Dispatches From a Dying Empire

Today was a strange day in America.

The whole country was somber today. The corporate media, the blogs and everyone in between spent the day deep in anniversary journalism -- where we were, where we've been. NBC, ABC and others replayed their broadcasts from five years ago. CNN included the hour of coverage leading up to the first attack; they covered a fashion show in New York, some white girl gone missing, etc. One of my coworkers commented how shocking the contrast was, how silly and trivial the things we cared about back then were. He was clear to use the past tense: "silly and trivial...back then". The more things change...

I remember someone saying, when it happened, that this was our generation's Kennedy assassination. My parents -- and maybe your parents, too -- remember exactly where they were when they heard JFK had been shot by some lunatic in Dallas. The comparison is exact. I can tell you, without looking it up, that 11 September 2001 was a Tuesday. I was in my last year of high school, coming back from a class retreat out in the woods. We were crossing the river, back to the buses from our island, and it rippled through the crowd that someone had flown a plane into one of the World Trade Towers. No one had the facts -- they had heard it from someone who heard it from someone who had heard the bus driver mutter something under his breath. We went around, trying to find someone with one more scrap of information than we had, trying to piece together what was going on back in the world. The whole ride back, the radio was at full blast. We sat in silence the whole way, listening to someone somewhere trying to keep it together when the Pentagon, then the Towers, then a cornfield in Pennsylvania disappeared.

38 years on from the end of Camelot, not much has changed. Like my parents, I have a picture-quality mental image from 9:30 AM on a Tuesday; the radio man bringing the bad news; and our madmen still come from Texas.

My country is dying, and we're doing it to ourselves. It took Rome 500 years to take over the world and another 500 to lose it. America went much faster: what took us 60 years to conquer, we gave back in five.

I say we gave it back because that's what happened. It's not like we were desperate to have it, and the Visigoths came in and took it from us by force. No-one made us lose. The Huns came out of the east, kicked us in the shins, and we lay down, crying for mommy, terrified that they might do it again.

Our democracy is dying, and we're letting it bleed all over the floor. Americans got comfortable. We forgot that democracy doesn't take care of itself, that it only works if We The People care enough. You know how I know? Look at Iraq; we went in and thought we could give them democracy. What shit. You can't "give" democracy -- it has to be taken. Unless people are willing to die for it, to wrest it away and keep it healthy, democracy simply won't work. Democracy is too hard, and autocracy is too easy.

I'd like to hope things are coming around, that the American public is gradually waking up and realising that we've been lulled asleep with shiny lies and pretty what-if stories. I'd like to hope that outrage will soon sweep this country, that we will refuse to tolerate any longer the reckless policies that are being concocted and carried out in our name, both at home and abroad. I'd like to hope that we will once again insist and demand that our nation comport itself in the spirit and ideals of our heritage and traditions, and that America would assert herself anew as vanguard and defender of Liberty and Freedom for the world.

I'd like to hope this, but I don't.

When Americans support racial profiling to the point where simply wearing a shirt with Arabic script is enough to make you a suspect, I know that Freedom is dead. When Americans see no problem with the government spying on every phone call you place and every purchase you make, I know that Liberty is dying. When Americans want jail time for reporters who publish details of illegal government programs, I know that the Bill of Rights is burning. When Americans want to build a wall to keep the brown people out of our cities (but not out of our gardens), I know that somewhere, someone is remodelling the Statue of Liberty and in this new design, there's just no room for the Tired, the Hungry and the Huddled Masses.

One benefit that will come out of this is that, given that New Orleans is still abandoned and desolate one year later, Americans soon won't have to go all the way to Italy to see the ruined cities of a fallen empire.