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Parini: 9/11 - The Aftermath

09/10/10 5:55PM By Jay Parini
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(HOST)  Commentator Jay Parini has been thinking about 9/11 and its aftermath on the eve on its ninth anniversary.

(PARINI)  I've been glancing at extracts from the memoirs of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, just out.  In talking about George W. Bush, he writes:  "He thought that the world had to be made anew, and that after September 11th, it had to be done by force and with urgency. So he was for hard, hard power."

As September 11th comes around once again, nine years after those brutal attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, it seems worth reflecting on what happened, how we reacted, and the legacy of this tragedy.

This was obviously a catastrophic event.  People know exactly where they were when they first heard about it - there are only a few such events.  I myself remember thinking - only minutes after I heard what happened - that we'd be talking about this for decades.  And so we shall.

Three thousand innocent people lost their lives that day.  Those responsible for the attack were extremist Muslims who thought they were doing God's work.  But I think it's right to say they were insane.  A sane person doesn't drive planes into buildings and kill innocent people.  Those responsible for these attacks should have been caught and brought to justice.

But we didn't catch them.  We caught Saddam Hussein, instead.  And he had nothing to do with 9/11.

President Bush believed in hard, hard power, but he aimed at the wrong target.

President Obama has ended combat operations in Iraq, yet more than four thousand Americans have died in this war and there may be more to come.  At least a hundred thousand Iraqi civilians have lost their lives as well.  Millions more were displaced from their homes.  And it's still extremely unlikely that American-style democracy will ever flourish in the Middle East.

The world did, indeed, have to be made anew after September 11, 2001 - that was a turning point.  Mr. Bush got that much right.  But what we really needed was a huge increase in human empathy and a finely crafted diplomatic response; these would have been more appropriate, and probably a good deal more effective.

Instead, we responded to a violent and senseless act with more senseless violence.  In doing so, we did ourselves - and others - a great deal of physical and emotional damage.  It will take generations to heal the wounds of 9/11 and our responses to it.  Needless to say, burning the Koran - a bizarre threat issued by a so-called Christian church in Florida - or protesting because peaceful Muslims wish to establish an Islamic Center near Ground Zero, seem gestures horribly wide of the mark, and destined to pour kerosene on a world already aflame.

The anniversary of 9/11 is a time for grieving, of course.  But it's also a time to remember that hard, hard power is rarely effective, and often soul-destroying for those who wield it carelessly.
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