Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Later, I Don't Suck As Bad

A lot of bad things have happened since the sun came up on this day ten years ago. Many people have died: some tragically, some heroically, some justly. Innocent people have been caught in the crossfire of a war that began -- let us not forget -- when deranged fanatics attacked a civilian target in the most populous city in our country.

But good has also come of this horror. Saddam Hussein was removed from power in Iraq and replaced with a vastly improved government. Osama bin Laden was finally found and killed. Terrorists of various stripes have been destroyed or weakened by our resolve. And across this great nation, brave men and women -- Soldiers, firefighters, police, civilians, and officials -- have protected and inspired us with acts of courage and honor and sacrifice.

Oh, and another good thing that has come of this tragedy: I don't suck quite so hard anymore.

You see, I have a confession to make, and for those who haven't known me for very long this will come as a shock: I used to be a liberal. And I don't mean a mild, gentle, lukewarm liberal, like John McCain. I mean a rabid, screeching liberal. I made Keith Olbermann look like Charles Krauthammer. I was a member of the ACLU, Amnesty International, and I got Ralph Nader to come speak at my college during his 2004 campaign. I owned Fahrenheit 9/11 on DVD. I edited a student magazine with an anti-war theme so extreme a concerned father called the school and threatened to remove his son from the journalism department. I believed in freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal, the immediate closure of Guantanamo, and that Bush, Cheney, and Rove were the real "Axis of Evil." I believed our government was complicit in 9/11 and would not rule out the idea that Dubya and his cohorts orchestrated the entire thing as an excuse to go to war "for oil." I even went out in the middle of the night with stickers reading "FORTIFIED WITH 100% PURE IRAQI BLOOD" and stuck them on gas pumps around the city.

I was barely to the right of those people in black bandannas in Seattle who hurled Molotov cocktails at World Bank officials... and honestly if I could have afforded the plane ticket I probably would have been there and done that.

I would tell you the name of the anarchist website I got this from, but I don't believe in your rules.

I owned several books by the organization CrimeThinc., which encouraged armed resistance against our corporatist, fascistic, totalitarian police state, as well as dumpster diving, shoplifting, and forming anarchosyndicalist squat communities in abandoned buildings. I also evangelized, passing these books and ones containing similarly crazy ideas, such as Kalle Lasn's Culture Jam, on to my younger brothers. (God forgive me.)

The anti-war magazine I edited featured a giant full-color comic as the center spread, which I commissioned from a very talented artist on the newspaper staff. It was a parody of The Wizard of Oz called "The Wizard of Oil." Condi Rice was Dorothy, and Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld were her companions. Other features in that issue included a "form letter" from Bush to the family of a slain soldier, featuring various misspellings and a childishly callous attitude. For example, "As a tokin of thanks for yer sacrafise, I have attached a 30% off coupon for Pizza hut." It also contained a handwritten note saying "Daddy, please corect my spelling." Yet another page contained a "lost recording" of Bush's secret tour in Vietnam, revealing why the government kept it a secret. (His ineptitude, of course. He said "clacks" instead of "clicks" and thought all the Viet Cong were actually named Charlie. Har har.)

Twenty pages of that. Seriously.

I argued about the war with everybody who would sit still long enough. I knew all the talking points, and I threw in lots of colorful little tidbits. "Halliburton got an illegal no-bid contract! Condi Rice had intel from the CIA in August showing a Bin Laden attack was imminent! Dubya's National Guard papers were doctored! The towers collapsed into their own footprints! Into their own footprints!" Etcetera.

Every year on 9/11's anniversary, my friends and I would have 9/11 parties. We would watch conspiracy theory videos and "jokingly" toast to jihad. In fact, some of my friends and family are having just such a party today. I no longer join them.

It's important that you know that on 9/11 I was as horrified as you were. I was curling my hair in my mom's house, getting ready for school, when she told me to come look at the news. I was standing in front of the TV, wondering if it was an accident or what, when the second plane hit the tower. At that moment, like everyone else in the world, I knew. It wasn't an accident. I drove to school in my mom's red Blazer with the radio on. I sat in the parking lot listening before I went in to my Logic class. Our professor didn't mention it until the end of the class, when he let us go early, saying it was surely hard for everyone to concentrate. I wandered through my home away from home, the theatre department. It was deserted except for the department head, an older man I much admired, sitting with his office door open and one cowboy boot propped on his desk, listening to the radio. We expressed our mutual bewilderment and then I wandered off again, towards the cafeteria, where students sat on chairs and tables and the floor staring up at the TV.

Later, at home, I remember very vividly sitting on the floor in front of the coffee table watching footage of people jumping from the buildings. I put my head in my arms and sobbed. One of my brothers, thirteen years old at the time, happened by and said, "Why is she crying?" My mom nodded at the TV and said, "Why do you think?"

Like many people who would later condemn the mindless, flag-waving patriotism of the coming few weeks, I was completely caught up in the mindless, flag-waving patriotism of the coming few weeks. I watched Congress gather on Capitol Hill and sing patriotic songs, and I cried. I watched an exhausted Giuliani deliver a press conference extolling the heroism of the FDNY, and I cried. I watched endless newsreel footage of brave first responders battling dust, debris, weariness, and sorrow, and I cried. I wanted whoever had done this found and shot and stabbed and hanged and resuscitated and stabbed some more. In other words, my reaction was normal, healthy, just, and human.

I don't remember when I went full-bore leftist and started with my conspiracies, Bush-bashing, pacifism, and "poor poor terrorists" rhetoric. I can't point to one event or piece of knowledge or conversation that started it. What I do know is that it was after the immediacy of the attack faded, when I stopped feeling that awful sadness for those tiny faceless people jumping to their deaths from the flames, because that's when I stopped feeling that the people who did that -- who did that -- could only be evil. I didn't believe in evil. I was rational. I was an agnostic, not some simple-minded Christian. I knew that good and bad were relative, and if we could only understand the motivations for the attack, we could amend our behaviors so we weren't hated anymore, stop being unjust to the poor Muslims, and then everything would be fine. My idea of how this would all happen was hazy, but I was pretty sure it involved the U.N.

Look at 'em go! I can feel the problem-solving.

When I started believing in God, everything changed.

It's only recently that I have begun to understand why we have a two- party system in our -- and most -- countries. It's because when you break it down, there are really two ways of looking at the world: with God or without God. Without God, everything is up to us humans. We are capable of paradise ourselves. We can solve any problem. We are the best that exists or ever will, and we are also the worst. "Evil" is a fairy tale word. There are no evildoers, only wounded souls who need understanding and hugs and Toms shoes.

With God, we see that humans are a creation, a creature, and flawed, and we will always be flawed. No amount of appeasement or reason or humanitarian aid will stop it. No amount of human will can put an end to evil. Only one Will can -- and will -- do that.

Like Whittaker Chambers said of Communism, the vision of the American left is "the vision of man without God." I know because I had the vision. In it, nothing is true, nothing is good, nothing is false, nothing is wrong. Everything is whatever we think it is, and the end result of that is chaos and what I would call today moral depravity.

When people like I was are accused of not loving America, I know now that this accusation is correct. I did not love America, and neither did the people I associated with. How could I love an idea like America, which is based in morality, based in Godliness? I denied that America was Christian while I denied that I was unpatriotic. I needed America to be without morals if I were to love it. I didn't love it. After my initial "irrational" feelings of solidarity with my fellow Americans subsided after 9/11, I believed we deserved to be attacked, that we should and would cease to exist as we were. We needed to be brought down because we were a disgusting empire only after money to line the pockets of rich white men in suits. We needed to be more like Europe. I declared myself, on the masthead of that awful magazine, a "Citizen of the World," and at the same time declared myself a patriot for defending the United States against people trying to tear her down from the inside via renditions and the PATRIOT Act.

G.K. Chesterton said, "A man who loves humanity and ignores patriotism is ignoring humanity... Patriotism begins the praise of the world at the nearest thing, instead of beginning it at the most distant, and thus it insures what is, perhaps, the most essential of all earthly considerations, that nothing upon earth shall go without its due appreciation." America deserves her due appreciation. I am happy, after those years wandering in the darkness of cynicism, ignorance, and the terribly "simple faith" (Chesterton again) of atheism, to duly appreciate her.

I remember being about seven years old at a school assembly, with my hand over my heart, looking at the flag while Lee Greenwood's "Proud to Be An American" played, and crying. This memory was embarrassing to me at 22. At 32, I am there again. I am seven years old, and I am glad to be seven, because Jesus tells me it's a good idea. "Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3)."

But not these children. These are bad children.

I am observing the tenth anniversary of 9/11 by reflecting on the tragedy and heroism that have resulted from that willfully terrible act. It is a reminder that evil exists, and that good exists, and that thanks to my faith, I know which one wins in the end. I am also celebrating the fact that I am a better person today than I was then. I am still desperately far from perfect, but I am both wiser and happier now than I was then. This has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with grace.
Today I am proud to be an American, proud to cry when I see pictures of George W. Bush hugging soldiers or veterans getting misty-eyed when they hear the national anthem. I have gone from a young woman who actually paid for actual print copies of "The Nation" to be delivered to her home, to the Kristen you know and (should probably) love today. So it's not too late for your left-wing nephew who thinks Obama isn't liberal enough.
If there was hope for me, there's hope for anybody.

Except for him. He's done.