Tuesday, September 16, 2008

9/11: Thanks for taking the bullet

There are so many memories of Sept. 11, 2001, but the one that is firmly burned into my brain is from late September, 2007. I had always heard of and seen pictures of those giant hook-and-ladder fire trucks, with a steering wheel at the rear, but it wasn't until I went to New York for the first time (since 1960, so it might as well have been the first time) that I actually saw one. And yet, the fascination of seeing that was suddenly overwhelmed by what else I saw on the fire truck: decalled onto the side were eight names, and above the names, the date Sept. 11, 2001.

In case I need to close the gap there before going on, they were the names of the firefighters that company lost at the World Trade Center on that morning.

There are other poignant reminders of the attack. Interestingly, the least poignant (although still poignant) was Ground Zero itself -- still an excavation hole, and still controversial in its own right, as the daily papers reported continually on various scandals and allegations regarding management of the new structure to be built there. My friend Arlene, for instance, had an interesting reaction when I caught my first glimpse of the Empire State Building, shortly after she'd picked me up from Pennsylvania Station. I said, "wow!", and she replied, "we had an even bigger 'wow' right down there" -- gesturing south, towards where the WTC used to be.

Pastor Reggie told me how they watched the second building go down from the roof of the Bowery Mission and then provided shelter services.

In Canada, there is a fringe element (if you've ever read The Chrysalids, you'll catch the special nuance of the word "fringe") that wants to push the idea that "9/11 was an inside job". That shadowy figures with connections all the way to the Oval Office planned and executed the attacks in order to provide an excuse for attacking Iraq and protect the interests of the international oil illuminati. Something like that: sort of Watergate meets the burning of the Reichstag.

I haven't heard all their evidence for this (although a lengthy investigation pretty much skewered one part of their argument two weeks ago, when it was found that WTC 3 -- a smaller building which collapsed a couple of days after 9/11 -- was not destroyed by cunningly planted bombs but by fire started by the initial attacks) but I remember reading one of Mike Moore's reasons for believing President George W Bush knew about the attacks all along. He apparently looked "dumbfounded" when an aide told him as he was speaking to a school class in Florida.

Don't know about you, but I'm not sure how I'd react if someone had just told me that the two biggest office buildings in the world had just been reduced to a pile of smoking rubble; I would say, though, that "dumbfounded" might be one of the options.

Mind you, Canadians tend to be a smug and self-righteous lot. I was like that, myself, for much of my life. We look at the United States, and like the Pharisee standing next to the publican at prayer, say, "thank God that we're not like them!" We were so quick to condemn Americans during the race riots of the 50s and 60s, yet we seemed to forget about Japanese internment and the Head Tax and native residential schools and the turning away of the St-Louis and the Komagata Maru. *

And we take great delight in the general inferiority of our neighbours to the South. "They couldn't find Saskatchewan on a map!" we say, amid nudges and guffaws, without actually saying why anyone would want to. At the 2006 World Junior Hockey Championships, the crowd at Pacific Coliseum cheered Norway in its game against the USA -- not because we have a high percentage of Norwegians in the area, but because the crowd wanted to see the Americans lose. Isn't that a source of national pride?

Recently, at a general staff-and-management meeting at my company, a co-worker expressed concerns about a new benefits package we were being offered, and stated matter-of-factly that she was afraid it would be some "American-style" system. There was one of those pauses, while we all remembered that our newly arrived CEO is American.

It's a given that "American-style" = evil, not sensitive to people's needs, profit-oriented, serving The Man. It's as much a part of the Canadian Experience as winter and Hockey Night in Canada (with or without Dolores Claman's theme music).

(And let's not even start on the topic of electing someone who believes in the Word of God!)

But we forget something very important here. While we vilify, or at least hold in suspicion bordering on contempt, US military power and its attitude of being "the world's policeman", the freedoms we have enjoyed in this country have been largely due to the fact that we've had this cop on our street corner. While we were experimenting with anything from Medicare to state-run TV to minority rights and even sheltering draft dodgers, we were able to do so in the knowledge that Uncle Sam could and would come to our aid if anything happened. While some might argue that our best and brightest were getting killed in Europe while the US dithered over whether to join WW2 on that front, one could also argue that they provided the "fresh legs off the bench" that we needed to put an end to the Axis once and for all.

During the Cold War, what exactly prevented the USSR from reaching across the Arctic Ocean and helping itself to our resources, land and people? The fact that the USA has this PHENOMENAL "NIMBY" complex.

And when we want to sell our manufactured goods, where do we go?

But when a gang of terrorists wipes out almost 3000 people in one go -- affecting millions of people not just in NYC but even in Canada, we take the attitude that "they brought it on themselves", we rush to try to "understand" the terrorists, we fall all over ourselves trying to prove that the terrorists' culture was not responsible for it, and we even harbor the rock-dwelling lintbrains who claim that it was all a setup.

So while 9/11 is a date on which Americans will remember -- or contemplate -- what happened that day, it's a good time for us outside the country to remember that the US often takes the bullet - so we don't have to.

*Interestingly, there have been government apologies issued for those incidents except one: the St-Louis. The St-Louis was a ship, which wandered the world for several months in 1936, carrying a load of Jews, escaping Nazi Germany. It was turned away from numerous countries, and one of those countries was Canada, thanks to the lobbying by -- among others -- members of the Christian clergy. The St-Louis eventually returned to Germany, and most of the refugees on-board wound up in the Nazi death camps. In 2001, an apology was issued, but not by the government. A group of Protestant leaders from across the country got together in Ottawa with Jewish leaders and some of survivors, and they spent a weekend (or possibly longer, I'm not sure) in a time of prayer, forgiveness and reconciliation.

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