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(Title partially borrowed from Violet Blue. I hope she doesn't mind; it felt right for me to use it, too.)

I've been struggling with my feelings about this anniversary for weeks; that, on top of all the other things that have gone wrong lately (I'm about to have to switch rep payees, I can't afford this apartment much longer, I've had five teeth drilled and filled in a couple of months, the landlord keeps tearing up my apartment, and on top of that hundreds' of dollars worth of my stuff has broken down just in the last couple of days), the results have not been good. For weeks, I haven't slept but a couple of hours at a time, no matter what drugs I take; haven't been able to stick to my diet because of the depression and lack of sleep; have felt like lead-weighted crap because I'm off my diet. I don't know if it will help for me to write it, or for you to read it, so I really don't mind if you don't want to read it, but here's how I feel about the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

I don't have much of a personal 9/11 story. Up too late the night before, I slept way in; by the time a friend woke me by phone, both towers had been hit; by the time I got dressed, the first tower had fallen. I spent the next I-forget-how-many hours in line at the Red Cross downtown in a futile attempt to give blood; had I gotten to the front of the line, it would have gone to waste because the towers came down, leaving us with several thousand fewer screaming third degree burn victims than I expected. But when I got home from that line, I knew that America as a nation was facing a choice, and I knew that the most important thing I could do was to put my thumb, however little it weighed, on one side of that scale.

In the years since then, I've thought about the story of how Robert Heinlein was very nearly booed off the stage when he gave his guest of honor speech at the 1976 World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City; I wasn't there, I was only 16 at the time, but I heard about it. Heinlein, disgusted at and terrified by the liberals who were campaigning for unilateral American nuclear disarmament, got up on stage and predicted that within the attendees' lifetime, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans would no longer be the invincible shield against invasion that Americans were used to; that within their lifetime, America would be invaded, and everybody in America would have to learn what Europeans already knew: if you intend to live a long and healthy lifetime, you must be prepared to, at least once in that lifetime and maybe twice, be ready to drop everything, leave everything behind, and run, because an invading army is coming through your town. As much as they loved the man they called the Dean of American Science Fiction, the crowd did not want to hear that. But it came true, in one small way: on 9/11 we were invaded, if only by a small but startlingly effective group of wannabe supervillains, and everybody in downtown Manhattan had to drop everything and run.

But even by the time I got home the day itself, I knew that we, as a nation, had to decide, in the next 24 to 72 hours, how we were going to react to that. There were only two choices: we would either be angry, or we would be afraid. Our response would either be dominated by a fierce national anger and thirst for vengeance, or else it would be dominated by a cowardly retreat into totalitarian dictatorship by those we begged to do anything to us, anything they wanted, if only they would keep us safe from it ever happening again. So I dug out my old button press, and I made up a button, and I spent the next couple of days circulating and explaining why I was wearing a hand-made button that said: "Don't get scared, get angry."

But the President of the United States at the time of the attack was a canonical example of one of the utterly contemptible subspecies of politician: a chickenhawk. Someone who spent his entire military-eligible age actively cheerleading for a war he was too cowardly to fight in, enthusiastically recruiting other, lesser people to go and kill and die, in a cause important enough for them to die in, but not important enough to risk his own far-more-important life for. So was his vice president. So was the secretary of defense. The voices of anger (let alone the small, and always unimportant, voice of peace) never had a prayer. So, instead of calm sanity or righteous rage, because we were governed by cowardly men, we got the politics of fear. And once I knew that the politics of fear had won, I knew something, as someone who's struggled with a panic disorder bordering on PTSD for most of my life: we, as a nation, were deeply screwed, because I don't think that anybody in history has ever made a sane and prudent decision while terrified. As another science fiction author of my youth wrote, "fear is the mind-killer," indeed.

By the year 2000, I was already imperfectly happy to be alive. I had seen the dot-com bubble's collapse coming as early as 1998, and knew that the economic aftermath was going to be perfectly hideous; I watched the right-wing Democrats campaign on and implement even more pro-wealthy, anti-poor politics than Reagan had and knew that was going to make the dot-com bubble collapse even worse, so even before 9/11, I was unhappy with the direction my country was headed and deeply worried about the future. When our leader told us, scant hours after 9/11, that the vast majority of us had nothing we could do about 9/11 but watch each other in open suspicion, always alert to the prospect of treachery, while keeping our work productivity and personal consumption rates as high as possible to fund the few thousand more important people who were the only important ones, I knew we were in big trouble.

But, even then, I never really thought they could succeed in stampeding us into repeating the Germans' war crime against Czechoslovakia, in Iraq. I counted on even the bullied and terrified press to tell the public the truth about Bush and Cheney's planned war crime; I counted on the American people's natural reticence to spend American blood and treasure on colonialist militarist adventurism in countries that pose no threat to us and mean us no harm, and the almost universal sense of relief years' earlier when the Cold War had ended, to make them choose the side of those telling the truth over the liars. I was such a fucking fool.

Years ago, before I was even born, legendary liberal news icon Edward R. Murrow said to us, in sorrow and in anger over McCarthyism, "We will not walk in fear, one of another, we will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason. If we dig deep into our history and our doctrine, we will remember we are not descended from fearful men. Not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular." Well, we may not be the descendants of fearful men and women, but we're fearful men and women now; the vast majority of us are now disgustingly easy to terrifying into acquiescing to war crimes like aggressive war and crimes against humanity like the torture of prisoners of war.

Which is why I've spent almost every day since March 20th, 2003, wishing that my friends had let me lie down and die, like I wanted to, back in 1996 when I was fired and blacklisted from my trade, or when my last attempt at starting a business melted down in 1999, before 9/11 even happened. I wish I had never lived to see this last decade. A decade ago, I was afraid for my country, but I had not yet been made truly ashamed of it until we tortured at least a couple of dozen prisoners of war and instead of prosecuting the torturers we bragged about it, until we borrowed at least a trillion dollars from the Chinese so we could murder at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians for nothing and mostly just shrugged about it while driving around with yellow magnets on the backs of our cars saying "Support Our Troops." Yes, I know that we did worse things while in Vietnam. But technically it wasn't an invasion, an aggressive war; technically, we intervened at the invitation of the local government, a technicality that matters. And at least back then we as a nation had the good grace to be ashamed of what war crimes we did commit. And after Vietnam, we promised to never make that mistake again; we lied.

If I hadn't lived through the last decade, there are a couple of really good books I wouldn't have read, like Solnit's A Paradise Made in Hell and Taylor's American Made and Zimbardo's The Lucifer Effect and Patterson's Robert A. Heinlein and Stross's "Capital Laundry Services" series of stories. And I would have missed "Firefly" and the first season of "Burn Notice" and the first season of "Lie to Me," all of which were pretty awesome. If I had died back in the late 90s, like I wanted to, I wouldn't have lived to see the first Kindles or the rise of Web 2.0 social networks, and that's been kind of nice, I guess; but on the other hand, I also wouldn't have had to live through the collapse of manned spaceflight or watched the steady decay of the Greatest Generation's physical inheritance. (I agree with something Jaron Lanier said, the other day; it's appalling how low a standard of living those born since 1970 have been willing to accept as long as they can still get the Internet on their cell phones. On the other hand, I'm hooked on my Internet cellphone, too.) Ten years ago I'd never heard of Rachel Maddow, and barely heard of Bruce Schneier and Paul Krugman, and watching them the last decade has been nice. In the last decade I've also written one or two things I'm proud of, some of which may even outlive me, like "Shrug Harder" and the Subculture Engineering series and, of course, "Christians in the Hand of an Angry God" (no more good than any of them did). I guess I'm supposed to think that's enough pleasure and enough utility to have made it worth living through the shame of what my country has done since 9/11; no more joy than I took in any of it, I can't really sell myself on the idea.

Comments

( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
nancylebov
Sep. 11th, 2011 03:37 pm (UTC)
What would a righteous anger policy have looked like?

Other than that, I'm starting to realize how much havoc is caused by trying to rearrange other people's motivations, so all I can say is that I've enjoyed your conversation and writing, but I accept that your purpose in life is not to supply me with good political essays.

Which doesn't mean I can entirely keep from nudging-- have you talked with your deities about how your life is going?

As for me, I spent a year or three after 9/11 feeling as though I was stuck in the wrong timeline-- I belonged in the higher probability timeline where 9/11 didn't happen.

I've since come to believe that I was really just wanting to get back to the way I felt before 9/11 rather than hitting on some metaphysical truth, but damned if I know which is true. At this point, I'm so rooted in this timeline that getting to the other one wouldn't be me. (I don't think Marty McFly would have such an easy time adjusting to living in a functional family, either.)
bradhicks
Sep. 11th, 2011 03:41 pm (UTC)
A righteous anger policy would have concentrated only on the people who did it, or at most, on them and the nation that refused to extradite them to us. And it would have involved all of us, the way we all were involved after Pearl Harbor.
Stephen R. Marsh
Sep. 11th, 2011 04:04 pm (UTC)
You ought to read Elizabeth Moon on the war. You sound so very mild and soft compared to her. I'd put her at 100% correct.

Wish you well. Sorry about all the problems that have collapsed on you. While I've had worse, I've also had much better, and I had much more help and support than it seems you have.

I was actually over here to dig up your post at http://bradhicks.livejournal.com/118585.html in preparation for something I'm writing about the Tea Party for another blog, got sucked in by the newer things you have written.

Now my opposition to the war was based on religious grounds first, ethics second, so we are coming from such different places, but the war is the thing that has most endangered American safety and security in the history of the country.

/Sigh.

I remain alive because I have children who did not die and who will need me. Despair, Cronus, should never be allowed to eat you.
lucretiasheart
Sep. 11th, 2011 03:49 pm (UTC)
I know how you feel. But if you weren't here, you'd never know if we Americans get a clue and fix what we did wrong. We have before. We've stumbled and face planted a number of times as a nation in our history-- but we tend to be self-correcting. Eventually, we see the light and do the right thing. We may this time as well, the tide seems to be turning already. It would be nice to have you around for those times too.

Besides, many of your readers would greatly miss you, Brad. Its been a bit lonlier during the months of your near total absence.
siege
Sep. 11th, 2011 03:53 pm (UTC)
I'm thinking another ten years before we get on our feet again, though. :/
lucretiasheart
Sep. 12th, 2011 06:30 pm (UTC)
Could be. I think we'll be having an interesting decade in any event.
pentane
Sep. 12th, 2011 01:23 am (UTC)
I'm always forced to laugh bitterly when I read David Barry talking about how the Viet Nam war meant his generation will, at least, question their leaders before sending their children to die in another war of choice.
silveradept
Sep. 12th, 2011 03:10 am (UTC)
The shame continues, and is compounded by all the things that have been done by the person promising change to perpetuate and expand all those things that the International Court of Justice should be issuing warrants and notices for the arrest and trial of.

That said, without you, I think I would be missing valuable perspective on things and my own understanding would be incomplete, as it would not have the background knowledge.
pingback_bot
Sep. 12th, 2011 03:21 am (UTC)
Another week's gone - 4-11 September 02011
User silveradept referenced to your post from Another week's gone - 4-11 September 02011 saying: [...] anger instead of fear when it happened, much of the intervening atrocities could have been avoided [...]
kimchalister
Sep. 12th, 2011 09:59 pm (UTC)
I can tell you're really depressed, not just by what you said, but by you not putting links into your mention of the writings you're proud of. That's not like you.
I hope you feel better soon, as you are a strong voice we need.
Keep in mind that when things are turning around, you can't see it for a long time.
Is there anything we can do to help?
tahkhleet
Sep. 13th, 2011 12:23 am (UTC)
For what it's worth...
...shame is a tricky thing. Too little and bad things come from the arrogance, callousness, and blindness to the wrongs a person can do. Too much though and paralysis results. My impression is that shame, like its cousin anger, exist mainly to disrupt the tunnel vision that overtakes even the best people from time to time. But once the signal's received, the feeling needs to be quelled. The emotion did its job. Now get on with what it pointed at. Not that this is easy :( But I found when wrestling with my own severe shame lately that just telling myself frequently that dwelling on the shame was not helpful did eventually help me spot the opportunity to feel a different way about things...and then proceed to starting upon making amends and reforming.

Also worth noting is remote as you are from the power of the state...if you have been marginalized, isolated and pushed to the very edge of society...does it not follow that logically you are much less to blame for the ills that the society carries out? Even saying "well, I should agitate for revolution then" I don't think is a good answer. Revolutions in the name of straightforward things like ending serfdom or casting down a ruling caste have iffy track records. For something as complex as getting people to collaborate in the act of modern governance in a cautious, methodical way? Seems like a bootless task to me. Especially given that the majority of people are invincibly ignorant on the things at stake...and too many of the remainder have a false sense of understanding of extremely complex things like the economy or the morale of society in bearing adversity.

Besides which, giving your life's effort to futile revolution wouldn't be principled, it would just be an extended temper tantrum. Fix what can be fixed even if it doesn't really heal the problem. Maybe some bigger solutions will emerge in the process....

For all that I do know it's a hell of a thing to realize you'd rather not have lived past a certain period of your life, all told. But the future can always surprise us. Insisting you know the future based on what's happened so far...well, I used to do that and it always made my life worse, not better. (Even to the degree I was partially correct)
loosechanj
Sep. 13th, 2011 11:07 am (UTC)
My thoughts while I watched the towers burn that morning were that the world had changed, and not for the better. By that I mean I knew America would react badly. And we did, culminating in the invasion of Iraq, a moment I think we went from being arguably the good guys with a few blemishes to outright mustache twirling bad guys, which is something Bush and his folk should never be forgiven.
(Anonymous)
Sep. 15th, 2011 06:19 am (UTC)
http://bradhicks.livejournal.com/2889.html
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )