Yesterday morning, I saw something I hadn’t seen in almost 10 years. It was a military convoy; a column of drab olive green army vehicles , the type you’d think are commonplace in areas like Iraq, or Afghanistan. Only it wasn’t. This convoy was on the New Jersey Turnpike, which granted has a few military installations off a couple of the exits, but the timing and size of the particular movement was interesting to say the least.
That isn’t the only thing going on though. With the 10 anniversary of the September 11 attacks upon us, and while people are going all out to “remember and reflect,” the public and the government are busy working themselves up into a tizzy, with news outlets chattering away about a “credible but unconfirmed” threat of a new attack occurring today.
Nevermind that “credible” and “unconfirmed” seem to be completely contradictory. For the past 10 years, we’ve been living in contradictory times.
For the past 10 years, we’ve accepted a paradox in which we find it acceptable to “protect” our way of life by blindly sacrificing the constitutional rights that are central to that way of life. Somewhere along the line, the attacks were used as an excuse to make safety and privacy mutually exclusive constructs.
We perpetuate a farce in which some of us harrumph around that religion is being marginalized. But in saying “religion,” what’s really meant is “White conservative protestants.” When certain other religions are mentioned, well, it’s okay to marginalize those savages. And don’t dare try to justify the positions of atheists, secularists and agnostics. ”Religious freedom” for the last 10 years has been predicated on having very little freedom of religion, at all.
And most of all, patriotism has been distorted. It’s no longer having pride in our country, but in harboring anger and a desire for revenge, and encapsulating it in hyper-populist propaganda and images. You’re not a patriot unless you lace your speech with hate for “the terrorists.”
Most importantly, there’s something even more insidious. It’s not that terror threat levels, being groped in airports by government employees, and a sharper, harsher ultra-demagoguous political rhetoric has permeated our discourse. What irks me the most is that people are no longer viewed as patriotic if they choose not to “remember” 9-11 in an “acceptable” way. And by “acceptable” I mean: staring at replayed images and videos, reliving the moments over and over. Continuing to be victims. Choosing to remain stuck in the past. Refusing to heal. And punctuating the decor of websites, blog posts and even storefronts and walls with meaningless tug-at-your-heartstrings artwork like this little gem…
I can respect the pain of families of victims of the 9-11 attacks. But I must also point out a view that, while unpopular and possibly even deemed “unpatriotic,” is very simply a basic tenet of psychological therapy: dwelling in the past is unhealthy. Remembering isn’t a good thing, if you refuse to move on. I honestly think that all the discourse, all the malaise, all the economic problems and the political strife in our country today is based on a refusal to move past this… to continue to wave 9-11 in everyone’s faces, over and over.
We must move on. We must stop being afraid. We must decide, collectively, to resume living our life instead of endlessly grieving. We must reclaim our rights again, and re-learn to accept a basic tenet that we used to live by, but have chosen since late 2001 to ignore: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
As long as we continue to have memorial services to mourn the dead and reflect on what the terrorists did to “us,” we should also hold equally solemn memorial services for the additional, even more serious injuries we’ve inflicted upon ourselves.
Until that happens, we simply will not heal. The way to beat terrorism isn’t by living in fear, and by systematically dismantling our freedoms and converting our way of life into a police state. The way to beat terrorism is by refusing to be terrorized.
What saddens me is there appear to be those who don’t want to heal. And to me, that is the most unpatriotic thing to do of all.