An American Tale
Today is of course September 11th and that date along unleashes a torrent of emotions within many of us. As you may or may not know, I’m fascinated by global politics and the way our society impacts and defines the rest of the world. As an independent thinker, I’m always fascinated to hear discussion about items that shape our generation. I guess you could call it a hobby when I’m not watching the Huskers struggle to beat a sub .500 WAC team on any given Saturday in September.
Anyhow, on the morning of September 11th, 2001 I was working out of town in Los Angeles for my company. At 6:50 or so in the morning, I got a page from my wife back home…which I thought was odd since she didn’t know my pager number at the time. (It was somewhat new). A few seconds later, I turned on the TV as I watched the plane slam into the second tower. I watched…as you did I'm sure...for a good hour and a half before I had to travel into the office.
Mind you my hotel was in Long Beach, so I needed to take the 405 to the 710 to get to my destination in the south-central burg of South Gate. (Yes, I was working in South Gate, just north of Compton...and no..not Will Compton) Anyhow, what was spooky was that outside my hotel…on the Interstate 405, one of the busiest in all mankind…ALL traffic toward downtown had simply disappeared; 8 lanes of highway sat wide open, as the southbound lanes into Orange County were bumper-to-bumper in a steel and rubber encased parking lot.
If you’re familiar with Los Angeles, you’ll know that South Gate sits just off the cusp of downtown Los Angeles’s south side. If you anywhere near there on 9/11, you'll also note that downtown Los Angeles was essentially closed that day, within a 3 mile radius. Traveling up the 710 that morning to the edge of the "downtown zone", I was all alone going northbound, glued to the radio reports that echoed over the airwaves that we had been attacked, and attacked with vengeance.
Once at the office in South Gate, nothing moved. Employees cried…customers stood in silence as they stared at CNN. Over the lunch hour I was shaken out of my chair by the rumbles of troop carriers…mobilizing National Guard units into downtown Los Angeles …which at the time of course..we had no idea if it was a target as well.
On the way home from a long day of staring at the TV and checking in with bosses and clients across the country, I made my way back toward Long Beach and my hotel. With traffic diverted and at a standstill again, I saw something out my rental windshield that would change me forever.
In this uncertain time…on this uncertain day...in a time of horror and fear, I slowly passed under an overpass where a homeless man stood. Up against the fence, with his grungy and tattered clothes stuck to his 60-something year old body…the man waved a homemade American Flag wildly from the end of a long tree branch at the passing traffic below. Next to him...directly propped up with the aluminum cans he intended to sell sat a sign….”Once a Vietnam Vet, always a American”. I’m usually not an emotional person, nor am I susceptible to overlooking image and relevance. But that vision..at that moment in time..will never ever leave my memory.
Here was this man…who’s country had abandoned him. I did not know his story, nor did I know his name. But it was abundantly clear that this moment in time had effected this man in such a way…that he decided it was prudent to honor the country that had treated him so harshly. A man who appeared to have nothing to his name…no hope…no possessions…felt it important enough to tell citizens of the most glitzy, glamorous and wealthy cities in the world…that he shared in their citizenship and pride. At some point before or after I passed beneath him, a photo of this man was taken and published in the September 12th 2001 edition of USA Today.
Today, on the anniversary of 9/11, I did what I normally do over my lunch…which is read the daily news from newspapers outside the United States on world events. I do this because I choose not to get a bulk of my news from agenda-driven organizations on both the left and the right…where attracting readers and web hits is more important than actually reporting the news. (As a former journalism student…NOTHING pisses me off more than editorial journalism drifting in the mainstream. Worse yet is the public’s inability to tell the difference between it and actual news…if you can find it.)
One of the articles that I found was a report from Al-Jazzera.net of all places…depicting the evil United States and how we should strive for revolution to escape thier current state of affairs. I read through this article, and I was outraged. I was outraged not at the editorial/news article itself…(Hell, it's Al-Zazzera for God's sake) ....but by at what followed in the comments section. Directly below the article, reader after reader…from every corner of the earth bashed the United States and their citizens for everything from being greedy to uncaring about the environment…to meddling in world affairs etc. The list of gripes went on and on and on and on.
Now I’m going to level with you…I consider myself a somewhat social liberal and a relatively open person. I’ve been to most of the countries in Europe. I’ve been to South America. I’ve answered questions from 16 different Frenchmen one week before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In other words…I think I understand how the world works, and how others think.
But no matter how hard I try…no matter what I do…neither you nor I can really make the rest of the world understand what it’s like to be an American.
To me, being an American is not about wrapping myself up in the American flag, holding onto a shotgun all while singling along to that douche bag Toby Keith as he croons on terribly about a feeling his producer told him to feel so he could sell records. Being an American to me is not about grabbing a gas mask and hurling stones through the windows of police cars at the Republican National Convention as a shout for anarchy against my oppressive government. These two far extremes have completely and totally warped our perception overseas and at home. Democrats beg us to improve our image…Republicans demand that we show our strength to these people and scare them into our way of life.
The truth however..is indifference.
This is the greatest country in the world…not because we’re stronger than anybody else, or that we should hold ourselves to a higher standard. This country is strong because we can live our lives without ever having the thought cross our mind that 220 some odd countries exist around us. Whether this is wrong or right..I really do not care. That is the whole point.
Many of those comments I read declared that the American Imperial dominance will end as all dynasties end….some of which even predicted in the next few years. But what these people do not understand is that Americans will ALWAYS rally behind each other…they just need a reason to do so.
So during this election season…blokes from England to Kenya to Australia will chide us for our childish bickering. Talking heads from around the globe will mock us for our choices and decry us as a failed state where the great capitalist experiment went horribly wrong. But make no mistake my friends…all of the bickering…all of the sniping…the luxuries we have and all of the nightmares we force some of our countrymen to live in are a sign that we are in fact strong and we are in fact the envy of everyone around the world.
Nowhere else on earth are the ideas and freedoms of all men and women protected. Nowhere else on earth is each individual responsible for their own path in life. No single person..despite the head start or highest hurdle…will ever be denied the ability to stand with others, and defend their right simply to exist.
That homeless veteran I passed under on 9/11 is a perfect example of the spirit and fight that lives in this country. Sometimes it’s buried. Sometimes it’s completely invisible. But make no mistake…no matter what others throw at us…we will always come out on top…simply because we have the ability to worry about only ourselves. If others around the world don't understand that...well: I really don't care.
Republican or Democrat, I’d love to hear your thoughts.