Of Images Graven
I record these thoughts in the early morning hours of September 11, 2012; the eleventh anniversary of a modern day, life-changing, and historical event that struck America with lightning ferocity and shocked the rest of the free world. As an American, this reminder for me—this passing of another year since that terrible event—recalls the image of a fledgling American President faced with seemingly inexplicable circumstances and bound by insurmountable odds in an instant of severe national calamity. This man was transformed by his circumstances—a call through fire and smoldering rubble—a President who rose above the ashes of two fallen buildings while dodging the jeers and tantrums from the left. In remembrance of images graven in Bedouin bedlam, burning jet fuel, and shed American blood, that new President took action as his duty required. And he was blamed and vilified throughout his entire time in office for that leadership; portrayed as a reckless cowboy, ardent warmonger, and passionate enemy of civil liberty by the opposition party and activists on the left.
His election, less than a year before, had been hotly contested, narrowly secured through a lawsuit and subsequent court ruling in the eleventh hour. He was extremely unpopular with the opposing party and the national press. As a presidential candidate, he had been labeled by detractors as bush league, a churlish oaf, and a Texas hick. When he became our forty-third president, they accused him of theft. Even as the damage from four hijacked planes burned images graven upon our television sets, hearts, and minds the national press was busily attempting to find fault and portray the President as an incompetent, unfeeling boob. Based on his placid facial expression in reaction to the first report of the crisis, the media lambasted the President for appearing nonchalant. You may remember the image. At the time, he was being filmed while reading a story to a classroom full of elementary-aged children. A staff member stepped in and whispered the terrible news in his ear. What expression would have satisfied the press?
The imagery of 9-11 did not end on that dreadful day. I remember the eerie silence in the skies overhead for days following the attacks. Every non-military flight over the United States had been grounded. Our economy had suffered a severe blow to the head. Wall Street was closed and the stock market was out of commission. Our faith in God was being sorely tested. Folks were flocking to church like never before. Grief and anger filled our hearts with mourning and loss in the tragedy. Threats and rumors of threats were being whispered everywhere. Teams of volunteers from all across the country were finding ways to help those in greatest need in the City of New York, where the attack had been most fierce in destruction and death toll. And the steadfast calm, those images graven of the mayor of New York and our President helped to focus our attention on the needs and issues of others, even as the media replayed those awful images (ad naseum) that fueled our greatest fears.
A story began to unfold in the wake of the attacks through those images; scenes of 9-11 that will be imbedded in my memory until I die—of images graven from video-taped footage of Muslim religious-extremism translated as a declaration of war by terrorist directive against civilian targets—two high altitude attacks on New York’s financial trade buildings; one low-level and one-sided attack on a five-sided Washington, DC, military icon; the smoldering impression of plane wreckage in a Pennsylvania field, where a second attempted attack on our nation’s capitol had been heroically thwarted. And all of this coordinated terrorism had been carried out through covert and diabolical operation upon our own soil, within our own boundaries, by foreign nationals who used our own technology, unsuspecting citizenry, and good will against us to their own personal and religious ends.
Two things which stand out among the many images in the wake of 9-11 came in the eleventh hour, reminding me of the greatness of America and its people: Courage and Heroism. Though some think the words are synonymous, there is a distinction. Courage is the measure of resolve required to face a fear, to stand and fight with all one’s strength against the impulse to turn away and run. Heroism adds the extra measure of courage that, in the face of death, compels the bearer to risk life and limb to help another, or accomplish a specific task, without regard for the consequences in doing so.
That is why I contend terrorists are neither courageous nor heroic in action or deed. It is one thing to exert strong will and cool resolve in order to walk onto a bus full of non-combatants, knowing full well that in a few moments a bomb strapped to your body will detonate, thus killing yourself and innocents whom you could care less about. In America, we call people who do such things deranged, mentally ill, and homicidal. Most often when deranged, mentally ill, and homicidal people act out upon others it is from an arbitrary sense of loathing, hostility, envy, jealousy, or vengeance. And in remembering 9-11, I cannot disassociate the film footage of Palestinians cheering in the streets in Gaza when they heard the news of the successful 9-11 attacks carried out by terrorist plot; of images graven in loathing, hostility, envy, jealousy, or vengeance against America; of images graven by radicalized Muslim extremism still festering under the shadowy umbrella of an insidious application of a purportedly peaceful religion known as Islam.
Courageous and heroic people are called upon in a moment’s notice to act upon the unexpected, the unplanned, and the unbelievable. I am not ashamed to say that I cried when I saw the footage, two massive towers falling in succession. For I knew desperately courageous and heroic people were trapped inside; some wore uniforms, some wore business attire, some were foreigners, many were Americans, some reached out to aid others, some embraced because they could not move, many cried out to God, some ran toward exits, some crawled as best they could, some carried others down stairwells, fewer still ran in and upstairs to lead others out—all of those souls were lost in that moment of collapse through flame and heat, smoke and ash, and crushing despair.
The lessons from the events of 9-11 (of images graven in horrendous pain and suffering, highlighted by intractable sorrow) should concede that there has always been a human face responsible for the terror and terrorism of those attacks. It is not merely the image of a terrorist mastermind, of the architect known as Osama Bin Laden. It is the visceral visage of incalculable indignation, an ideology and ideal steeped in venomous intention (often masked in political subterfuge) and dripping with disdain from most quarters of the Middle East. It is the smiling face and promise of peace, with hands concealed and poised upon the dagger hilt, ready to strike from behind when no one is looking.
Until Islam calls into account its own radicalized extremists in roles of leadership—first by repudiating and deposing its radical Imams, then by excommunicating and purging radicalized Muslim-extremists from its mosques—there will be no end to this war on terrorism. As we enter a new presidential election-cycle, Americans hope and pray for peace in the eleventh hour of all political grandstanding, saber-rattling, and tough talk about terrorism in Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Egypt. Our forty-fourth President may refer to the war on terrorism in softer language and withdraw our troops from the battlefield, but that does not change the nature of the threat we have faced, still face, or will face. To call it anything but what it is, is a disservice to those who lost their lives and loved ones on 9-11, as well as to those who have taken our response and battle to Iraq and Afghanistan at greatest personal risk.
My prayers to God, in the wake of 9-11, are for freedom and peace. Peace, however, seems a luxury when one considers the high price of freedom these days.
God Bless America and our allies in the cause of freedom.
(copyright 2012, Gregory Allen Doyle)