Posted by: mutantpoodle | September 11, 2007

My pre-9/11 mindset

world_trade_centerSix years ago today, I was awake early. I remember going to MSNBC.com (my morning ritual) and seeing that a plane had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. By the time I got the TV on, it was two planes, and both towers. I remember watching Peter Jennings, for a moment not comprehending, as the South Tower collapsed, continuing to recap what little solid information ABC News had.

I went to work, which was close, but only to tell people in my department to stay home, and then I left. I had breakfast with my recent ex at an IHOP in Encino, and then returned home. The rest of the day was a blur.

For several days afterwards, Los Angeles took on an eerie quiet, as planes were grounded throughout North America. On the Saturday after the attacks, I went for a bike ride with a friend of mine, and as we rode out on Mulholland Highway toward the Rock Store, a famous pit stop for bikers (mostly the motorized kind), we were both startled by a sound we hadn’t heard all week: a jet engine. It wasn’t a plane, as it turns out; it was Jay Leno, of all people, riding his MTT Turbine Superbike, which is powered by a Rolls Royce Allison 250 Series Gas Turbine. Leno, like us, stopped at the Rock Store, and spent 45 minutes while we were there talking to bikers, signing autographs, and having his picture taken. We finished our ride; a few days later planes were flying, and from the West coast, at least, life returned to a semblance of normal that was nowhere near arriving in New York or Washington.

People – especially people defending the war in Iraq, and the extra- legal and constitutional measures that have come up in its wake – like to say 9/11 changed everything. Those who disagree with actions taken in response to 9/11 are accused of having a pre-9/11 mindset.

And it’s true – September 11, 2001 did change a great many things, especially for people, unlike me, who were unfortunate enough to know people killed or injured in the attacks. It changed their lives directly; for all of us, it changed our awareness of the world around us, and it peeled away our sense of security and added a fresh sense of dread to our daily lives.

But 9/11 didn’t change everything. Six years later, I am proud to say that I have a pre-9/11 mentality about quite a few things. And after being buffeted by an initial attack on our country, and a more insidious one, perpetrated from within, on our proudest traditions, here is my pre-9/11 mindset:

  • The wisdom of our framers in their distrust of concentrated power has only been highlighted, in my opinion, by the craven manner in which the constitution has been treated as a luxury by those who purport to revere “freedom.” Just as you find out about someone’s temper when they’re under severe stress, we’ve found out how committed our government is to the founding principles of this country under duress. The answer isn’t pretty, but really – if people hate us for our freedoms, is removing them the answer?
  • The Geneva Conventions still work for me. Torture still seems like a bad idea to me on several levels. First, it’s wrong on almost any moral level; second, it undercuts whatever moral authority you have to oppose other countries’ abusive behavior, and third, by all accounts, it’s not an effective interrogation tool.
  • When attacked, it’s best to strike back at those who attacked you in the first place. It’s not a good idea to turn around and fight someone else to show how tough you are, and it’s a really bad idea to do that and not win convincingly.
  • When dealing with people who are perpetrating criminal acts of terror, treat them like criminals. I don’t want to minimize al qaeda as a threat, but we’ve only bolstered their recruiting by making them out to be anything more than a very dangerous international criminal gang. Invading a largely Islamic nation that didn’t attack us or harbor al qaeda in the first place seems to have swelled their numbers as well.
  • The press is not a branch of government. Memo to TV and radio news and newspapers: it’s not unpatriotic to force our government to prove its case for war, and it’s not patriotic to try to do it for them. A strong argument’s best friend is being able to defeat its strongest counter-argument in the free market of ideas. And if it can’t, then that should tell you something, too.
  • Listening in on everyone’s conversations and checking everyone’s e-mails is not an efficient way to uncover terrorist plots, even if it were, um, legal. A little focus makes for much better use of limited resources, and preserves the bill of rights.
  • The Bill of Rights still works for me, too.
  • The President of the United States is subject to the laws of the United States.
  • If you’re going to fight a war on terror, one good way to start is by not scaring people. If you build knowledge and awareness among citizens, and not fear, then the power of terror as a tactic fades.

On this day, we mourn those who were lost, but remember the country they lived in when they died.

It’s the same one I’d like to be living in today.

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