Last week my wife and I made our annual anniversary visit to Manhattan for great food and theater, and of course shopping (for one of us). We decided to also return to the World Trade Center site for the first time since 2002, and I was surprised how strong and profound the site remains. While the construction of the new tower and other buildings moves along, I found myself less curious or interested about the buildings as I did the human stories. Buildings are buildings, and while there is beauty in the architecture and engineering marvel in the design and construction, they are, after all, just buildings; just marble, steel, and glass. May the twin reflecting pools honoring those that lost their lives on that fateful day be a permanent reminder of those that perished and that volunteers who conduct the tours and work at the museum and memorial continue to share their personal stories as a cathartic process. But what got me thinking was the school kids I observed at the museum. And one particular question from an inquisitive young boy: “Do we know who did this to us?”
The question was dutifully answered by the tour guide, but I got the distinct feeling the boy had no concept of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, or Afghanistan. How could a nine or ten year old understand religious fundamentalism, geopolitics, or terrorism when all too many adults in America don’t understand? No, it wasn’t the question, but the innocence in the asking. In asking this question this young boy and his classmates have only experienced a post 9/11 world with no concept of a pre -9/11 world. They will only know of 3 ounce containers in a Ziploc bag, full body scanners, remove your electronics, and take off your shoes. The Patriot Act, drones, Islamophobia, and the Homeland Security Leviathan; does the price of safety have to cost so much liberty?
Now I am not trying to get all nostalgic here, but it is easy to draw parallels to my own childhood. In the late sixties and early seventies when I was in elementary school, it was the big bad Russians and the godless communists who threatened our liberty and freedom. By the time I got to school, the ridiculous duck and cover exercises had been retired, yeah that would stop radiation as well as my beach towel would help my fly like Superman. When the house of cards that was the Soviet Union finally collapsed, I was an adult and already skeptical of what our government told us. Domino theory, Watergate, Iranian Revolution, Beirut, Iran-Contra, and Grenada pretty much established that too many of our government leaders felt we needed to hate something or fear someone and then declare war on it in order to make us feel safe. How many times have we faced a new emerging clear and present danger?
I love America. I love an America that promotes free speech and liberty. An America where money is not speech and corporations are not people. An America where hope and love vanquish fear and greed. An America where the individualist is celebrated, and our young people are critical thinkers.
So my advice to the young boy from the WTC memorial comes from the great American poet rocker Lou Reed: “They say things are done for the majority; don't believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.”
Some may say that is cynical or pessimistic. Maybe. But then again, you explain Fox News.