Keep calm, and carry on

It was something of a foregone conclusion as to what subject my post was going to be dealing with this week. In the run up to the tenth anniversary of the September 11th 2001 attacks on the USA, internet forums and social media sites are positively alive with the rising tensions, and flaring emotions, of lively, and often heated, discussion. Everyone has an opinion and, given the nature of these events, there was no way I could let this day pass without expressing mine. I wouldn’t, in my darkest, most troubling dreams, ever imagine telling America that it should “get over” the events of 9/11, as some heartless bastards out there have done – 3,000 people were murdered that day, and it would be grossly inappropriate to suggest that everyone should simply act like they’d been dumped by a girlfriend. That said, I do, however, believe firmly that America needs to get past 9/11. It needs, at least for its own sake, to significantly recalibrate its sense of proportion.

For ten years now we’ve been told again and again that we live in a “post-9/11” world, a phrase which, as well as being the most overused of the century thus far, is also the most redundant (we live in a “post-ice age” and “post-last Thursday” world too, but no-one feels the need to go on about it). Most disturbingly, however, it is a phrase that has been insidiously used to silence criticism and justify many things that would otherwise be unjustifiable (I’m thinking specifically of an insane American foreign policy, the repercussions of which will likely be felt for many decades to come). On top of this, we’ve also been told repeatedly that “the game has changed”, and that we need to get used to living by a different set of rules – I wasn’t aware we were even playing a game, let alone which game it was. Regardless, it’s all complete horse-shit anyway.

Since 9/11 America has been very much stuck in a mindset where there is only good or evil, right or wrong, heroes or villains, and it’s ideas like these and phrases like those above, and the disingenuous be-suited toss-pieces who peddle them, that are largely responsible. When George W. Bush stated, in his all-too depressingly clueless way, “You’re either with us or against us” he was committing a terrible malfeasance against the American public by reinforcing the false perception held by many that we live in a simplistic, black and white world. In this instance a clear line was being drawn, with the terrorists as perpetrators on one side and Americans as victims on the other, and, while no-one would really argue that these labels were being fairly applied there, things are never as straightforward as they seem. There is always a certain amount of grey (or gray, if you like that sort of thing).

Due to a succession of incredibly dodgy foreign policy decisions (many of which carry a distinctively rank “corporate interest” aroma) America has been very busy fucking with other people’s countries – economically, politically, or militarily – for over a century; for a start the US has more than 600 military bases in over 40 countries around the world, something which is bound to annoy a fair few people. Like the neighbourhood kid euphemistically referred to by everyone as being “a bit slow” because he never quite learned why it was such a bad idea to keep kicking that throbbing wasp’s nest in the garden, there’s only so long America can keep pissing off other nations before one of them decides to respond with a vicious retaliatory sting. That’s not to say that they deserved what happened – no one in their right mind would contemplate such an appalling suggestion – it’s more that there are inevitable consequences to one’s actions and it’s not always those directly responsible that pay the price.

Being the victim, however, is something that America probably does better than almost anyone. They have a fine history of it, dating all the way back to around 1620 and the beginning of the biggest naughty fib the US has ever tricked itself into believing,  namely that the pilgrims left England because of religious persecution. The truth, again, is not so simple, as it was somewhat more the case that they wanted to turn England into a puritan nation and England was having none of it. In what has to be the most substantial teenage hissy-fit ever the pilgrims skulked off to America saying, “Fine, I’ll get my own place where I can have my own rules!” Since then, Americans have become world champions at claiming victim status – just look at the consummate ease with which personal responsibility is jettisoned on the average talk show or celebrity interview.

“I’m an alcoholic! I’ve got a disease! I’m a victim!” Fuck you, you prick; cancer is a disease – you’re just a selfish, drunken arsehole who wants sympathy for the shitty decisions you’ve made. I’m not saying this is exclusive to Americans (of course it isn’t), but they are masters at it and they are supremely good at taking it far beyond the individual. Based on the reaction to 9/11 (and, again, I’m not saying it wasn’t justified because it was – people were murdered, and you are absolutely right to stake your claim to being the victim in this) you get the distinct impression that America felt no-one had ever been a victim of anything before. It was as if terrorism didn’t exist until it happened to them. It was as if this was the most important thing that ever happened to anyone, and no one had ever been hurt like they were hurt.

And, before you start leaping up and down, please know that I am not in any way trying to diminish or show disrespect for the 3,000 lives lost or the entirely appropriate feeling of having been brutally wounded as a nation, I’m just saying that you need to put it in perspective. You need, as I said, to repair your seemingly malfunctioning sense of proportion and stop seeing things as simple black or white because it will, I promise, help make America and the world a far better place to be. It’s important to remember the event, and it’s important to remember the tragic loss of innocent life, but it’s also important to remember not to let this event continue to define you in the way you have allowed it to over the past ten years. Yes, you were the victims of a terrorist attack – but you need to stop thinking of yourselves in that way.

I’ve not known much tragedy in my life, and in that respect I consider myself incredibly fortunate, but there are a few people among those I’ve called friends who have experienced real horror, and two in particular spring to mind. Without divulging any details (it’s neither my place, nor my right) I shall say simply that, while both have suffered appallingly, they could not be more different. One has refused to allow the traumatic events that have befallen them to define them in any way, instead choosing life and being a happy, well-adjusted individual as a consequence; the other, by contrast, has rooted themselves, and everything they do, firmly in their dark past – as a result, they drift from bad decision to bad decision, unable to see themselves as anything other than a victim, blaming everyone but themselves for the things that happen to them, and being miserable to the point of self-destruction.

Despite the way it often disappoints, or just plain frustrates the living crap out of me, I have always held a special place in my heart for America – they, after all, went to the fucking moon (and that counts for a lot in my book). Everything I say here, and everything I’ve ever said about the US, I do so out of fondness, and out of a lasting hope that it can, one day, live up to its original promise. Given that, America, I’m talking to you … you need to stop acting like a victim right now. You need to stop lashing out at people you think have wronged you and take the high ground. You need to use tragedies like this as a foundation on which to build a better nation; an industrious, tolerant, and determined nation. You need to tell the world that, if they hurt you, you’re going to get up, dust yourselves off, and carry on as you were, only with a greater sense of resolve and purpose.

Look at the stark difference between the way America reacts to tragedy and the way Britain does. In America it was as if the world stopped, and everything came to halt – the country shut down, socially, emotionally, and psychologically. In Britain everyone just looked at their watches and wondered how long it was going to be before the mess was cleaned up because their Tube train was “already running 20 minutes late!” That’s not to say that one should compare the events of 7/7 and 9/11, the scales are utterly different for a start … but the British reaction to 7/7 is the same as it’s been to every attack we’ve endured over hundreds of years; once the initial horror has passed, and the wounds have been dressed, we get up and carry on. I’ve never been patriotic at all but I do love how the old World War II morale campaign“Keep Calm and Carry On” has found its way back to public consciousness (and on to mugs and T-shirts).

I’m not trying to say we’re better than you for the way we cope with tragedy, not at all, but you need to remember that you’re not the only country on earth – there are more than 7 billion of us and you are but a small fraction of that number. You need to remember that you are not the only people to know tragedy; during the blitz in World War II Britain lost more than 3,000 people every two weeks – that’s two 9/11s every month. You need to remember that this was not the most important thing ever to happen to you (or the world), and neither was it the worst; you have endured far greater tragedy, and achieved things far more deserving of your historical focus and attention. You need to remember all lives lost unnecessarily, not just those killed by hateful ideologies. Since 1960 more Americans have died due to fatal nut allergies, lightning strikes, or head-on collisions with deer than have been killed in terrorist attacks, and I don’t see Fox News getting boners over the War On Bambi, the War On Weather, or the War On Salted Snack Treats.

You need to remember that every time someone invokes and plays on the tragedy of that day they’re doing you a massive disservice, like the “helpful friend” who is constantly discouraging a rape victim from leading a normal life by reminding them that the last time they went out they got raped. You need to remember that going “full retribution” on the perceived perpetrators exacerbates the problem, with more innocents getting caught in the crossfire. The people of Afghanistan and Iraq are as much victims of these disgusting purveyors of misery as you were (although Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11), and having made them collateral victims of your retaliation you succeed only in continuing the endless cycle of violence. Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other proponents of oppression and fear could be brought to justice by a sustained police investigation; you don’t need some “crusade”, as George W. Bush insanely described it (and without any historical irony whatsoever).

And, while we’re on the subject, you need to remember the religious aspect to these events. Sure there are complex, geopolitical factors involved in the attacks on 9/11, and religion alone cannot shoulder the blame, but you cannot ignore the divisive, hateful dogmatic ideas that lie behind such tragedies. More importantly you need to remember that by turning up the righteous, christian anger, as such a large contingent of the American population has done (driven, of course, by the religious right) you simply fall victim to the same mentality that inspired these horrific events in the first place. Yes, this act was carried out by muslims – but it was not carried out by Islam itself, and people forget that many innocent muslims also died that day (many among the first responders, in fact) alongside all the christians, jews, hindus, atheists, etc.

Religion creates worlds built around false dichotomies; everything is black and white, good and evil, right and wrong, “us and them” – never mind that things can’t always be expressed in such simple terms. You can’t afford to see everything as a clear-cut case of “evil muslims” and “good christians” because history will hand the contradictory evidence to you along with your arse. The crusades, the holocaust, Irish terrorism, the inquisition, and 9/11 all have religious motivations behind them, and only two of those feature a headlining appearance by Islam. You need to stop this bullshit outrage over the “Ground Zero Mosque”, as if Islam were cementing its victory by planting a flag and rubbing your face in it; the community centre (as it should rightfully be known) can no more be referred to as a mosque than the nearest hospital can be called a church simply by virtue of the fact that it’s got a chapel in it.

You need to stop religious zealots from trying to hijack this anniversary as they lobby hard to get the WTC “Girder Cross” made a key part of the 9/11 memorial. First of all this attack was not on christians, or even Americans really, but humans, and if you want a cross then you should allow equally-sized, and prominently-placed, symbols of other faiths (and no faith) to go right alongside it. Second, it isn’t even symbolic of anything – two intersecting pieces of metal occur all the time in structural engineering, there’s nothing special about it. And, third, wasn’t the act of hijacking by religiously-inspired ideologies what created this horrific day in the first place? Oh, and since we’re talking about hateful ideologies, you need to get Rep. Sally Kern (R-tard) to shut the fuck up. As I’ve pointed out peanuts are more dangerous than terrorism, and she’s just a disgusting bigot (how does she think gays are more dangerous, by the way? “Suicide bumming”?)

We need to start living in a “post post-9/11” world where these events are our platform for launching a drive towards a more tolerant society, rather than allowing them to be a giant millstone around our necks, dragging us down to the level of violent, hateful savages. We need to stop bigoted zealots dividing us and demanding that we show respect for faiths who squabble and murder while the rest of us try to live our lives in peace. We need to put an end to the vicious wars that were started in direct response to 9/11 and have, ultimately, killed over 500 times the number of people as lost their lives in the attacks. We need to remember that for every life we take, every right we trample, and every individual we oppress in the name of 9/11 we are showing the most heinous disrespect for those who died that day – we are sullying their memories by reflectively inflicting their fate on to others.

Never forget the events of that day. Never forget the innocent lives lost. Never forget that, yeah you’ve had better days, but you’ve had worse ones too. Never forget that others have had it, and continue to have it, so very much worse than you. Never forget that you, and we, often have a hand in hurting others the same way. Never forget the hateful dogmas of religion and politics that create such tragedies, and the vile degenerates who exploit them. Never forget that we are humans, and we are better than this.

But, most of all, never forget the lessons of history … and never forget to learn from them, and move on.

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On September 11, 2011 Sam Whatmore says:

To simplify America was the bullied schoolkid 10 years ago. It does not make things better by getting a gang together and going after the bullys. Ignore it and it will go away!!!!

and don’t give up your slingshot(sell weapons to them) cos that doesn’t help you either

On September 12, 2011 Kris King says:

The problem is that there has always been a contingent of people in all countries, not just America, who believe that “might makes right”, that vengeance (rather than victory) is the solution. Sadly, in too many countries, those people are in charge.

It also doesn’t help that the response to 9/11 was to punish people who had nothing to do with it. There are over a million civilians dead in Iraq and Afghanistan … I’ll say that again – one million – and they were more a victim of oppressive regimes than those affected by 9/11. “We will be welcomed as liberators”, said Dick Cheney. Well, maybe, Dick, if you didn’t fucking kill them all when you got there, you ass.

Oh, and we sold them weapons as well (just not as many).

On September 12, 2011 The Doubter says:

Top post Kris!

To America:

Approx. 29000 Nr. gun related deaths per annum, 11000 Nr. homicides (that’s American citizens killing other Americans!!!), so maybe you want relook at that 2nd amendment and the whole membership thing of the NRA.

Stop ‘ring fencing’: Christians as good, everyone outside the fence bad……too ideologically f..king simple!

Stop the victim mentality……eg fat people stop eating burgers if they don’t agree with you!

Start reading some more books, particularly about other countries/cultures and philosophy.

Lastly remember, a lot of the other nations do care about you, you are like that ‘big old daft cousin’ who is generous and affable but sometimes just needs to listen and learn.

Don’t allow that tragic day of 9/11 to define you and importantly ‘define your future foreign policy’ more sabre rattling will only lead to more bloodshed and please don’t elect another f..ktwit like GW Bush!

Peace and love!!

On September 12, 2011 Kris King says:

Cheers dude … the 2nd amendment thing is a tricky one, because Canada has a similar attitude towards guns but has lower gun crime. It’s a complex issue, and there’s no one factor directly responsible, but it is more than fair to say that a nation where every man, his wife, kids, dog, and hamster, have guns, always has way higher deaths due to guns as a result than nations who don’t.

Most of the Americans I’ve met/known over the years are decent, intelligent, fair-minded and rational people, but it is not unkind to suggest that they could do with widening their knowledge of the world beyond their borders. I think I read somewhere that barely 5% of Americans have passports … unreal. This is why so many Americans refer to themselves in terms of their heritage; “I’m african american”, “I’m italian american” … no, you’re not, you’re really not. You’re American. Don’t confuse where you were born with where your ancestors are from. If we’re going to take that approach, every one of us MUST refer to ourselves as African 🙂 It’s a way for America to kind of trick itself into believing that it IS the world, because it represents so many different cultures … the thing is, so does Britain – in fact the UK is probably the most successfully integrated multicultural society in the world (something we should be actually proud of, but aren’t).

And he’s right, America – we do care about you! We just need you to calm down a bit and pay attention to those older, wiser nations who have been through the same crap but many hundreds of years ago – we did the empire thing; it never ends well, I have to say 🙂

On September 12, 2011 The Doubter says:

Note your comment about the number of dead in Iraq/Afghanistan…too easy to forget the deaths there!!!!How did 9/11 equate to Saddam…it didn’t as we know!!! The fact that not only America but other nations used WMD to their political advantage and try to hoodwink us into supporting the invasion is mind boggling! I was impressed by certain European countries particularly France for having the guts to say No. Yep Saddam was an unpleasant head of state….who the CIA/MI5 apparently sponsored. Blair and others will have to take to their grave the real reasons/truth. After storming Iraq what was the first thing we did… it wasn’t humanitariam aid……we all know….it was secure the oil fields!!Halliburton and all those ex-employees who no doubt are still on the pay wagon…..Cheney, Rice etc…seeing their plan take shape. Yep let’s say it again and say it loud…..HOODWINKED!!!!!

On September 16, 2011 Kris King says:

The Doubter
There’s no question that the Bush and Blair administrations, along with numerous corporations, politicians, media outlets, commentators etc. massively exploited 9/11, and people’s reactions to it, for all they were worth. The invasion of Iraq was a disgustingly opportunistic attempt to conflate the two (when, as you say, there is no connection) and settle old scores / preserve US interests in the Middle East, just as they had done with Afghanistan (Unocal pipeline deal anyone?) The switch from Afghanistan to Iraq in the politcal and media world was truly Orwellian; “we are at war with Eastasia – we have always been at war with Eastasia”.

On September 16, 2011 Tony Ryan - Coffee Loving Skeptic says:

Nice rant.

For me, the overarching factor “post-911” is the fact that people have latched onto Muslims as being evil, fundamentalist terrorists whilst forgetting that Islam and Christianity are much the same. One God who you can kill in the name of if it fits the scripture.

This is why religion should lose all ‘respect’ status and be battered and bruised with the criticism and scrutiny it deserves.

But, then again, us Atheists are so intolerant apparently.

On September 16, 2011 Kris King says:

Tony Ryan – Coffee Loving Skeptic
Thank you, Tony! Muslims did became the instant, go-to bad guys, didn’t they? The fantastic lack of irony or self-awareness by many christians in condemning Islam for doing the very same things that their faith has done over the centuries would be funny if it didn’t have such tragic consequences. Incidentally, you can demonstrate the lack of awareness, along with whether it’s possible for thick jets of steam to emerge from a christian’s ears, by telling them they’re worshipping the same god 🙂

I don’t have respect for religion, or at least I don’t respect for religious beliefs. The sense of community that a religion can generate, and the drive to do good, are certainly worthy ideas (although the motivations behind them are often suspect), and they probably both deserve some measure of respect. The beliefs of a given faith, however, are generally not so deserving. I absolutely respect someone’s right to believe whatever they want (it’s one of the few things for which automatic respect is warranted), but individual beliefs should, along with everything else, earn our respect.

If people want their beliefs to be respected, they need to demonstrate that those beliefs deserve it; they need to show not only that the belief has a positive benefit, but also that it is valid and justifiable. Since bad ideas do not withstand scrutiny or criticism at all, their supporters often demand special protection from such things; if we attempt to dissect or in any way call a religious belief into question, we are attacked for being “intolerant” – this is nothing more than a defence mechanism to prevent the bad idea from being subjected to peer review by deflecting the attention back upon us.

On September 22, 2011 kholdom0790 says:

It says a lot about just how sensitive America is on this issue that you had to spend half of every sentence assuring your readers that this *is* something to mourn, you know?

I never heard the word “terrorism” in my whole 21 years until 9/11, and now it is burned into our vocabularies.

On September 22, 2011 Kris King says:

I think it’s more that I was trying to get across the idea that, yes, it IS something to mourn, but that an important part of mourning is to move on (that I wanted to make it REALLY clear that I’m not being disrespectful towards the victims and their families!) Every one mourns in their own way, but you don’t need to be an expert to know that there is a point at which it can become unhealthy, psychologically. When you’ve got an endless parade of opportunists exploiting and invoking the tragedy, they are actively hampering the ability of the country to move on and, ultimately, harming the collective psyche of the nation.

The word “terrorism” was something that’s been in my life since it began. In the year I was born there were numerous bombings by the IRA of pubs in the region I grew up in, along with a campaign of mainland terrorism throughout most of my young life, yet I never saw people react in the same way as I did following 9/11; it was like another planet. For me, and most of the people I knew, “terrorism” was an occasional atrocity on the news that we should be shocked and appalled by, that we should feel outraged at, but one that should not dampen our resolve to get on with life. Terrorism works by instilling terror, and that part has to be our choice …

Cheers for the comments, always appreciated!