The tragic death of first responders is foremost in the American consciousness as we remember 9/11. We memorialize their deaths and remember their stories. My interested in this particular blog focuses on forgotten 9/11 lessons; while our collective memory focuses on some aspects of 9/11 we seem to have forgotten other insights.
Hyper-patriotism is ultimately destructive.
America responded with hyper-patriotism to the tragedy of 9/11. We waved flags and looked for someone to punish. While there was clearly a reason to find and destroy Al-Qaeda, the reasons to attack Afghanistan were weaker and the reasons for invading Iraq were weaker still.
Why did we invade Iraq? We thought there were weapons of mass destruction. Why, why did we think there were weapons of mass destruction? The ultimate answer is rather simply. National anger and its child, hyper-patriotism, skewed the data collection systems of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). The Bush administration hunted for someone to blame. Americans who called for restraint were ignored; their concerns were dismissed out-of-hand. If one spoke against the invasion of Iraq one was labeled as unpatriotic. The national media fed the frenzy.
Days after 9/11 a friend expressed the American sentiment, “Hell, I’m looking for someone to bomb back into the Stone Age!” And so, we bombed Afghanistan and invaded Iraq; we agreed not to pay for the war (running up our national debt), and to boot we imposed tax cuts for people who could afford to pay more.
Well, look at the mess we are in now! In the first decade of the twenty-first century our nation made incredibly poor decisions. My point is about hyper-patriotism; unbalanced, unmeasured, unaware, blind, no-one-else-matters patriotism. Our nation is in a terrible mess, partly because of incredibly poor decisions made in the wake of 9/11.
Hyper-patriotism is almost always destructive.
Security is an illusion
As the Twin Towers came down so did America’s invincibility. For a brief moment we embraced a cardinal human truth: security is an illusion. Of course, we quickly recreated a false sense of security by creating the Office of Homeland Security, with a color coded system to let us know when danger was greatest; as if an Office is really able to “predict” an attack. So, we feel snug knowing an ‘intelligence agency” is going to warn us when danger is afoot; like the CIA knew there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq!
The anxiety of vulnerability is a critical ingredient in resolving conflict before it explodes into open hostilities with other countries. If we feel safe, insulated from the concerns of others, there is little motivation to resolve critical issues in the global village.
In the wake of 9/11 many people were asking, “Why does the rest of the world hate us?” For a few months we asked questions about the justice of American foreign policy. Unfortunately, the questions began to fade as we accepted the notion the rest of the world hates us because we are successful. We discredited honest critique with, “The rest of the world is just jealous!” Our moment of honesty passed and we snuggled back into our version of non-reality thinking we are safe.
Emotion trumps good theology
For the World War II generation 9/11 was December 7, 1941 all over again. Unbridled patriotism was in great abundance after 9/11. Patriotism became cultic, profoundly religious. Because of deep patriotic emotions after 9/11 many churches merged God and country in a dangerous mixture.
The Sunday after 9/11 a lay member of a solid historic Baptist church positioned the American flag in a very prominent place in the sanctuary, no permission was sought. Deacons over the following two months approved a policy concerning the placement of the American flag in the sanctuary: ministers may decided if the American flag is in the sanctuary on any given Sunday, but if the flag is in the sanctuary it must be placed in a prominent and very specific location. This was done even though the pastor noted the church had no such policy about the placement of the Communion Table. In the wake of 9/11 patriotic emotion overruled good theology, and still does from time-to-time.
A decade after 9/11 it is altogether appropriate to remember those who lost their lives in a true American tragedy. It is noble to affirm the courage of first responders who ran toward the unfolding tragedy. It is patriotic to weep with those who lost loved ones and to do all in our power to aid their grief. May we also save a little courage to face the forgotten lessons of 9/11.
Grace and Peace,