Jack Varnell wonders, “Has our kick the ass of the world, Billy Bad ass, macho attitude contributed in some way to where we are now?”
When I got first heard that we at The Good Men Project would have a focused on the ten-year anniversary of the tragedy of 9-11, and on how life has changed for men, and Americans, I declined the invitation. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. I have an interesting story about where I was “when the Towers fell” but I didn’t latch on to an angle to squeeze it into a box about how things have changed.
However, tonight as the clock flipped from pm to am and the tenth changed to the eleventh, I took a close look at where I was when that happened. I could not help but feel and see the differences in me, in what was flowing so freely from the television news, which was on later than usual from unseen heightened security at the U.S Open tennis event. Something about the powers that be saying, “carry on as normal with your lives” while stopping cars and pedestrians for impromptu searches every three blocks or so in Manhattan didn’t ring true.
We have a tendency to keep our failing memories fresh with common recollections about where we were when certain events happened. Kennedy’s death, planting a flag on the moon, MLK’s assassination, and for the next generation, Cobain’s death. Now the terror attack on 9-11-01.
When the news came of hijackings and what was happening in New York and around the country that day, I worked in the IT department for Habitat For Humanity International HQ in Americus, Georgia, deep in Jimmy Carter country. Pre HFHI scandal, they were one of the largest non-profits in the world, serving hundreds of smaller outpost HFHI offices worldwide and cutting deals with the Dells, Microsoft’s, Home Depots, and GE’s in order to “end poverty housing, and provide sustainable housing for all.” Being a large non-profit, the lion’s share of the hard, less glamorous work was done by folks like me for a pittance of a salary, and volunteers from all over the world who came on work, or student visas. Many times they were provided housing and a stipend.
On any given day I worked with students from virtually anywhere you could imagine, but one of my main coworkers was a young man from Kuwait named Aziz (name changed). He had been on the balcony of his family apartment in Kuwait City during our first visit there. While he was watching tanks below roll over random automobiles for fun in the street below, he was injured by a stray missile that hit the building next door. He and his Middle Eastern HFHI friends were a tight-knit group and spent a lot of time together. I got to know them pretty well. Aziz and I were so close that a year or so later we became business partners.
I was with these guys when the towers fell. A Saudi, an Egyptian, A Moroccan, a Kuwaiti and another who I believe was from Iran or Iraq. All Muslim. We watched the horror in living color on CNN. After the towers fell, these men, in various Arab dialects spoke among themselves, and sometimes there was near tears, and laughter while pointing at the screen in response to the commentary from the reporters. Things were being said, and I can assure you that with the interspersed laughter and pointing, I was extremely uncomfortable. I was without a doubt the whitest of the group and the only American, and my sheltered, privileged life knew nothing of what their world was really all about at home. They had always made fun of me for asking so many questions rooted in my silly suburban Atlanta way. I was never sure they made fun of me for the same things in the same way again.
When I asked Aziz later what was being said, and why the laughter, he told me it was sheer nervousness. A response to the stimuli of it all because they knew what was coming for their families , friends and themselves. And they were right. Student visas began getting revoked, and harder to come by. People looked at my friend Aziz differently in the stores, and bars, and restaurants. They looked at me funny for being with the little brown guy. The beautiful multicultural pallete that made up the environment in my workplace rapidly became extremely white bread with the blond haired- blue-eyed kids from UGA, Georgia Tech, and other less “brown” colleges, except for perhaps the diversity projects with Morehouse and the likes. All the Bible belt churches began taking more and more field trips to South Georgia to learn what Jesus supposedly meant by charity, though I am pretty sure His ideas meant more than a feather in your cap come college application time. Building houses was God’s work though, since Jesus was a carpenter…
So, that’s where I was. What does that have to do with how America, or the American male has changed or been impacted since? For me, an American male who loves America, I have become used to questioning everything. I have hardened and become cynical. The way my friends were treated was wrong. I believe there is something inherently wrong now, with asking my mother to give up a piece of her Social Security or Medicare, which she needs to survive in favor of big corporations and banks getting bailed out with it and labeling it a handout or making the statement that entitlements are killing our country. They ARE entitlements. She worked all her life to have it in her golden years. They were promised and the American way has been to take care of their own. If there are broken pieces, abuses, we vote people in place who have some responsibility to remedy them on our behalf. Sure there may be Medicare fraud, but the doctors do that, not the patients. Unfortunately the doctors and the politicians are human, too. They send pictures of their penises to folks via text, have affairs, steal, cut business deals with and for their friends or those that will benefit them the most, and abuse their powers. I find it appalling that there are no jobs to be had, while the politicians responsible for funding a war with no winner and worse, lining the pockets of their war contractor buddies who justify a conflict that should have ended long ago. And they do it with tears in their eyes about 9-11, or in the name of God or country but here is the truth as I see it; I wasn’t going to write this, but sitting here the TV has bombarded me with incredibly heart wrenching tales of pain, sadness and sorrow related to that day. And I wonder why. Why did it happen at all? Do we have some responsibility in all this? Has our kick the ass of the world, Billy Bad ass, macho attitude perhaps contribute in some way? A great many countries and people have hated the US, and Americans, long before 9-11. Are they all ungrateful, and of the devil? Are they all out to get us ?
Lets talk about freedom and Democracy. Are we more free now that the US government can listen to our phone calls, see inside our houses from space, touch our outsides at the airport, and get analysts to write reports about us based on our online histories and shopping patterns ? Do I really believe that if I went to Google Jihad, bomb making, and anarchy that my name doesn’t end up on some list somewhere?
All encompassing and readily-accepted terms like “the war on terror” are used as excuses to remove liberty, freedoms and the Democracy at home—those ideals that we are supposedly bringing to those outside the US. That we are using tanks, and drones, spending millions to tear up their world, and paying contractors billions to rebuild them scares me. Our soldiers risking their lives in the process scares me very much. Those same soldiers coming home with PTSD, and no available care because the VA doesn’t have the money or can’t get them in scares me the most. I use that fear to consider how many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches could have been given to the hungry for what the extra police protection in NYC cost for these few days, and marvel about how easily, with no democratic process that decision was made while our governing bodies took six months to debate the debt ceiling, did no other real business, and still put off an answer. With this fear I ask, who is winning this war on terror really? If we are truly buying into the “carry on with your daily lives” mentality as if the terrorists would be fooled into believing all is well, then we certainly are not winning that, or any other war.