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That Time of Year Again

2004-09-11 - 4:39 p.m.

First of all, thank you to all the lovely people who told me I'm not stupid, both on this diary and in "real life" (although when we talk discursively about "The Re--never mind). This weeks reading doesn't look so astronomically difficult.

Actually, the reading I started when I was getting up this morning was about how to record and memorialize September 11th, and thanks to a discussion with some of my fellow grad students (at a delicious Thaib restaurant in Oakland before going to a fabulous party), I didn't even have to look at a calendar to note the coincedence.

Last year, I was reading everyone's hella serious entries on the meaning of that day and I wound up writing this weird dialogue between me and The Funny. I remember that I was trying to write something funny and couldn't, so I imagined myself calling up The Funny and telling him that if he didn't show up for work today, the terrorists won. I still don't want to get too serious, but thanks to the genius over at Metameat (who, I need to say, is seriously cool, like one of the most naturally cool, eclectic, unpretentious people I've ever met, like so cool I may need to kill him and eat him in order to gain his power) I have just discovered that today, according to Public Law 107-89, is Patriot Day.

According to Dubya himself:

"NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim September 11, 2002, as Patriot Day. I call upon the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities, including remembrance services and candlelight vigils. I also call upon the Governors of the United States and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, as well as appropriate officials of all units of government, to direct that the flag be flown at half-staff on Patriot Day. Further, I encourage all Americans to display the flag at half-staff from their homes on that day and to observe a moment of silence beginning at 8:46 a.m. eastern daylight time, or another appropriate commemorative time, to honor the innocent victims who lost their lives as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001."

Well, I was asleep at 8:46am EST, and my snore has, on occassion, woken up people in adjacent rooms, so I couldn't observe the moment of silence. I don't own a flag so I can't fly it at half-mast. So what can I do to take part in Patriot Day?

It's a tough call. I think it would have been easier to do something patriotic if I were still in Texas. Even Austin, bastion of the Texan left as it is, is full of people who believe that the war was a good idea, or at least one not worth fighting back against. I could find people in my own family to argue with about the motivations and efficacy of the invasion. It's tougher here, because just about everyone I've met here agrees with me. Everyone believes that the tragedy of the attacks have not justified the horrific violence and terrifying loss of civil liberties that the current presidential administration has perpetuated since the attacks. I can't think of a single person who has in any way defended the bombing of Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq, the detentions in Guantanamo Bay, the Patriot Act, or the Bush Administration. Not a one. So talking and even writing about all of this is starting to lose its fascination.

I had to drop a class earlier this week called "Patriot Acts" because I felt I'd be better served by a course on research methodologies for oral history post-9/11. There was one book from the class that I kept, though: Dissent from the Homeland, in which a number of prominent intellectuals write against the policies of the Bush Administration and its use of 9/11 as a rallying point. I've kept on reading it, and while I've found some of the essays interesting I've been bored for the most part. Very few of the writers were saying anything that I hadn't heard before. Worse yet, a lot of them were making some heavy duty statements that are going to do nothing to help their cause. The introduction, for example, called the Bush Administration the greatest threat to America that it has ever faced.

Really? Like, really really? Worse than the combined threat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, both of whom were committing atrocities whose grotesquerie will echo through history for millenia? Bush is really worse than that? Worse than the Civil War, or the mechanisms of slavery that precipitated that war? Half the country tried to break away so that they might preserve an economy based on the brutal exploitation of another race? Bush is worse than that? Really? Because I'd much rather deal with Bush than deal with Hitler, or a Civil War. Don't give him that much credit.

There were other essays that pissed me off by coming from the other direction, where 9/11, however tragic, is downplayed as a historical turning point. Authors wrote about living through the attack on Pearl Harbor, and how the fear of this moment is nothing compared to the fear felt back then. I went reflexively into "You don't know me like that" mode. To argue that this is not a major historical event, one that has profoundly shifted the discourse in this country, is to be an ostrich in the sand. I remember September 10th, how I was sitting in a cafe reading Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, listening to a group of Wharton seniors talking about what investment banking groups they intended to focus on during their job search, and I laughed to myself at the tremendous difference between us. That difference was shattered the next day, when all that anyone on campus could talk about was this disaster. Nearly everyone at Penn had a relative in New York, and many had relatives working in the World Trade Center. That moment of unity was both profound and chilling. I remember the moment when I was walking down the sidewalk and I realized that I was more afraid that day than I had ever been in my entire life. That day taught me what fear was, and like so many others my fear was not of the next terrorist attack, but of what our retaliation would be, and what it would lead to. When people tell me that my generation hadn't lived through anything like WWII or Vietnam, I tell them that it is no longer true anymore.

The next two years were like waking up to a nightmare for me, as I learned more about US History than I ever had in high school. I learned about the Shah of Iran and about Pinochet, about our support of tyranny around the world, and as our country marched off to war I discovered that I would learn a lesson of shame just as powerful as my lesson of fear. I remember thinking that I finally understood how many of the Germans living under Hitler said that they had no idea of the extent of the Holocaust. It's so easy to be lulled to sleep by the lie.

Of course, in that same class I had to drop, a German woman became deeply offended at the thought of us comparing the Bush Administration to Nazi Germany. To do so, to her, would be a sick joke, like comparing, say, the devastation of September 11th to the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and arguing that they were equal. Newsflash: the death toll, property damge, and lasting effects of the detonation of the only two atomic bombs ever dropped in war dwarf 9/11. That doesn't mean that both were not devastating events. It just means that perspective is necessary.

Bush is not Hitler. He's nowhere near that scary. He does not need tanks and bombs to be stopped. He needs Americans voting, dissenting, remembering that passive resistance is not the same as passivity, that turning the other cheek is, in its own way, a powerful act of protest.

I was having lunch this morning with GreatSirG's girlfriend, who will henceforth be known as AraBesque, and I was telling her how growing up in Texas gives you a different perspective on America than growing up in New York City or the Bay Area. In Texas, churches have their own compounds, often bigger than malls. Beating the shit out of someone is seen as a valid form of conflict resolution, and more often than not hard feelings are forgotten after a good fight. These people aren't ghouls. They have spouses and children and jobs that they hate. They're people, and Bush means something to them. I was imagining what it would be like if Dubya was on our side, if he, with all his malapropisms and good-ole-boy charm, was talking about economic sanctions, passive resistance, and ending our dependence on foreign oil by mandating the manufacture of solar powered cars. Would Americans who would otherwise vote Republican listen to what the man in the cowboy hat was telling them? Would the left be willing to accept such a down-home type as a spokesperson? I've hated Bush for so long that it's become so hard for me to remember that people who like him must have a good reason, and understanding that reason is vital to making them understand the damage that he is doing to America.

A lot of my anarchist friends berate me for this, but I believe that, alongside the reality of America as a nation built on the genocide of its indigenous population, the kidnapping and enslavement of millions of Africans, the invasion of Northern Mexico and the marginalization of its people, and centuries of economic and military imperialism, there's a fiction of America as the land of the free and the home of the brave, a nation whose ultimate goal is the enfranchisment of its population and the setting of an example of democracy. The reality has fallen woefully behind, but the fiction exerts a poweful influence on the American people, and even on the world. While I think the reality needs to be faced, I think that there is something powerful that can be achieved by preserving the fiction, by asking those people who have taken that fiction in their hearts to ask themselves how it is best brought to reality. I long for the day when there are no nations, but I also listen to my mother, who talked about the fight for Latino civil rights and the optimism of the time, of the belief that America might finally realize its dream of itself. I think that a lot of people whose minds are still torn between a hatred of war and a fear of their nation being threatened can be reached by reminding them of how no sane person has ever defined patriotism as being complicit in every action that the nation undertakes, that so many of the people we have honored in our history were not the ones who blindly accepted the status quo, but those who fought against it in the hopes that that America would be made better. Just as so many people feel that the idea of a revolution should not be abandoned just because so many have resulted in totalitarianism and imperialism within a couple of decades after the revolution overthrows the existing power structure, so am I unwilling to give up on the possibility that America might become a land that truly acknowledges that all people are created equal, even those born across the ocean, trying to live their lives by their faith, worrying that their own children will be driven to acts of desperate evil on an airplane, or in a school, or in the service of their nation. If so many people around the world who have fought against imperialism their entire lives are willing to believe that America could become that country, then how the Hell can I give up? I can't; not on Patriot Day!

(That last line should be read a la Mark's "Not on Rex Manning Day!" from Empire Records. There's some resonance there, but I'm not sure what it means yet.)

I intend to keep performing all the acts of patriotism that I have been performing since that day: helping to organize and attending protests, urging people to vote, recording my history in defiance of our Orwellian press, contacting people in government and reminding them who the fuck they represent, and creating art that confronts our ideas of what it means to be an American. And I will do anything and everything in my power to make sure this unscrupulous, deceitful, pernicious, half-mad administration gets the Hell out of the seat of government as fast as possible.

Bush is not the biggest threat that America has ever faced, but he's the biggest one we've got at the moment. And eliminating threats to the nation seems to be the patriotic thing to do.

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The End - 2005-02-11
Let's Go on With the Show - 2005-01-30
The Curse, and This Bee's a Keeper - 2005-02-01
Sisters Lolita and Matronic Explain It All for You - 2005-01-31
Cowboys and Medievalists - 2005-01-30

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