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