Do you remember where you were on September 11, 2001?
After 8 months of unemployment, I had just secured a new job with a telecom startup in Downtown L.A. I was getting ready for work that morning, when my then-girlfriend and now-wife called out to me: "A plane hit the World Trade Center".
I came out of the bedroom, pulling on pants, saying "What?" She had CNN on the television, which was showing a loop of the plane impacting on the first tower.
My memory has fogged over the years, but terrorism must have been suspected by then, because the first thing I did was call my new boss and asked: "Are we going into work?" He said, "Of course, this is when we need to be at work." (He turned out to be a great guy, but that day I could have cursed him.) Teresa saw me off with a worried kiss, and I drove into downtown, rather than taking the light rail, as I had an idea that we wouldn't be there long.
Sure enough, the high-rise where our office was located evacuated the building an hour after we arrived, telling everyone to leave Downtown. I drove back home, and for the rest of the day sat glued to the television, like the rest of the world.
The nation had never been as unified as it was in the days following that desecration. And it all went to shit.
We know what happened next. A war of necessity transformed into a war of choice, as the attack on Osama bin Laden's hosts in Afghanistan transmuted into an imperial adventure in Iraq, from whence all of this century's ills have arisen. A Republican administration used the shellshock of a nation for partisan political ends. A new enemy—Islam—was found to replace the old enemy, communism, dead for a decade, giving motive force to the state.
It could have all been so different. The world was ready to fall behind the US in its hour of agony. The world was ready to support us in our actions to bring those responsible for the atrocity to justice—whether of the court or of the sword. But instead President George W. Bush hurled that call—you're either with us, or the terrorists—turning a possibility of unity into one of great power politics. And his Coalition of the Willing turned a crippled state into a failed state, which has engendered Mosul, the Yazidis, Aleppo, Palmyra. A different road taken in the years after 9/11 could have produced a much different world, one not so consumed with conflict. However, different interests obtained, and we are now in our sorry state.
I mourn all the victims of September 11, 2001. As one who grew up in New York City, the attack hit me to my core. I also mourn those who have died since then, the hundreds of thousands, sacrificed in misbegotten wars, born out of hubris and a conviction that all our actions in those few years after that day were warranted and just. For a brief moment we had an opportunity to unite the world against the enemies of civilization. Instead, we followed our own narrow interests, with the usual lamentable results.
We are far from 2001, but its effects are boon companions. Our wisdom has been warped. It is slowly being recovered. May we continue on that path, lest we lose ourselves utterly.