:
Is that who we are now? Blind, unquestioning, warlike? Are we that violent, that childish, that silly, that shallow? Are we that afraid of others? Of ourselves? Of the possibility of genuine change? Are we that easily swayed, that capable of defending “American interests”, whatever “American interests” means? Are we that racist, that terrified, that protective of an idea that we don’t even question what the idea has come to represent?
As we collectively remain committed to our bravado, as the opportunity to embrace humility and compassion fades before us, our only answer to these questions is “Yes.”
Because as President Obama emphasized in the end of his speech:
That is the difference we make in the world. And our own safety — our own security — depends upon our willingness to do what it takes to defend this nation, and uphold the values that we stand for — timeless ideals that will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth.
“Our,” “our,” “our,” “we,” “we”—the Obama frame is essentially the us v. them narrative offered by Bush, used once again to justify military action as long as it is ours against them.
“Never forget!” Stipe prods, recognizing that a nation and a people can’t recall something they never acknowledged in the first place—humility, compassion, human dignity that knows no national, racial, or religious boundaries.