9/11 and the Enduring Sorrow

A Middleton, Wisconsin firefighter wipes a tear from his eye during a 9/11 memorial celebration on the eleventh anniversary of the attacks. Photo by Callen Harty.

Nine.  One.  One.

On an autumn morning so vivid it seems like yesterday and so foggy it seems a lifetime ago our nation was irrevocably changed.  After two planes flew into the World Trade Center towers and later the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania I could not believe the burden of sorrow placed upon the shoulders of America’s people.  We all wept openly at the horror unleashed that day.

Today we still remember—we will never forget—and there are those who still weep.  And yet, even while memorials are held across the country for the victims who died that day, most of America blithely accepts the further losses we have endured.  Few cry for the rights lost to the Patriot Act right after the 9/11 tragedy and the most recent National Defense Authorization Act passed and signed just months ago.  Few notice the soldiers and civilians who for more than a decade have not come home as they should.  My sorrow continues to grow.

It was not only the twin towers and their inhabitants that were lost that day.

Out of fear, along with apathy, we have willingly given up many of the rights that made us the envy of the world.  Immediately after 9/11 politicians talked about how we were attacked because others in the world were jealous of our freedoms.  If that were true they are jealous no more.  Our freedoms have been regularly and gladly traded for “homeland security”, like a child giving up everything they have for a flimsy blanket to protect against a monster in the closet that may not even exist.  The enemies of freedom are winning.  The surprise is that those enemies have come from within our own ranks and they are from both of the major political parties.  This is not a partisan thing.  It is the powerful seeking greater consolidation of power at the expense and with the consent of average citizens.

Likewise, out of a desire for retribution we have lost our capacity for compassion.  An average of one American soldier a day dies in Afghanistan and one would barely know we were engaged in a war at all.  The news barely touches upon it.  American citizens seem to care more about who wins “Dancing with the Stars” than who is winning the war, or whether we should even be in a war in the first place.  We watch “reality” television shows while ignoring the reality of innocent civilians dying in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere day after day. This, too, is not partisan.  We went into Iraq and Afghanistan under a Republican President and we remain there under a Democrat.  Troop presence has decreased in Iraq and increased exponentially in Afghanistan.  There is no end in sight.

The sad thing is that when the attacks happened on 9/11 we had an opportunity to change the world.  We could have sought help from the world community to track down those behind the plot.  We could have brought them to justice in a court of law and shown the world that our system was fair and impartial, that we were about more than violence and war.  We could have taken the goodwill from all quarters and turned that toward a better understanding of each other.  We could have rejected the historical knee-jerk reaction of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  We could have led the way toward a more peaceful world in which disagreements and aggression were not met with equal aggression but with hearts open to compromise, understanding, and cooperative and peaceful resolution.

Instead, the Bush administration created lies about Saddam Hussein storing biological weapons to justify an attack on Iraq, a country which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, and it used the idea that Osama bin Laden was initially hiding in Afghanistan as a reason to attack that country.  There was no discussion of attacking Saudi Arabia, the home country of the majority of the 9/11 hijackers.  Iraq happened to be oil rich and have a dictator Bush’s father did not defeat in a previous war and Afghanistan happened to have a huge pipeline over which we wanted control.  War hysteria was whipped up with constant misleading stories from the White House, jingoistic songs on the radio, uber-patriotic displays at sporting events and elsewhere, and a general portrayal of anyone who might oppose getting even as weak and un-American.  Most of the country jumped on the war bandwagon and off we went.

In the eleven years since that time we have lost more than 6,500 American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than twice as many than were lost in the attacks from the hijacked jets.  Thousands upon thousands more Iraqi and Afghani soldiers and civilians have also died.  In the eleven years since the attacks Americans have been subjected to intrusive searches at airports and borders,  Muslim-American citizens (and others) have been subjected to racial profiling, businesses have had records searched, common citizens’ banking, telephone, e-mail, and other  transactions have been monitored without warrants, citizens who simply appear to be anti-government in some way have been subject to surveillance, warrantless wiretaps have been used, the government has been given the okay to indefinitely detain citizens, and American citizens have been killed by their own government for suspected terrorism activity without the benefit of an arrest or trial.

These things have all happened.  These things have all added to the rubble left from that horrible day.  The flags flying at half-staff today honor those who lost their lives in the attacks.  When I see those flags or when I see memorial services being held a tear still comes to my eye.  I shed tears for all the innocent lives lost in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania, but I also shed tears for all the soldiers and civilians who have been lost since, and for the loss of liberty in the land of the free.  May we all find peace soon.

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About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Both are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he has been an actor, writer, and director since 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events.
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