Teachable Moments

I don’t mind memorials, of course, and there were a lot of heroes killed on September 11, 2001. I admire firefighters who, as the cliché goes, ran to the disaster when everyone else was running away. Those passengers on Flight 93, probably taught al Qaeda an important lesson. You can’t quite trust crazy Americans to sit quietly and accept their fates. A few might charge the cockpit. Yesterday, though, was like a marathon of the big lie.

A big lie is a lie repeated so often that people forget that it is a lie. One of the worst, which I heard on National Public Radio, is the notion that we “were at war, but didn’t know it until those planes hit the World Trade Center.” That’s untrue in a dozen ways. al Qaeda isn’t a state, and can’t be at war with anyone. When it declared war, it was trying to justify a violent criminal conspiracy. It’s still a lie. This is not just splitting hairs; the difference matters.

We  are at war with much of the rest of the world, especially the Middle East. As horrible as 9-11 was, it pales next to what a country with our resources can do. This has been true from the so-called Spanish-American war, in which we committed near genocide in the Philippines, to our current and often very violent occupation of both Iraq and Afghanistan. These wars are not clarified by the so-called al Queda war, they are obscured by it.

Perhaps we should also think of the day after the memorial as an important teaching moment in which we try to come to terms with imperialism, and the choice that was made in our name to respond with two real wars to a war that was more metaphorical than real. We should try to imagine another history entirely in which we fought al Qaeda, perhaps at times using military means, on our terms,  within the law and the criminal justice system.


About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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