STEVE BOUSER: Five Years After 9/11, and Where Are We?
In the numbing, nightmarish, terrifying days in the immediate wake of 9/11, I had a crazy idea.
I wanted to put my two grown sons and my daughter in the minivan and drive to New York City, park somewhere, make our way downtown and witness the wreckage of the World Trade Center for ourselves while the sights and sounds and smells there were still fresh and raw.
Besides wanting to give my offspring something to tell their grandchildren about, maybe I thought such a trip and its indelible impressions would help make the whole bewilderingly unreal experience more real for us.
It never happened. For one thing, my wife wouldn't hear of it -- at least as it concerned our daughter, who was then 13.
I wish now that we'd gone ahead and taken that grim journey. Looking back from the vantage point of the approaching fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the thing that surprises me most (besides the astounding fact that we still haven't found Osama bin Laden, who stands six-foot-five and is on dialysis) is how unreal the nightmare still seems. And how unreal -- or surreal -- has been our reaction as a nation, a society and a government.
Oh, we seem to have done a great deal on the surface in reaction to this evil and catastrophic sucker punch. We've merged a lot of inefficient government agencies into one inefficient super-agency. We've made many changes in the way we travel -- even though, for the sake of surprise, the next attack our cruel and crafty enemy comes up with may well not involve mass transportation. We've invaded, occupied and become bogged down in a Middle Eastern country that had little or nothing to do with the provocation we were supposedly responding to.
But other than things such as those, what fundamental changes has this chastening national trauma produced?
In spite of all we seem to have done, I can't escape the impression that our response has been largely ineffectual, inappropriate and inadequate. In an odd disconnect, we seem to want to fight a "war on terrorism" while at the same time going on with our spoiled lives as if nothing had happened.
Look at the wasteful, arrogant, energy-squandering existence that we all continue to insist on enjoying -- one of the things, by the way, that makes them hate us in so much of the world. We don't just want guns and butter. We don't just want to have our cake and eat it too. We want butter on our cake.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently equated those of us who have our doubts about the wisdom of the war in Iraq -- who consider it a colossal distraction from what should be our real purpose -- with those who sought to appease the Nazis in the 1930s.
Following that lead, it is only fair to compare the administration of George W. Bush to that of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which had already fought and won most of World War II in the amount of time we have expended since going into Iraq.
Certainly neither the Roosevelt administration nor the American people would have dreamed, in the desperate mobilization of the early 1940s, that we could fight and win that war while at the same time going on living in the style to which we had grown accustomed. And they wouldn't have thought of pushing tax cuts through Congress at a time that required individual and collective hardship and sacrifice of unprecedented magnitude.
One thing you didn't see much of during World War II, I readily acknowledge, was the public expression of criticism such as that in this column. With few exceptions, everybody unquestioningly got behind the national effort after Pearl Harbor and pulled together. But that was because everyone had a far greater sense of certainty about the righteousness of their cause and who the enemy was and the correctness of the direction in which they were being led.
Five years after Pearl Harbor, Germany and Japan were defeated and already being helped to get their feet back on the ground as peaceful nations. Millions of brave young soldiers had already been mustered out and were attending college under the GI Bill. The nation was striding off in confident new directions.
I wish to heaven that America could boast anything approaching that level of pride, sense of accomplishment and worldwide respect on this anything-but-festive anniversary.
Steve Bouser is editor of The Pilot. Contact him at email@example.com
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