#244 – Dick Bernard: Making a Disaster into a Catastrophe

It’s Saturday evening, September 11, 2010.
A few hours ago, looking for something to watch on TV, I happened across the Weather Channel, which at the time was playing a program about the evacuation of Dunkirk, France, May 27 – June 3, 1940. It was an incredible rescue, thanks to a nine-day break in often treacherous weather on the English Channel. In all, 338,226 English and French soldiers were ferried to England by large boats and small; 40,000 French soldiers were captured by the invading Germans, presumably becoming casualties of WWII.
It was a heroic moment, facilitated by what some would later call a ‘miraculous’ set of weather circumstances. It was a very interesting program.
Dunkirk was almost two years before Pearl Harbor and the entry of the U.S. into World War II.
In those years before sophisticated media, the public learned of events largely after the fact through newspapers, telephone, radio and black and white images later conveyed in film. Winston Churchill became a heroic figure through good decisions, a great deal of luck, and a gift of oratory.
It was a simple time.
I was three weeks old.
As I write, after 9 p.m. CDT, my spouse is watching the History Channel, which is replaying archival tape of 9-11-01.
It is dramatic, with sounds and images as recorded in an age where media had become ubiquitous and instant.
It is not necessary to recite what I hear, and what is being shown on a large screen HD color TV elsewhere in my home. Even up here, it is a riveting film (which I do not plan to go down to watch.) I’ve “been there, done that”.
There were almost 3000 people killed on 9-11, about 2600 in New York City, 263 in four planes (including the 19 hijackers), and 125 at the Pentagon. There were casualties who were citizens of 70 different countries. Of the hijackers, 15 were Saudi Arabian, none were Iraqi. The word ‘al Qaeda’ came into the vocabulary, a phrase which I understand simply means “the base”, and responsibility was fixed on Osama bin Laden, a Saudi, who was harbored by the Taliban government in Afghanistan at the time.
We are now nine years down the road from this disaster, which has in the intervening years become a catastrophe which has captured our country and is destroying us economically and morally (i.e sanctioned torture) as well.
Over 4400 American service people have been killed in Iraq, and several million Iraqis were killed or displaced by the resulting Iraq War. Conservatively, about 100,000 Iraqis have been killed in the conflict since 2003. In some sources, only the “Coalition of the Willing” casualties are noted.
Afghanistan, the initial target of our national need for revenge, was for all intents and purposes abandoned in favor of invading Iraq, and we are now mired in Afghanistan in a conflict which, to be honest, is militarily unwinnable, and politically impossible to leave.
We close 9-11-2010 with conflict raging over an Islamic Center near Ground Zero, and an apparently cancelled burning of Korans in Florida.
We do not seem to learn our lessons well.
We had an opportunity, after 9-11, to choose a different fork in the road of relating to the world.
We chose War, indeed to celebrate War following 9-11. It was a politically popular decision Afghanistan Oct 7 2001001. I have seen pieces of the World Trade Center at the International Peace Garden on the border of North Dakota and Manitoba, and seen in the Peace Chapel there front pages of World Wide newspapers featuring the collapsing World Trade Center in flames from September 12, 2001. Somehow they seem incongruous and out of place, there.
It is not too late to choose peace, but the door is closing fast.
The TV show has ended. I didn’t watch….
Sunday morning, September 12, 2010:
My e-mail inbox has this headline from the New York Times, 4:17 a.m.: “On Sept 11 anniversary, rifts among mourning“.
The “rifts” have absolutely nothing to do with “mourning”. Rather it is like picking at a scab for nine years, not allowing it to heal.
So long as 9-11 is kept as a potent political issue, its dead cannot rest in peace.
We should be ashamed.