This morning I heard a good sermon on the 9/11 attacks at my church. My pastor talked about the effect it had on the people in our parish, and to our nation. Last week they had passed out red stars with the names of the people who had died in that terrorist attack. For a week the parishioners were to do one random act of kindness in commemoration to the person who was named in the red star.
I remember the attacks on the twin towers and the Pentagon very well. I was at work at the time, and I remember how stunned my coworkers and I were at the news. One of my coworker was vacationing in New York City, and she was at the Statue of Liberty and saw one of the planes hit a tower.
During that time, I remember most vividly how we all mourned the victims and their families. In Washington D.C. Democrats and Republicans united in support of President Bush, who went to New York to give consolation to families and to commend the firefighters and policement who risked their lives to go in the Towers to try to rescue people.
In the ten years that have followed, a lot has changed in this nation. We’ve gotten into two wars, the political parties have gotten more polarized, we’ve struggled with balancing civil liberties with the security needs of the state. Right now we’re mired in a world wide recession, the worst we’ve seen since the Depression. It’s a scary world that we’re facing right now.
One of the things that has bothered me these past few years has been the hatred towards our President, Barack Obama. There have been signs depicting Obama with Hitler mustaches, accusations that he is a socialist and that his health care reform bill has death panels. But I think about how liberals had that same hatred towards George W. Bush. If I think about it, I think any President will always bring out that sort of partisan hatred from the other side of the political spectrum. During the 1990s, I attended an Evangelical Church, and I remember the hatred directed towards Bill and HIllary Clinton, especially during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Liberal focused their ire at George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. Conservatives had the same hatred towards Jimmy Carter. It didn’t matter to conservatives that Obama, Clinton and Carter governed as centrists, or to liberals that the first Bush was more moderate than Reagan.
I deeply disagreed with most of George W. Bush’s policies during the 2000s, and those disagreements pushed me farther to the left. Unlike some of the left though, I never thought Bush and his administration had lied about WMDs in Iraq. I’ve always thought their administration was more guilty of arrogance than of outright lying. Bush, Cheney and the others in his administration felt they were so sure of Saddam Hussein’s guilt, and they were so contemptous of people who disagreed with them, they basicly marginalized anyone who disagreed with them, and cherry picked facts that supported their point of view. I think this led to a situation where groupthink occurred that lead them to believe that nonexistant WMDS were there. I had been in a situation where groupthink occurred, so I can understand how a similar situation could occur in the Bush administration. Listening to Cheney in recent interviews has only confirmed in my mind my hypothesis.
Randy Leer did a good blog about some of the wrong roads that America has gone down since 9/11. Some of the things he wrote about, I hadn’t even thought of. I do think some good things have occurred since 9/11 that have made me proud to be American. I’ve been proud at the way that the Japanese American community has reached out to help Muslim Americans as they face a rise in Islamophobia in America. Since the Japanese American community was unjustifiably interned during World War II, these Americans had a special empathy for the struggles that Muslim Americans are going through right now. In a March 8, 2011 Washington Post article, David Nakamura wrote:
Spurred by memories of the World War II-era roundup and internment of 110,000 of their own people, Japanese Americans – especially those on the West Coast – have been among the most vocal and passionate supporters of embattled Muslims. They’ve rallied public support against hate crimes at mosques, signed on to legal briefs opposing the government’s indefinite detention of Muslims, organized cross-cultural trips to the Manzanar internment camp memorial near the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, and held “Bridging Communities” workshops in Islamic schools and on college campuses.
I found it admirable that one group of Americans was willing to fight for the civil rights of another group.
Another thing that I found since the 9/11 attacks is an increase in history books about the early years of our nation. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but I’ve been seeing a lot of great books about our Founding Fathers and our early history. I think it’s great, as 9/11 has made us more aware of our identities as Americans. I think patriotism is a great thing, so long as it doesn’t go to extremes and becomes an oppressive and exceptionalist thing. When I’ve read good books about the Founding Fathers and some of our national heroes, I’ve gained a greater appreciation on the complexities of our Founding Fathers and how their republican ideas gave us great responsibilities to maintain our best American ideas.
Among my favorite American history books published since 2001 have been Joseph Ellis’s book Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, Gordon Wood’s Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different, Paul and Stephen Kendrick’s Douglass and Lincoln: How a Revolutionary Black Leader & a Reluctant Liberator Struggled to End Slavery & Save the Union, Joseph Wheelan’s Mr. Adams’s Last Crusade: John Quincy Adams’s Extraordinary Post-Presidential Life in Congress, Philip Dray’s Capitol Men: The Epic Story of Reconstruction Through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen, Henry Wiencek’s An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America and Christopher Hitchens’ Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man: A Biography. A great book that just came out this year is Gordon Woods’ book The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States.
One of the great things about the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy was the admiration of the firefighters and policemen who rushed into the towers to try to save lives. Eleven years later, public safety unions are being criticized by city governments for the benefits they’ve negotiated. Below is are some great youtube video tributes of some of the people who died in 9/11.
One of the most inspirational stories that heard was about Mychal F. Judge, OFM, the fire chaplain who rushed into the World Trade Center and died after administering last rites to a firefighter. Father Mychal Judge was known for his work with the homeless, recovering addicts, AIDS patients, and his work as chaplain to the New York City Fire Department. Recently All Saints Church in Syracuse, New York, dedicated a statue to Father Judge as a way to show its hospitality to gays and lesbians. Father Judge was a gay Catholic priest, which has made him a symbol for Catholics who are fighting for LGBT Catholics. A recent documentary called The Saint of 9/11 has won several awards and chronicles his life as an advocate of social justice. Daniel Burke had an article for the September 12, 2011 edition of the Huffington Post where he wrote:
All Saints hopes the statue will demonstrate that the parish, following Judge’s lead, is committed to closing the chasms between rich and poor, black and white, gay and straight, said the Rev. Fred Daley, the church’s pastor.
Moreover, Daley said, the monument will memorialize a man who, like many gays and lesbians, struggled to fit into a church that considers homosexual desires “an intrinsic moral evil” and seeks to prohibit gay men from becoming priests.
“Here’s a gay person who was committed to celibacy, flourishing in the priesthood. It breaks so many stereotypes that people have,” said Daley, who came out as gay himself in 2004.”For young gay people in particular, how good it is that Mychal Judge can be a role model for them.”
Of 9/11’s myriad effects on American life, among the more surprising is the emergence of a New York City Fire Department chaplain as a gay icon — a hero bordering on sainthood to scores of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics.
After 9/11, there was a wonderful spirit of unity among Democrats and Republicans in reaction to the attacks on 9/11. With the vast philosophical differences between the two parties, it’s probably to be expected that the sort of unity would not last. But it’s been sad that the partisan fighting has gotten into personal terms, with a lot less friendships that cross party lines. One of the gratifying things for me was seeing the fondness that both Democratic and Republicans in Congress exhibited towards Ted Kennedy as he struggled with brain cancer. Kennedy was a strong liberal who deeply criticized Republican ideas. But he never allowed politics to get personal. He had many conservative Republican friends and this openness is something that I admire about him. A similar show of unity occurred a few months ago, during the debt ceiling debates in Congress, when Democrats and Republicans stood up to applaud the return of Representative Gabrielle Giffords to the House to cast an important vote. Though it’s important for Democrats and Republicans to fight for what they believe, it’s also important that they not allow their political differences to prevent them from being friends.