Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Weekend of Remembrance (1): The World Before

Fall, 1972, from Greenwich Village before the Towers were complete
As we begin this weekend of remembrance of September 11, 2001, I tried to think back to the world before 9/11. It is hard. It would be tempting to make it a nostalgic experience of how good things were. We could get on airplanes without taking our shoes off or we could accompany our friends or family to the gate or even meet them there when their plane arrived instead of having to wait by the baggage claims. But those are superficial. I think that under it all were some difficulties just waiting to happen.

First, I think we were quite insulated. Even the previous attempt at the World Trade Center did not shake us into an awareness of how vulnerable we could be. The information we have heard since 9/11 about lack of preparations, inability to cross-communicate between groups of responders, different government agencies not being willing to believe such things could happen, only proves our issues were alive and waiting.

Second, the undercurrents of much that we have seen happen were there in the midst of that insulated outlook. The Clinton Presidency had just ended and the extremes of opinions and even hatred of him and his administration among some was still palpable. The seeds had been sown by the deep and growing ideological divide started in Clinton's mid-term by Newt Gingrich et. al. The second undercurrent was the racism and "triumphalism" always just under the surface of American history. Even when not obvious, it is there as this burning fire of distrust, mistrust, and even hatred. It is a sinister force that only needs an incident like 9/11 to bring it to its worst.

Summer 1987, from Battery Park

But the third and most worrisome issue at the time, in my opinion, was the extreme "Cold War" mentality which had come to power under George W. Bush. Or even more to the point the "War Mentality" that was there and looking for a way to go to war. Violence was ready to erupt. Without the Soviet Union to kick around anymore, new enemies, new targets of our might needed to be found.

It was only a matter of time.

Yes, it is easy to look back and see these - or whatever particular issues your politics or world-view sees. When it is happening, it is out of sight. That is why these evens are so shocking, surprising, world-shattering. They are, in the end, not predictable. If it hadn't been 9/11, something else would have happened. When we are caught by surprise it is always a break in history, a jump in our personal, national, or even world narratives.

Inconveniences happen as a result. New patterns emerge. The old order has shifted. But the undercurrents were there. Many of them still are. Some are more obvious- out in the open. Others are waiting for the next unpredictable event.

No comments: