Just having my buddy John Alcott around on the anniversary of 9/11 brings back memories of that day eight years ago. John was here working on our production of Art that year and that day. We, and everyone associated with the theatre then lived through that day together as we pretended like we were focusing on work, when we had the energy to pretend. John is playing John Brown in our play, Robert E. Lee and John Brown: Lighting the Fuse. John Brown is a character who we like to ignore in American history, because like Bin Laden, he’s a terrorist, but he is an American terrorist. He brought down the wrath of the Lord on the town of Harpers Ferry, got caught, and was executed. But his demise sealed his ultimate victory in that he succeeded where those who hid behind politics, money, and power, ultimately failed. His raid, his capture, and his execution, brought more attention to the immorality of slavery than ever before and shook the foundations of every institution the country stood upon. Things were never the same in America after John Brown. Things will never be the same in America after 9/11.
As we commemorate that horrible day, I can’t shake the feelings that I have about that day and also about what came after. I’ve said here on these pages many times that the bad guys won, and not just because of the chaos and death that they visited on us that day. The result of that day changed everything about this country and shifted our focus in such bizarre ways, that it is difficult to tie it all back to cave dwellers with a powerful vision of bringing down the most powerful country on the planet.
Our sense of ourselves changed in profound ways that we are just now starting to figure out. Our culture demands winners and results, often quick results. And we let quick and easy looking made for TV victories let us believe that we could conquer those who play the long game. But the long game was their strategy from the beginning. Our military got abused by our leaders and in the end, the veneer of invincibility got stripped off by those who are willing to play the waiting game. Our economy recovered from the immediate reaction, but the selfishness that came from a new sense of fear of when it could all happen again, allowed the greed that is a part of the American soul to grow to proportions that eventually led to the bottom dropping out last year. Our politicians, afraid of damaging the status quo while waging war, sent us schizophrenic signals about the struggle ahead, while at the same time pretending that life could have some semblance of normalcy here at home. In addition to that, they didn’t trust us with the truth, instead filling us with untruths that led to an even greater distrust of what was left of our political institutions. Those institutions will never recover.
So, while we commemorate the loss of life and the horror of that fateful day, remember those who visited that terrible event on us, knew exactly what they were doing. They new the shock and awe would wear off, and that the damage that was inflicted would lead to even greater destruction in the long run. Those who worry about future attacks really have no need. While the gaping wounds of the horrible violence of that day still show, the real damage is coursing through our national veins like an insidious and slow acting poison, slowly destroying the tissue that binds us together. The bad guys won that day and it was a victory with consequences beyond our short sightedness of the the moment, and all the moments that have followed sense.