September 11, 2008

An American Tale

Sometimes, I get a strange feeling in the back of my brain…especially when I see/hear/read something that just gets to me. (And hey..it's still my blog right?) That happened to me today, and no…it’s not about sports. If you’re only hear to read about college football…don’t worry…I’ll get right back to that soon enough. Come on back Saturday to get more of what you normally come here for.

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.

19 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

AJ,

I always considered myself a conservative and more recently I have morphed in to a more more socially open and progressive person. This has taken place as I had some of the same thoughts that you have observed; and I believe that our ability to consider only ourselves is the very reason we are so hated. Unlike the needy girlfriend or the buddy who constantly requires you give him validation, we simply just don't think about anyone else, and haven't for a very long time. That may be the very reason you read the sentiments you do everyday at lunch. No one likes someone who has what they do not in abundance, and that includes confidence (or arrogance).

G in CoMo

4:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's my thought:

Your a complete prick 99.9% of the time, making idiotic remarks and predictions. (Pulling them out of your ass)

But then just when I can't hate you more, you write a moving and poetic column that says what I feel.

Very well done. (asshole)

6:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

AJ, well said, very heartfelt.
I had the unique experience of going to Athens this past May and meeting my biological father for the first time ever, at 30 years old. I was amazed at the culture of Greece. They are so laid back and not focused on material things. It is all about family and living.
I am a staunch free-market capitalist libertarian and have always put my career in high esteem.
It helped me see that the biggest fault we have now as Americans is our materialism. It is great that we are the most economically blessed nation in the history of mankind, but I think our culture has lost sight of the importance of family and that is why we are seen of as greedy...

Dom-Kalamazoo

6:52 PM  
Blogger AJ said...

Agree Don...although that lust for material items is bred out of the fact that in principle..you can theorheticaly do whatever you want to do here.

Freedom in other sectors of the world are unheard of.

7:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The WWII generation of Americans was amazing. Any of those people who went through the depression, etc. were as hard as nails yet as giving as anyone could be.

There was WAY more unity in the country then than now. I attribute the decline almost entirely to the media oligarchy which polarizes and confuses us for profit (notice that the elections are now all so CLOSE!) and for the benefit of the War Machine that seeks American/Israeli hegemony throughout the world.

I'd prefer to go back to the days when we were something of a sleeping giant that you knew not to kick. Anyway, no way I'm gonna send my my sons to fight Russia just because some Zionist shill says its America's manifest destiny.

8:01 PM  
Blogger AJ said...

Fuck Russia.

We should have whacked them in the late 80's when they were using muskets and cardboard cutouts for tanks.

8:46 PM  
Anonymous bigredfred said...

I respectfully disagree with you AJ. I do not see us as a nation that thinks only of itself. In fact, quite the opposite which is what drives the world mad!

Bring it down to a smaller scale , and compare the world situation to that of a common family here in the US. You build a home(country) and you start a family( immigrants as well as native born). You love and care for your family and want whats best for them.

Alas, as seen in most teenagers, we hardly ever want whats best for us. In fact, we prefer what will hurt us as opposed to that 'discipline' stuff...

As proof of our not thinking of only ourselves, one look no farther than the statue of Liberty, and it's inscription: "Bring me your poor and tired and huddled masses.." (my paraphrase)

I suggest that we are hated around the world because WE STAND FOR SOMETHING! Something even more than freedom itself. We stand for compassion for our fellow mankind, and for justice for those who prey on others who can not defend themselves.

As brothers belonging to and living in this great country, we have an obligation to the rest of the world. As a family NEEDS the loving and caring and disciplining hand of a strong and protecting father, so the rest of the world NEEDS us. There is no one else.

There is no one else who CAN carry the battle to the evil elements of this world. Whether you are a man of faith or not, there has been a war being waged in this world since the beginning of time when Cain slew Abel. A battle of good vs evil.

As a citizen of the most blessed country in the world, we must stand to meet evil wherever it is. Those who can not defend themselves, deserve better. Unless you think you did something special to be born an American, instead of entering this world as say a starving Somali??? From those who are given much, much is expected!

Our problem is and always will be... they HATE us for that...

8:38 AM  
Blogger NE-Jhawk said...

I will remember 9/11 as that day I was willing to walk through a flaming building for my country (we all didn't get the chance but we all felt ready to). There wasn't anything they could have asked me to do that I wouldn't have done. I was assured that everything was under control and that 'the people who brought these buildings down would be hearing ALL of us real soon'.

That is what I remember on this day. Bin laden lives. It makes me physicaly ill to talk about anything else surrounding this event.

Kill the prick and get back to me.

10:34 AM  
Blogger AJ said...

Agree.

I gotta tell ya...personally, I agree with some things about the war(s) since 2001. I disagree with others as well.

I do think Iraq helped in a strange way, because it pulled the battleground to a place of our choosing (instead of all over the world.) However, I would have rather put 200,000 troops in Afghanistan and/or Pakistan and to hell with their right to exist. Hindsight is 20/20 I guess.

However, it appears to me that it could be a case of Bush/Chaney etc wanting to get back at somebody...anybody to save face for losing Bin Laden. Thus, the Iraq idea was born.

Again, I see positives and negatives, but you are right. Bin Laden should be dead right now, and the blame lies squarely on Pakistan.

12:55 PM  
Blogger daddyact said...

Wow, it would appear you and I are not so far off in our thoughts and feelings. You write beautifully and more importantly, you speak truth.

I have my own opinions about the events that occurred that day, but in short, I am not happy about the direction this country is moving, and fervently hope we, the people can change the course before it's too late for my son and daughter to realize their American Dreams.

Thanks

1:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

here's my thoughts.. Mizzou's defense sucks

http://web1.ncaa.org/mfb/natlRank.jsp?year=2008&rpt=IA_teamtotdef&site=org

#99 in total defense and you want to be my latex salesman?

you won't win the North

signed - Pinkel's Ghost

2:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great piece AJ. Thank you.

4:13 PM  
Blogger AJ said...

Offense wins championships

Signed,
The 1999 St. Louis Rams

4:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Offense wins championships."

That just proves you're an idiot.

5:12 PM  
Blogger Husker Mike said...

We continue to disagree as to how America should have responded to the bastards who did this to 3000 innocent people. But one thing is for sure, this country will not be intimidated by suicidal maniacs.

10:24 PM  
Blogger AJ said...

So you were "proven" by a sarcastic comment made about performance after 2 full weeks of the season?

In my lifetime, my team has lost:

63-6 to Nebraska
57-0 to Nebraska
55-10 to Michigan State
66-something to Clemson
77-0 to Texas A&M
66-0 to K-State
70-0 to Oklahoma

Trust me...I got no worries with the team I have now.


Nice one douche

10:43 PM  
Blogger Nowledge said...

A.J.

The most outstanding memory I have of 9/11 was this: I was driving with my mom to pick up my sister from school when Air Force One flew over our neighborhood in Omaha. My mom's usually the type of person that, no matter how shitty the situation may be, she just laughs it off or keeps a smile on her face. She's not the type to get upset or show any sort of negative emotion. However, when we saw the plane fly over, she turned to me and said quite grimly, "I don't know if anyone's safe today. I've never felt this unsure."

Looking back prior to that day and later, I don't think we'll ever be the same as a nation. There's been talk of ceasing the 9/11 memorial services, but I think that these should continue as a reminder that only as a nation, united in grief, that we can continue to set aside the petty bullshit and remember where our allegiances lie (and that's coming from a liberal Democrat). :)

After 9/11, I remember Nebraska was supposed to play Rice that weekend, but it was postponed to the following Thursday night. Even with the opportunity for Husker hoopla, the game was eerily silent, people were somber, and you didn't see much of the pre-game festivities. In fact, the only time the crowd at Memorial made any sort of noise was when the Air Force jets flew over the stadium after the national anthem.

I could be wrong, but I think the tradition of using flyovers before every game began at that game. Can anyone else back that up or let me know otherwise?

Beautiful article, btw. You hinted that you were a journalism major. Did you go to Columbia for your degree or where did you end up going? I have a relative that needs some good advice for quality journalism schools (while, as much as you don't like NU, I've heard they have a great journalism/comm school).

3:20 PM  
Blogger AJ said...

Nowledge, thanks.

I got accepted to Mizzou J-school after my senior year, but decied to stay home for a girl instead.

You can read all about it on the 2/14/07 Valentines Day post.

3:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it is so discouraging to listen to the latest election follies. Pigs and lipstick mm good stuff
and if you think the Nubs are the only drinkers of Kool Aid
check out the GOP The far right would vote for an axe murderer if he (or she) was with them on their hot button issues. So Sarah the pure is now in danger of answering that 3 am phone.

mean while Barack is going to do everything for everyone while balancing the budget
face it folks no
president or cabinet secretary can move that mountain if GS 40 s that populates DC

if you are going to exercise your franchise to vote at least spend a little time understanding the issues and dont listen to Move on .org or rhe swift boat asses against whatever and the so called liberal media.

Turn off the radio when Michael Moore and Al Franken Limbaugh o'Reilly or Coulter are on they all get rich telling you what you already believe
If you are going to exercise your right to vote at least try to think and leave all the tricky sound bites on TV to the morons who get their views from that source

...THINK FOR YOURSELVES

4:49 PM  

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