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Nine Years After: Not Long Enough to Heal Our Festered Wounds

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Nine years to the day after Pearl Harbor, American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines were fighting and dying in Korea -- a conflict often obscured between the shine of World War II and the shadow of Vietnam. Meanwhile, back home on Dec. 7, 1950, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was affirming the perjury conviction of suspected communist Alger Hiss, further fueling the fire that Sen. Joseph McCarthy had just months earlier so cynically had begun to stoke. Exactly nine years after the Japanese swooped in on airplanes and destroyed our Hawaiian naval base, America was a country at war, a nation of blacklists and loyalty oaths, run by the politics and policies of fear, grief, anger and prejudice.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Here we are, nine years to the day after 19 terrorists swooped in on hijacked airplanes and attacked American civilians, and the United States is once again involved in a murky and relentlessly deadly war thousands of miles from our shores. At home, meantime, new forms of McCarthyism have emerged; new voices of rage and hypocrisy, cynicism and suspicion, prejudice and ignorance lash out against those they fear or cannot comprehend. There is aloft in the land, borne swiftly by cable TV and the Internet, a virulent strain of cultural demagoguery and political expediency that might have made McCarthy himself wince. There is even a new and convenient "other" to be feared -- not the in-our-midst, hidden-in-plain-sight communists of 1950, but the in-our-midst, out-in-the-open Muslims of 2010.

9/11 anniversary, Pearl HarborBy December 1950, America not only had overwhelmed the architects of the attack upon Pearl Harbor -- the Japanese formally surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945 -- but was already far along in helping to rebuild Japan into a bulwark against the spread of communism. By contrast, nine years after Sept. 11, 2001, our Public Enemy No. 1, Osama bin Laden, remains at large (so far as we can tell); ditto his lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The top-ranking al-Qaeda official captured by the Allies, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, hasn't even been tried. If Iraq is ultimately to feel grateful for its destruction under Shock and Awe and its subsequent renewal, Americans have yet to feel it -- and Afghanistan remains an open question. Americans are not known for patiently awaiting delayed gratification. Yet there has been little gratification since Flight 93 -- the last of the four hijacked airliners -- plummeted to the ground near Shanksville, Pa., on its presumed path to the Capitol or the White House.

In New York, Ground Zero was until recently a hole in the ground and is still a far-from-completed construction site, surely one reason why the most tolerant, courageous and open city in America evidently doesn't want a Muslim house of worship built near the site, despite the fact that many Muslims also died that day in the fire and ash. In the meantime, normally stoic public officials have cited the grim prospect of gut-wrenching testimony about 9/11 as one reason why New York won't host the trial of the aforementioned Khalid Sheik Mohammed, just as it has virtually all of the other arch-criminals of its past. Nine years on, and despite earnest claims to the contrary, New York is still a place and a state of mind in varying stages of grief over 9/11. Its righteous anger over what happened, and why, and toward those responsible (and in some cases toward those who were not) has never slept.

Washington, too, suffered great trauma on 9/11, and the immediate concussive effects of that ordeal -- torture, the Iraq War, secret prisons -- have been particularly costly for the nation. Our elected officials today say with a straight face that they have kept America "safe" over the past nine years. They have and we are all grateful for it. But we are still learning about what some of the costs of that security has been. There are the dead in Iraq and Afghanistan. The billions of dollars stolen by contractors. The billions wasted on unreliable allies. The loss of international respect for our poor commitment to the rule of law. The creation of a new, "top-secret" and largely unaccountable national security world. Leave it to the writers of "The Family Guy" to sum up this sorry post-9/11 phenomenon: "Those things all sound scary," the audience cries out to Lois, a candidate for mayor. "How much money before it can feel safe again?"

The 9/11 terrorists chose New York and Washington as targets because they were (and remain) the two most important and symbolic cities in America. And it is a testament to the stunning success of al-Qaeda's deadly mission that day that, nearly a decade later, the leaders of both venues still are struggling to successfully adapt to the contours, limits and balances of the "new normal" the attacks wrought. We have not yet reached the point of a House Un-American Activities Committee, but we do have a Koran-burning event scheduled Saturday in Florida by a so-called man of faith. Where is Joseph Welch when we need someone to respond to this dangerous nonsense by saying, clearly and publicly: "At long last, sir, have you no sense of decency?"

Nine years later! It seems at once forever and like a blink. It may take another nine years before those who perpetrated the worst crime in American history are brought to justice. It may take a generation or two for America's anger and suspicion to recede. It may take even longer for today's victims of anger and prejudice to feel again at one with some of the great American ideals -- tolerance, acceptance, respect, the absence of collective guilt. But there is hope. Children starting high school this week have no specific recollection of that fateful day in 2001. They were 5 years old that day. Soon those kids will be in college and then into the working world. Eventually, those of us fully into our adulthood on that unforgettable Tuesday will slowly begin to fade away.

This is how time heals even the deepest wounds; this is how a nation, like a person, moves forward from tragedy. Nine years later, it's painfully obvious we've come a long way -- and that we still have a long way to go.

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Dear Mr. Cohen, You state: "It may take even longer for today's victims of anger and prejudice to feel again at one with some of the great American ideals" Who is it you're speaking of here? All of non-Muslim America? Seems to me we Non-Muslim Americans have been reacting to repeated attempts to murder and maim as many of us as possible. Bill Clinton turned our collective cheeks when our embassies were bombed, the USS Cole was attacked, when bombs were planted in the underground garage of the New York Trade Center. Now let's not get excited... They've only killed a few of us and the wounded of course don't count for much... I get the feeling I'm not alone in my contempt for a so-called religion that foments terrorism, even amongst a minority, which the media rebuts every time they show a video of a crowd of Muslims running like madmen in the streets shouting slogans, burning American flags and effigies. Where is the love? If there are Muslims in these places who object to their countrymen's lunacy, why do we never see them? Hear their pleas to their fellow Muslims for restraint and respect for non-Muslims. If we are all fellow travelers on this planet, when do they show an outpouring of gratitude for anything anyone non-Muslim has done for them. There are Americans throughout the Mideast still attempting to help the people there, and for their trouble, some have been killed, others taken prisoner and terrorized. When was the last time you were helped by a Muslim Mr. Cohen?

September 11 2010 at 10:20 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to HerrHotz's comment

It's funny you should say this, in that this is exactly the kind of hate America does not need, particularly upon a hallowed day that should be used for healing some very deep, jagged wounds. As for why we never see protests from the Muslims against their own countrymen, it's called propaganda, my friend. Nobody wants to believe that we blew up any amount of innocent, sane people. The media is not an accurate judge of anything, no matter what you read or what channel you watch. How often does the news you see report acts of kindness and good in our very own country, let alone overseas? I'd say less than 20% of American news that I have seen in my 21 years of life has made me smile. When somebody picks up your fallen wallet off of the street and hands it to you with all of its contents intact, do you immediately ask if they are Muslim or not? Good people are good people, regardless of race or religion. Good Muslims reside here, and bad Americans reside elsewhere, not just the other way around. Before you talk about reasons for contempt, don't forget that we imposed upon and tore an entire country of innocent people apart looking for maybe 10 individuals of an extremist group, to only our own ends. Have we so soon forgotten about the first time we screwed Afghanistan over, promising to rebuild their country and then just leaving them as soon as we armed and trained them to kill the invading Russians? Many families had just begun to rebuild their lives after that when we burst in looking for Al Qaeda. Can you blame them for being wary of us coming in a second time and blowing their homeland to pieces, leaving thousands of people with nothing but the clothes on their backs and the belongings they can carry, promising to rebuild their country someday when George W. Bush himself said that our efforts to help them would not start until we got what we came for? It has been nine long years, Bin Laden is nowhere in sight, and there are still refugees displaced by our bombings. However, you said yourself "the wounded of course don't count for much", as long as they are still alive, who cares what happens to them, right? Also remember that citizens of Afghanistan and like countries are usually executed for speaking up about how they feel about their own government; the women can be severely beaten or executed for speaking out against any man, let alone one in a position of power. We are shaking up their very foundations of everything they have ever known; no matter how horrible their pasts are, they will not immediately accept or acknowledge our help, the same way a hurt animal (or human, for that matter) does not immediately trust those who approach with even the best of intentions. Also, imposing our way of life upon them is not "helping" them. They do not accept Christian beliefs any more than the non-Muslim Americans accept their faith when it is forced upon them. If waves upon waves of soldiers came into your hometown promising salvation if only you read and believe in a book, would you believe them? Hell no you wouldn't, you'd say "What's wrong with my book and my beliefs?" Why would their response be so different? Then, don't forget that we have people here in this country who dare call themselves Christian and spread the very same hate and intolerance people of other religions have practiced against us. A true American does not act like that, and a real Christian would realize that acting out of hate is not what Jesus would do; Jesus would not cry for blood and vengeance, he would forgive and pity those who hate the great country we have built. These "Americans" are exactly why the Muslims and many others around the world have come to call us the "devil Americans". Tell me, what is the difference between them demonizing us over our batsh*t-insane religious fanatics, and us demonizing them for their batsh*t-insane religious fanatics? And then, remember that our very own Christian fanatics have killed other Americans before. Before 9/11, the most fatal terrorist attack ever committed in America was the Oklahoma City Bombing, and that was carried out by no Muslim. Timothy McVeigh and company killed 168 people, 19 of which were mere children, no more than 6 years old. He was actually a Christian extremist, yet I see no cries for blood and revenge against other Christians based solely upon his religion. Before him, look at the incident in Waco; 76 people, more than 20 of them children, were killed - more Christian fanatics. There were more before these. Murder, is murder, is murder - no matter what religion you are. Don't pin violence against Americans solely on Muslims.

September 12 2010 at 5:51 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

(Read my other comment first. I could not fit all my thoughts into one.) I'm not saying we should turn our back on what happened on 9/11, drop the charges against Al Qaeda, and be on our merry way. I'm saying that after nine long years of rising bitterness against the Muslims, we need to be the bigger people - indeed, the better country - and find a better reason to kill, maim, and scar people than their religion, the color of their skin, or whatever. Muslims have just as much place here as the other people who have come here in our mere 325-summat years of existence. I myself am proud to be an American of no religious denomination despite the ignorance of some people in our country, but that in itself is part of what makes America so beautiful - anyone of any opinion is allowed to speak their mind and believe what they believe, without direct government repercussions. We are believed to be a safe haven for those who have been discriminated against and ostracized by their homelands for their beliefs; indeed, our nation was founded by outcasts. It is against our very moral code to look down upon people on the sole basis of their religion; the first article of our Bill of Rights specifically mentions freedom of religion. How can you, as an American, have forgotten about this? It sickens me that all 9/11 has become is another reason to launch a crusade of blind, selfish hate upon the world, instead of remembering that like life, our country will go on, no matter how dismal things may seem at one time and that time will heal all wounds, if only we will let it. There were innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11 as well, whose families mourn for their lost loved ones like the rest of us. It appalls me that anyone could spew such disrespect against those families and the dead by speaking out against their religion like that, when they have suffered just as much as we, or perhaps even more at the hands of people like yourself who ridicule them for what they believe in, and blame them for what happened nine or more years ago, while you so conveniently forget that people of other religious denominations murder Americans. I request of you one simple thing, perhaps two. Let go of religion and blame for what happened so long ago. We all have suffered pain, loss, and confusion at the hands of those 19 terrorists and their cohorts, in one way or another. Since you essentially wasted yesterday on hate, spend today like you should have spent 9/11; celebrate that our nation still stands as strong as ever, celebrate that we have people virtuous enough to risk or give their lives in efforts to save others, much like those who did on 9/11, or our military who still is out there this very moment; or use it to celebrate the fact that you and many, if not all of your loved ones survived one of the most devastating events in American history and had the strength to go on and live your lives. Almost 3,000 people were not allowed that privilege. "But are there any terrorists in the world who can change the American way of life or our political system? No. Can they knock down a building? Yes. Can they kill somebody? Yes. But can they change us? No. Only we can do that. Only we can change ourselves. So what is the greatest threat we are facing?...The only thing that can really destroy us is us." - Colin Powell, 2007 (from an interview with GQ)

September 12 2010 at 5:52 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

It sounds odd for Americans to refer to other Americans as them or they because they are Muslims. I have heard people say they should understand how we feel. Who are the "we" they are referring to? The "we" should be American's first with whatever religion they are being a secondary issue. We are in a strange place. Why burning Holy books is not wise

September 11 2010 at 9:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Who did really carry out the 9/11 attacks, anyway ? Seriously ?!!

September 11 2010 at 9:02 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply

NEVER FORGOT WHAT HAPPENED on September 11, 2001

September 11 2010 at 8:30 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

This is one of the sadest days for America since Pearl Harbor.I will remember forever what I was doing and how I felt. This is a tragedy that a person will never forget just learn to live with. Mr Cohen this is a very well written article. It gives a lot to think about. Jesus loves every one and so do I.

September 11 2010 at 7:50 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

You are so right there...even 9 years later I remember the dazed look on peoples faces as we walked around the streets of Manhattan trying to understand the magnitude of what had just occurred. We will never forget and I hope we remember to share the lives of those courageous people who went in to these buildings to save others with our own children so their legacies will live on.....I also hope we can as a nation learn to live amongst each other with peace and tolerance and not hate and evilness.....

September 11 2010 at 6:47 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

WEmust never fotget the 3000 people killed on 9/11

September 11 2010 at 6:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

We showed them . We destroyed Iraq.

September 11 2010 at 3:48 PM Report abuse -17 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to kingnus's comment

Wrong. We gave Iraq freedom to govern themselves. Destroying Iraq, would have only taken a few minutes. :o)

September 11 2010 at 9:11 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

Very good article. After 9 years it seems like yesterday.

September 11 2010 at 2:51 PM Report abuse +12 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mmdbeamer's comment

Agreed. I like reading her articles. :o)

September 11 2010 at 9:12 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

It is our responsibility and obligation that we teach our children the true events of 9-11 as well as the life-altering consequences/implications to American Society and culture. We would be doing a great injustice and insult to those fallen if we don't. I find it is very easy for those liberal and moderates who did not live the events of 9-11 to speak of tolerance, demand the rest of us "hurry up and get over it". Where is the compassion for the victims, their families, friends, neighbors and fellow Americans everywhere? Where is the repect for Patriotism and our troops who sacrafice everything overseas so we can live in our illusion of security here at home? And respect for everything wonderful and great about OUR country, and society? Just go and try being all liberal/modern/moderate and free in a muslim country! If we continue to turn a blind eye, whether by fear or ignorance, and if continue to encourage and foster anti-American sentiment home and around the world, we will be allowing for others to undermind, destroy and take over what we hold so dear. GOD bless America!

September 11 2010 at 12:55 PM Report abuse +34 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Jean-Marie's comment

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