1. I remember waking up and going to work on Sept. 11, 2001. At the time I was working at a call centre for a growing company with franchises throughout the U.S. The lines were almost dead, and we were glued to our computers. Once in a while a call would come in from somebody in Davenport, Illinois or San Jose, California; someone calling our business just to talk, to understand what had happened. It was chilling and surreal.
2. Shortly after Sept. 11, I knew there would be some reaction. There had to be. At the time, I remember not being fully opposed to the war in Afghanistan. At the very least, I understood the motivation for it. You can't be the USA, be attacked, and not attack back. It's like Tony Soprano...he needs to assert his dominance, no matter how unjust it seems. You can't be seen as weak. As time went on, I grew more despondent with that war; I came to understand how much more effective a nuanced and strategic approach would have been.
3. The protests during the build-up to the Iraq War were exhilarating; the decision to invade was crushing. When you are in an enormous crowd of people in downtown Vancouver, and Noam Chomsky's voice is booming over the loudspeaker... it feels like maybe all of your efforts are worth it. Maybe people can make a difference! When the invasion was officially announced, I was physically and emotionally paralyzed for a brief period of time. I just couldn't understand... it seemed so irrational, so pointless.
4. Some people react to tragedy by banding together and looking for mutual support. After the recent Vancouver and London riots, you had citizens on the streets cleaning up. Other people view tragedies as opportunities; the looting after the earthquake in Haiti, for instance. America became more polarized than ever after 9/11. Conservatives vs. Liberals. Warhawks vs. Peaceniks. Profiteers vs. Community Organizers. There is now a stark and vicious divide in a country that I had hoped might come together in the face of tragedy.
5. The statement that everything changed after 9/11 is only partially accurate. The terrorist attacks on that day did not happen in a vacuum. They were, however, a catalyst that both required us to study and attempt to understand America's place in the world, as well as the tinder that provided an excuse (however flimsy or ill-conceived) to start two major wars, beef up airport security, and create a climate of fear and xenophobia.
6. I remember watching American news as Obama began his meteoric rise and Bush began to lose popularity. As a lefty Canadian, it felt like the triumph of reason, hope, and objectivity over irrationality, fear, and war. Obama would pull troops out of Iraq! He was going to fix the budget! I don't know what I thought would happen; I knew he couldn't do it all, but at the time I was just so tired of hawkish foreign policy and conservative dogma. Now it seems like it's more conservative and mean than ever in Canada and the USA, and I just don't get it.
7. My father was a draft-dodger, and shortly after the invasion of Iraq, he celebrated the fact that he has been in Canada longer than he lived in the States. He made a speech and started choking up with the realization that the lessons of Vietnam have been all but forgotten; that we are destined to repeat our mistakes over and over. It took me a long time to get back to any kind of social justice or humanitarian work after 9/11; it just felt so pointless. Until it didn't, and I realized that regardless of what happens on a political level, I have a responsibility to try to help... even if it's just locally.
8. I would imagine that it is easier to declare war than to fight yourself. I would like to think that the responsibility of sending so many young people to die would weigh on one's conscience. There must be some level of psychic guilt knowing that every decision you make will lead to some of the citizens you are sworn to protect dying, no matter how righteous the cause.
9. When your stubborn commitment to ideological dogma trumps doing what is right, then you are no longer a fit leader. When Republicans voted down a bill to provide medical aid to victims of 9/11, I knew that they had lost the plot, to the detriment of people who they formerly had called 'heros' when it was politically advantageous.
10. A couple of years ago I was taking the PATH train from Jersey City to Manhattan. The train started slowing down, and I looked around at endless construction; broken beams, dust, sacks of concrete. My girlfriend at the time was with me and she pointed out that we were going through what used to be the World Trade Centre subway stop. She offhandedly asked me what time it was, and when I checked my phone it was 9:11 p.m. The world is full of small, eerie coincidences.
To boil it down to one thing I've learned: violence begets violence.
Josh blogs about the many things he has learned and continues to learn at tenthingsivelearned.com.