I think September 11, 2001, was my first day back at work. Ten days earlier my wife Kay had gone into the hospital with acute myeloid leukemia. She had been extremely sick when admitted, but by the 11th she had started chemotherapy and her condition had stabilized. The oncologist told us that Kay had a 50 percent chance of being cured. I knew by then that he was stretching the truth, but I have no doubt that his motive was to make Kay feel better.
I was sitting at my computer looking up stuff in medical journals about myelogenous leukemia, when I heard someone saying that the Pentagon was on fire and that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. The White House is under attack, someone said.
Oh, I thought. That's interesting. My concerns were elsewhere. That can't be true, I thought. And I went back to reading about blood cell cancer. We had no TV in my office, but someone turned on a radio, and slowly the scope of the attacks began to dawn on me.
I don't know if you remember, but there were rumors of more planes hijacked and possible attacks elsewhere. It occurred to me that I should be with Kay. I had only scheduled myself to work half a day, so I left early and went back to the hospital. Kay was watching TV in her room when I got there.
So, like everyone, we watched the towers explode in a fireball. Again and again. We watched the towers fall, and fall, and fall again. (I have never watched those images since then, and I probably never will. I can see them in my mind's eye if I want to--and I don't much want to.)
I didn't know anyone who died on 9/11. Nor do I know anyone who knew anyone who died on 9/11. I realized watching with Kay in her hospital room, still not totally sure she would survive in the short term and very uncertain about her longer term prospects, that 9/11 was very different for a few thousand people who died, and for family and friends who were left behind, than for the rest of us. It was a national trauma, whatever that means, but a lot of people since then tried to pretend to a level of grief that is not really theirs. That is not to say that the rest of us are not sincere in being shocked or horrified or angered by what we all saw.
There were a few thousand people who suffered real grief on 9/11. The rest of us were spectators. Kay's death eight months later was more real and terrible to me than a thousand 9/11s. That is the nature of actual grief, and actual death.
What I am leading up to is that there was and is a profound bad faith at the core of the political use of 9/11, mostly by Republicans, though they are not the only culprits. It's just that they have used it more cynically than anyone else, and with incredible and heart-stopping success. They used their own pretended grief and other people's shock and horror to further, and unfortunately to accomplish, their political agenda, which turned out to be pretty goddamn vicious and monstrous in almost every way possible.
I am not a conspiracy crackpot. Even though George Bush instantly appropriated 9/11 and used it for his own purposes, I don't think he engineered it, if only because he is not that competent. Nor do I believe he passively but knowingly let it happen. His popularity was dropping, and he may have been secretly praying for a terrorist attack, but I doubt if he really knew anything about it. He is a chuckle-headed if inflexible and authoritarian superannuated frat-boy, and frat boys don't bother their pretty heads about stuff like that.
The problem is what he did afterwards. I am not talking about hiding all day in a hole in Nebraska, or was it Kansas, I forget, though that was certainly revealing behavior on his part. What I am talking about is his wrapping himself in the flag and pissing on it from the inside as he defiled the the bill of rights and set about making his office one of an elected absolute monarch. No separation of powers for this creep. He stole the country, and used 9/11 as his burglary tool.
He is still doing it, as he conflates staying the course, as he calls it, with patriotism, and sends his flunky General Petraeus to take the heat for the White House authored put-up job bogus-numbers "Petraeus report" on the alleged success of the surge.
Interestingly, George Bush and Osama bin Laden both like to commemorate 9/11. Given that it made both of them successful beyond their wildest dreams, how could we expect otherwise?