I’m not conceited. Conceit is a fault and I have no faults. – David Lee Roth
I know I’m gonna get in trouble for this one but since it’s never stopped me before… You see, I’ve been ruminating on the experiences that we choose to define us, and it turns out to be quite the fascinating proposition.
Here’s what I mean. Insert yourself into any group conversation about a universal life event and you’ll quickly discover that it almost always descends into a who-had-the-worst-possible-experience competition.
I still vividly recall being the only male at work-related lunch in which the seven-way conversation turned to who had the most difficult pregnancy. By the fifth terrifying tale there was absolutely no point in ordering any food because I wasn’t gonna be able to eat it.
Don’t get me wrong! In understand that enduring a difficult ordeal can make you a stronger person and sharing it with folks who’ve survived a similar setback can create a real bond, but beyond that I really don’t want my worst moments to define me.
In fact, I’d like to think it’s my best moments that made me who I am – though I understand just how terrifying that thought might be to some of you.
The catalyst that made me consider this bizarre dynamic was the utterly over-the-top media coverage of the 20th anniversary of 9/11. It’s certainly important that we remember those who perished on that tragic day, but instead of a solemn D-Day or Pearl Harbor type of memorial, we, and particularly the press, have turned 9/11 into a self-serving and nauseating celebration.
What’s the point of a local paper interviewing someone who was working at the Pentagon that day? They were no more involved in it that someone watching it on the tube. And this incessant “piety” test of being required to recite exactly where we were when “it happened” is the height of narcissism. Does the fact that we remember somehow simply that we actually did more than simply sit there and watch in horror.
Perhaps if we, as nation, had actually learned anything from that infamous day, those banalities wouldn’t seem so egregious, but the truth is, we haven’t learned a damn thing.
9/11 was the kind of massive intelligence failure by which all manner of political heads should’ve rolled – including the President’s. The FBI, who consider themselves above all law enforcement agencies, were warned about Arabic flight students who weren’t interested in learning to land, but they did nothing about it.
The truth is, 9/11 never should’ve happened.
Then, instead of immediately applying the kind of surgical strike that finally eliminated Bin-Laden, we invaded Afghanistan, a country that had absolutely nothing to do with it. And 20 years, 6,300 U.S. casualties, 113,000 Afghan casualties, and over $2 trillion later, we ignominiously left that country with absolutely nothing to show for it.
Well, that’s not exactly true! That ill-advised invasion served as a recruitment poster for ISIS and the Taliban generally making the War on Terror much more difficult to prosecute. In the end, this country’s general reaction to the attack was more that Bin Laden could’ve possibly asked for.
His sole intent was to galvanize Muslim countries against the U.S. and we unceremoniously obliged him by turning our backs on all Muslims, not just the predominantly Saudi hijackers. Oh! And Saudi Arabia suffered absolutely no consequences for the attack despite being Al Qaeda’s primary funding source.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor it united this nation as nothing before it and The Greatest Generation went on to win World War II. Then, having learned our lesson from the onerous terms of the Versailles Treaty, we rebuilt Europe through the Marshall plan to prevent fascism from gaining another toehold.
But when the Twin Towers fell, we came together as a nation for about a month before partisan politicians started using the attack as a patriotism test designed to foment the kind of xenophobia that allowed terrorism to flourish and countries like China to assume our former global leadership role.
So, while we should certainly remember those who died, and particularly those who make the ultimate sacrifice, beyond that, I’d really rather not over consider what turned out to be one of this country’s biggest failures.
But back to our original thesis, I do have a theory for why we let tragedies define us – these quasi-biblical “plagues” serve to give our too-ephemeral lives meaning.
It’s just like it is with the current pandemic. I’ve watched (and lost) friends revel in the pain and misery it and our absurd reaction to it have caused us. Trent Reznor’s (Nine Inch Nails) brilliant song ‘Hurt” sums the whole dynamic up quite nicely:
I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real
The sad thing is, for a great many people, pain is the only thing that makes them feel like they’re actually alive
So, you’ll have to excuse me if I feel no need to participate in the annual self-sanctimonious rehashing of 9/11. I’d rather look forward to a better day.