“Ten years ago, as we all know, ‘everything’ changed. And then some things changed back.”–Henrik Hertzberg
“In the end, J.K. Rowling may have outwritten us all.” –Laurie Moore.
My memories of 9/11 are mostly fragments. I was still pretty young–two days from turning 16–and that’s part of it, but part of it is also that they must be fragments. It is too hard to hold together a coherent picture of the day, from beginning to end.
I remember having a dream the night before that something horrid had happened. I remember going to school the next day. I remember Norman, our principal, calling us into the Big Room and saying, with a catch in his voice and an expression I’d never seen on his face–he was normally quite calm–telling us what had happened. I remember his voice as he said he was thinking about all those people. I remember Anne, the math teacher, one of the gentlest women I will ever have the pleasure to know, saying that it had to be Osama bin Laden. I was, as I said, not quite sixteen, and I was totally unaware of the world around me: I’d been as angry as any other teenage burgeoning progressive wannabe when Bush was “elected” and I’d happily tell you that the GOP was made up of morons, but of the larger world I knew inexcusably little. Or perhaps not inexcusably: perhaps my excuse is merely that I never had to, I could live in my own little world, spill my own little dramas. I did not know what was going on in Iraq, Afganistan–I’m not sure I would even have recognized the names. I was concerned with my own private hell–I was not as desperate and depressed and self-destructive at sixteen as I would be at seventeen, but I was getting there–and I could not see outside myself. Even after 9/11, it would take several years before I learned to look around me, to open my eyes and see the rest of the world. For many years I lived as a ghost might, flitting between home and school, lost in books.
And so I had no idea who bin Laden was. I did not understand what was happening. I did not know what the World Trade Center was. When Dylan asked if this was a terrorist attack and Norman said well yes, it looks that way, I had little concept of what a terrorist attack even is. It would take me a long time to even begin to understand that.
A couple of years ago, I was walking some kids home. At the time, I think that S and N were in 1st grade and C was in kindergarten. As we walked, S told me that they’d learned about 9/11.
Oh? I said.
He was solemn, serious. People were–they flew the planes. Into buildings.
I could hear the wonder in his voice, the utter astonishment. We don’t raise our kids to understand that things like this can happen in the world. And that is not a bad thing. But it makes it much harder to explain, then, at the moment when suddenly you have to.
The kids asked me what had happened. Who were these bad guys who flew planes, and did they mean to fly them into the buildings, or was it an accident? If it was an accident, they could understand it well enough: accidents happen. Milk is spilled, crayons are dropped, sometimes grown-ups say or do things they do not mean. But they couldn’t fathom someone flying a plane into a building to kill people on purpose. And I’m glad, of course, that they cannot.
Do you remember all the “well now we are a better country?” crap? I do. And it turned out to be a grand lie. We are not a better country. We are just as fragmented as we were before 9/11. Probably more so. Oh, there were a few nice moments of national unity, and then we went right back to fighting about butt sex. We do not have a sense, still, of what is right and what is wrong. And I am part of that, of course. I have less than no tolerance for Tea Partiers and racists and insert blank here. I just don’t. And I am not convinced that I should: while I think it is important to be tolerant of ideas, being tolerant of behavior that actively oppresses someone else is another thing entirely.
Hmm. That doesn’t really help clarify matters, does it?
This morning I watched the video footage. I don’t think I’d ever seen it before: that day I was not glued to the television. I could not stand to watch. I have avoided it ever since, but I think that it is important, too, to bear witness. So I watched. And I reacted exactly as you’d think: I gasped, I stifled a sob, I gasped again. I cannot imagine (and I have a fairly fertile imagination) the terror of actually seeing that. I really cannot. And I cannot imagine being a newscaster and suddenly seeing that plane fly into the second tower–how did I miss that video? I’ve never seen it, not that I can remember. If I have, I’ve forgotten, or I very carefully did not notice in the first place. Anyway, I cannot imagine suddenly realizing that this was, in fact, not an accident.
I don’t (as is surely obvious by now) have any sort of unifying theme or comforting conclusion to offer here. I remember what it was like. I mourn for the people who died. I remember how stunning and strange it was to have heroes, actual heroes, among us. I remember how my views on what the nation was like were altered, completely and totally, on one day. I remember how scary it was, to realize that we were not in fact invincible, that on the most beautiful of days the world can suddenly turn to ash.
This morning I happened to be supervising a couple of kids. One was 6, one 4. The 6 year old turned to me suddenly.
Osama bin Laden is dead now, she said.
He is, I agreed.
My mom said he was the boss of all the bad guys.
Your mom is right. He was the boss of all the bad guys.
The 4 year old looked up. How did he die?
Well, the girl said, he killed himself. I think with a bow and arrow. Or a gun.
I said, that’s what you think, huh?
The girl said, let’s build the Pentagon.
They built a tower out of the wooden blocks. The girl got the little plastic helicopter. Let’s fly this into the Pentagon, she said.
They flew the helicopter into the Pentagon. What happens now, I asked.
Everybody got dead, she said matter-of-factly.
Coming tomorrow : aV.S.V.Steck exclusive photo gallery of images that remind her of OBL. No, he will not have his face cut off. TELL ARE YOUR INTERNET FRIENDS OR JESUS WILL CRY
there may also be thoughts from people who are not me,
ETA with a fewwwwww more links:
Disturbing Details (note: I am bothered by the fact that she may not have been his wife and we were told otherwise and I don’t want to make light of this, although I can see how the narrative could be confused without any nefarious reasons. That does not mean that weren’t any, and we should watch.
I am far less bothered than I probably should be about bin Laden possibly not being armed. Among many other things I cannot believe he’d allow himself to be taken alive.)
The Evolution of Al-Qaeda (I’m spelling it differently every time).
the compound is handed over to civilian authorities. (VIDEO and that compound is NUTS)
I would like to read Stratfor but they require payment. You can read ONE article for free, though, if you mosey on over there. I suggest the one about what Palestine thinks.
Much watch TV: Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart. Must read: NYT coverage, Talking Points Memo, Atlantic, New Yorker.
If any of you all ever read this blog, please let me know what you’ve found the least nonsensical way making it understood.
My god. What a time.
I was trying to find a picture for you and all I got was gymnastics–I did, actually, have several that would be PERFECT but I cannot locate them on my harddrive. So instead, tomorrow we will do a Vanessa Steck does a Gallery Showing of Photography That Has Sort of Reminded Her of Osama bin Laden. TELLALL YOUR FRIENDS I NEEDZ READERZ
ETA Ethics Edition: What are the ethics of government sanctioned assassination? Well, hell if I know.
Is it a slippery slope? Of course it’s a slippery slope. Although ‘ve always that the slippery slope argument is a fallacy.
And yet…I confess. I did not expect to feel this way. I really didn’t. I’m usually pretty far to the left of the Dems. But…I’m not dancing in the streets or anything, and it DOES feel weird to celebrate death, any death. And I’m not pleased that a woman who was being used a shield died.
That said, I feel like this is, overall, A Good Thing. It is going to stop Al Qaida? (and what the hell is the correct way to spell that, anyway?) Of course not. Will there be more terrorist attacks? Yes. But that was going to happen anyway: whether or not we caught Bin Laden, there were always going to be more attacks. It would be naive to think otherwise.
Jeffrey Toobin, writing today at the New Yorker, says this:
“No one today is shedding any tears about bin Laden’s death. (He apparently resisted capture, which offered an additional justification for killing him.) But it’s worth remembering what gave rise to the ban on assassinations. It is, to put it mildly, an easy power to abuse. Bin Laden didn’t get a trial and didn’t deserve one. But the number of people for whom that is true is small. At least it should be.”
And I think that’s a good way to do things. I know, I know. Slippery slope. But…do I think Bin Laden deserved a trial? I actually kind of don’t, and if that makes me a Bad Liberal, well, so be it. I looked at the royal wedding dresses and that apparently makes me a Bad Feminist, so you know. You can’t do everything right.
At any rate. Yes, it feels weird to celebrate death. And I’m not *celebrating* but I am relieved. And I do have a lot of respect and admiration for the people who went into the compound. And yes, for Obama, who made the call that said the soldiers could go in. That really is a gutsy call.
Other things to rad:
What Pakistan Knew About Bin Laden (the answer seems to be: um, YES, they must have known something was up!)
I also recommend Morning Edition and the Diane Rehm show, as well as Kojo, from NPR today, and especially their special.
Also, the WH Briefing.(This is REALLY interesting, and surprisingly forthcoming).
Oh, and this guy is a now a twitter superstar.
Look at other ETAs for links–NYT obit is great. DNA has been confirmed.
ETA whateverthefuck: great animation, awesome photo of everyone monitoring the situation in The Situation Room. Is there a better name for a room? I cannot stop looking at their faces. Obama and Clinton look…a bit tense. And Rachel Maddow.
ETA to say THIS is why social media is awesome. ACTUAL BREAKING NEWS–how often does that *really* happen?
ETA 2: This is a great article about how it leaked. My favorite quote: “Mr. [Brian] Williams said some journalists received a three-word e-mail that read, “Get to work.'”
ETA3 to live blog announcement–below.
ETA 4 to this great pic of Obama when nerd prom host Seth Meyers made an OBL joke: http://twitpic.com/4s777w
ETA whatever to this fantastic pic.
ETA this is the last time I swear: today’s front pages.
ETA OK THIS is the last time: NYT obit. Lots of background. They’ve had this one on file for awhile now.
So there are advantages to bumming around on the computer at night watching Castle. I clicked over the Washington Post awhile ago to check something–I cannot remember what it was now, although it’s not out of the question that it was more royal wedding pics–and saw something about Obama making an announcement soon. Apparently no one knew what this announcement would contain.
I clicked around a bit, CNN, the AP, etc, and came across a brief statement on top of the New York Times homepage: U.S. official says Bin Laden has been killed.
Whoa, I said.
A few minutes later, the NYT had this story up. That’s some fast work there, good for them–it was up even before the Associated Press had a story on their homepage. Which is impressive. (my hometown paper, the good ol’ WaPo, was very slow!)
No official word yet. The White House has a video feed up, but it hasn’t started yet.
It’s kind of nuts though. I mean, I cannot be the only one who thinks this is kind of nuts, right?
I do not, as a rule, believe in the death penalty in any form. Nonetheless, don’t ask me to get worked up about Bin Laden dying. I might just ask you why it took so long. (Oh wait! I remember now! Something about GWB being not the brightest bulb in the chandelier…)
Nice victory for Obama, too. I want to see the debate where some GOP asshole calls him soft on terror and he gets to say, really? What president got Osama, just out of curiosity? CAUSE I THINK THAT WAS ME.
11:35: Love how there is a red carpet. Where are they, some random hallway?
11:36: Love how solemn he is. The report is that he wrote the speech himself around 10-10:30. I can tell, it has the same rhetoric that his book does.
11:37: Empty seat at the dinner table is nice. Blah blah, came together, wore lots of flag lapel pins…
10:38 yay for “no matter what god we prayed for.”
11:38:30 has it really, actually been ten years? good lord. seems like yesterday and forever ago.
11:39 SCORES of terrorists!
11:40 last August, briefed on a lead on Osama. Hiding in compound “deep inside Pakistan.” Last week decided they had enough to go for it. Today at his direction they launched an attack. No Americans were killed. Took care not to harm civilians. Killed him in a firefight and took custody of the body.
11:41: Good. Reminder that this doesn’t end the War on Terror (nothing could). And that we are NOT at war with Islam. Bin Laden “not Muslim leader, he was a mass murderer of Muslims.” Good (that he SAYS this, not that Bin Laden killed people!)
11:42: Cooperation with Pakistan helped us get there. Team has spoken with Pakistanis. Apparently they agree that this is a “good and historical time for both our nations.” Hmm. Well, I agree…
11:42:30: He looks like he means it when he says that these concerns trouble him every day.
11:43: Relentless etc. Rhetoric of war.
11:44: “unparalleled courage.” Indeed. huge props go to the incredibly brave men and women who went directly after Bin Laden.
11:45: I want to know what his immediate reaction was upon hearing that OBL was actually dead. Somebody on twitter reported they did DNA from his sister’s body, from a hospital in Boston.
11:45:30: OK MAYBE I had goose bumps at the end. Also, I’m pretty sure I just heard fireworks.
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