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Monday, August 01, 2011
A Defining Moment

I was watching The Office on television, when a commercial came on for an upcoming episode of The 700 Club. I began vigorously rolling my eyes, but before they completely dislodged themselves from their sockets, I couldn't help but notice that the upcoming episode was going to be about 9/11.

"Damn," I thought, "it's coming up on ten years."

Before I could slip into a proper state of melancholy, I heard the voiceover guy read that the attacks were "a defining moment for the US." That jolted me out of my Atheist's Prayer For The Death of Pat Robertson, and got me thinking.

Were the attacks ten years ago a defining moment for the United States? I honestly don't think so.

I think of defining moments in terms of the Civil War, the signing of The Declaration of Independence, or the moon landing in 1969. Events where the nation looked down the road into the future, asked itself whether or not it was up to the task of becoming more than it was, and then began the hard work of making it happen.

9/11? With no disrespect to the dead and their families, I don't feel like it measures up in terms of what it had to necessarily mean to America.

The closest comparison would be Pearl Harbor. When Japan attacked Hawaii, FDR declared that we were no longer sitting on the sidelines, it was time for the US to stop being a provincial backwater, and to either assume its destiny as a world leader, or perish in the attempt. My reading of history tells me that Roosevelt was a great leader at a time we needed one. But even without that, Americans knew what was going to be necessary, that the cost would be appalling, and your grandparents and great-grandparents created the arsenal of democracy, and began giving their lives by the thousands in Africa, Europe and Asia.

Pearl Harbor was not a defining moment. The selfless response of an entire nation was the defining moment. There was no other choice to be made.

In the case of 9/11, the attacks were not a defining moment. Instead, we stared at the moment, had a collective freakout, looked to the president for leadership, were told to go shopping, and just went downhill from there. And this isn't even about Bush, I'm pretty sure any of the weasels in office from LBJ on would have blown it.

This country has chosen to be defined by 9/11, instead of the event choosing our destiny for us.

We are now victims. We aren't simply the wronged, out for focused payback, we are a gigantic angry infant, lashing out at anyone and everyone who doesn't worship art the altar of American exceptionalism. Muslims? Europeans? Chinese? They're all against us, probably socialist, and definitely not Christian! We have been attacked (for some reason!), and it was because they hate our freedom, our iPods and our Jesus.

We had choices on September 12th, 2001. We could have taken effective, highly focused military action in specific places. We could have tried to act like adults who live in a scary world, and sorted out what the best short and long-term responses would have been. There were choices that could have been made that would have made the country and the world a better place for the next hundred years.

Alas, no.

I don't think 9/11 was a defining moment. It did not make plain for us what to do next. No, 9/11 was an illuminating moment, one which shined a harsh light on how truly small we have become since World War II. Walt Kelly called it 40 years ago:

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posted at 8:37 PM

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