Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Reclaiming September 11th

That anniversary will be here again soon and it’s time we took it back and reclaimed it, not as a day when someone did something bad to us, but a day when we do something good for ourselves. September 11th should be declared a Day of National Service.

As horrific as 9/11 was, in many ways I’m embarrassed by how our country reacted to it. We played along as politicians fear mongered to get elected or keep us obedient. We shrugged our shoulders as our leaders twisted the threat to justify things they wanted to do long before that fateful day ever occurred. And we hardly noticed the many ways we compromised on our American values – from torture, to illegal wiretapping to invading a country that wasn’t involved in 9/11 and wasn’t supporting terrorism.

But most of all I’m sick of the annual hand wringing and wallowing in victim-hood

In an era when it seems all news is shaded to be sold as drama, 9/11 is the ultimate drama. While it should feel like we’re honoring the sacrifices of victims and heroes, it instead feels like the media trivializes them by relentlessly replaying and repackaging the day’s events for dramatic effect.

The anchorperson breathlessly asks, “Do you feel safer?” If not, “Then what are the dangers?” Let’s talk about it and talk about it and talk about it until we’re afraid to get on an airplane or trust anyone with dark skin or a foreign name. The crass motive to titillate viewers with mayhem or tug at our heartstrings to keep us tuned in lies beneath the surface of relentless, solemn news pieces that will soon run about 9/11.

Of the mistakes our government made after 9/11, perhaps none was so great as not having asked the American people to do something, to contribute or sacrifice in some way toward victory over those who seek to harm us. Asking people to support the president or the troops or to be patient with the war would have been a lot more effective if people were actively involved. But we weren’t and still aren’t. While our soldiers are still under fire, we’re still watching Dancing With The Stars and eagerly awaiting the start of the NFL season, barely aware of their sacrifice. We’ve been repeatedly asked to feel a certain way about the war on terror, but not to actually do anything of real meaning. Bush didn’t ask us, and as we ramp up our offensive in Afghanistan, neither has Obama.

During WWII in northern Indiana, my father sold war bonds on his paper route. People planted Victory Gardens, rationed gasoline and many other commodities so they would be readily available for the war effort. Women sewed socks and turned old cloth into bandages. Folks recycled iron, copper – you name it, for the war effort. A gospel song from that era even called on people to help the soldiers abroad by using “the weapon of prayer.”

Instead, after 9/11 President Bush told us to, “go out and shop.” Get on down to Starbucks and Abercrombie and Fitch; that’s how you can help.

The war in Iraq alone has cost us $10 billion a month. There must be something we all could have been doing these past 8 years to help out besides shop and wave flags.

The best thing we could have done is take back September 11th from the terrorist and claim it as our own. Not as a sad day for America, but a day that makes America stronger every year.

September 11th should be declared a Day of National Service.

If I could, I would replace every tearful bell tolling on 911 with citizen-driven projects to rebuild inner-city parks. I would pre-empt every TV and radio replay of the terror of the day with information about where to volunteer to give blood, help the illiterate read, take out a shut-in, clean a fouled stream, mentor a struggling small business or rebuild a burned-out church. I’d cancel every politician’s 9/11 commemorative speech so there would be more time for volunteers to carry-in a thank you meal to their local fire and police departments. And I’d ask people to stop wringing their hands in fear of terrorists being put in American prisons and instead use those hands to send a care package to an American soldier abroad with something in it of real use they could share with the 3rd-world children they serve near.

We couldn’t let the, “Go out and shop,” people get a hold of this day. If they did, NASCAR would schedule a race and soon we’d be drinking beer and grilling brats every 9/11 and as on Labor and Memorial Days, eventually forget why we got the day off.

I challenge readers to expunge their sorrow this September 11th with a random act of kindness. Go out of your way to do something positive. What do you have to offer your community that goes unused? What does your community need that goes untended? Instead of reliving the pain of that day, set aside some time to lift those who are down, to enrich those who are poor, or to fix something broken.

Two years ago, my daughter and I gathered supplies for the local animal shelter. Last year, a group of men in my neighborhood spent the day painting the home of a single mom with two kids. It can be that simple. Find something that needs doing and do it on September 11th.

Correction from last week’s column:
In last week’s column I said that Republicans controlled the House and Senate in Washington for the 12 years previous to January 2008. I was a year off. Their 12 years of control ended in January of ’07.

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