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9/11 and the Damage Done
Posted on Sep 7, 2011
Of all the blown moments, or to torque out some baseball parlance, “blown saves,” the president could have turned it all around in that speech at Ground Zero. Instead of telling us to go shopping, he could have advised us, for instance, to read the Constitution, read the Bill of Rights, read about George Washington and Susan B. Anthony and Crazy Horse, visit the Grand Canyon or the prairie or the Great Lakes, see the natural wonders that fuel our dream of self, find out what this country is really about, understand what’s at stake should America succumb to a fatal blow and become the beacon that burns no longer. But of course that’s not what happened, and as I realized that day in the diner, Bonny Bakley was merely the most desperate spawn of a nation that had been shopping for a very long time.
In the months and first few years after 9/11, the condition that the country was mired in on the day the planes flew into our homeland became only more aggravated. People of all persuasions went on a spending spree facilitated by banks and brokers, buying up houses for nothing down until it all collapsed and the country was on the hook for billions of dollars. Now we must factor in the trillions that have been spent on the wars that began in response to what happened on that September day 10 years ago—vast sums of money never to be recovered and roughly equivalent to the amount that it would take to get America back to sea level.
But the consequences of 9/11 go well beyond money; the country is not just broke, but bleeding. Thousands of men and women have died in military service to this nation, and the war against terrorism—the longest one in American history—shows no sign of ending. Others who have served have come home and killed themselves; they too must be counted.
One of the strangest responses to 9/11 is the 9/11 truth movement, a strange point of convergence of the far left and far right, involving many people of all occupations, educational levels and social classes who believe various conspiracy theories about what happened on that day. Some say it was an inside job involving the U.S. government; others still profess that planes did not actually fly into the Pentagon or the ground in Pennsylvania, despite video footage that suggests otherwise and people who were on those flights, never to be seen again.
There are always people who don’t believe that major events have happened; for instance, some among us believe that the moon walk—Neil Armstrong’s, not Michael Jackson’s—was a hoax. Yet the problem with such theories is that they jack up the paranoid, stoking fires that can sometimes burn out of control.
Take the case of Jared Lee Loughner, the Tucson fellow who tried to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords outside a Safeway as she talked to constituents, seriously injuring her with a shot to the head, and killing and wounding others who were in line to see her. Arizona is one of the places where the furies of 9/11 have landed, planting themselves in the shallow sands, stirred up when the winds shift, riling passions and causing all manner of upheaval and mayhem. According to a friend, Loughner believed that the American government carried out the attack on 9/11, and at a town hall hosted by Giffords in 2007 that he attended, he may have asked Giffords about the official story. Others who questioned it had reportedly asked Giffords about the same thing in hostile encounters outside her office. Loughner may have been angered by her response; evidence found at his home after the incident suggests that something that happened at that meeting set off a response which led to an act of extreme violence.
One of the people Loughner killed was a little girl named Christina Taylor Green. She was 9 years old and had been born on 9/11. This year would have been her 10th birthday. Some of the babies born on 9/11 appeared in a book called “Faces of Hope,” predicated on the notion that amid such great destruction, life literally goes on. Christina was one of the faces of hope. The granddaughter of former Yankee and Met manager Dallas Green, and the daughter of Dodger scout John Green, she wanted to play baseball when she grew up and was one of two girls on her elementary school Little League team in Oro Valley, a town northwest of Tucson. On April 1 of this year, I attended opening day, and watched as professional ballplayers and boys in her league gathered to ring in one of America’s holy days, and pay tribute to their teammate. The field that she played on was named in her honor and there was talk of how she threw long from third base.
Her story reminded me of playing baseball as a little girl, taking me back to the time a neighborhood boy threw a ball hard and fast, right at my face. To his surprise—and mine—I caught it. I’ve always loved baseball, and later I came to understand that baseball is that most American of games, one that promises the chance of starting over with every at bat, every spring, on a sandlot where you can hit a ball into forever. What happened in the Tucson shootings was sad enough, but the fact that a little girl’s life and dream were taken away only added to it, and the thread of 9/11 running through the whole thing made it all the more stunning.
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