The following online journal entries are from September 2001.
TUESDAY. 10:44 AM. I wish everyone, you and yours, safety, peace, and hope today.
This morning, the World Trade towers in New York City and the Pentagon building in Washington, DC were "attacked" as commercial aircraft, believed to have been hijacked, were taken off course and crashed into the above buildings. The conversation on the news, on the internet, on the street is wound tightly around these disasters.
I am not even sure how to talk about it, much less react to it. But I am worried. I am a little scared. I was hurried out of my work downtown today as the building was evacuated. I am waiting to hear news from my friends and family on the East Coast.
I also don't want Americans to sink into a fervor, a grieving blackness, a media-induced, panic-flamed hysteria.
Already I have seen two United States congressmen puff up their chests and outright say that America has spent too much money on things like education, on civil liberties, and because of that we have failed to protect the US adequately. Are we so deliberately stupid?
I cringe at the immediate arc between this disaster to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. As a person of color, as someone who most likely would have been penned up if I had lived in California during that time, I can already see the gentle finger-pointing.
I am appalled at what has happened. But we as a nation have rested too long in the inertia that we are safe from violence, safe from hatred, safe from evil. Is the answer to mobilize armies, to trumpet some sort of jihad, to sweep out from our shores in the name of democracy-clothed vengeance? Is terrorism so different than "sanctioned" warfare? I suppose there are rules even to killing. The only justice is to make peace with our own demons, our own reasons we hate and prejudge. I am by no means a pacifist, though I wish I had the clarity of such a conviction. But I don't know if the answer to these attacks is more attacks. I am even more appalled at what is to come after we bury the dead and start to rebuild.
Again, I wish us all consciousness, endurance, and wisdom.
5:49 PM. The President of the United States George W. Bush just addressed the nation in a live statement and in the few short minutes that he spoke, I am not convinced that he can lead himself much less the country to positive resolution in the chaos at hand nor has his statements really shed any new light, new hope, or new understanding on the disasters. Rhetoric, as any good student of writing and speechmaking knows, is a double-edged sword -- it can be potent, truthful, rallying and it can also be empty, spurious, and dissembling.
Bush said these attacks were threatening "our very way of life" -- and immediately I question whose way of life, which way of life? Is my way of life the same as his way of life? Are my choices the same as his? Are my opportunities, advantages, limitations the same as his?
Many people are flocking to Red Cross centers and hospitals to give blood (nevermind there's been a shortage for quite some time now). The spirit of community at work. However, a nagging thought in the back of my mind kept saying, "Hey, Ed, you're an openly gay man and still cannot give blood without lying about it." So much for my way of life.
Bush commented on the "pictures of airplanes" crashing into buildings. It reminds me of the hours and hours of television being spun out, recorded, and looped for everyone to see. And the news reports even began to turn in on themselves. Broadcasters asking post-traumatic stress experts about how to cope with the disturbing images, how to talk to children who are home from school glued to the television, how to deal with a reality only seen through the eye of the screen. The answer was ironic and simple, "Turn off the TV and talk to each other." It made me laugh out loud as the conversation was aired while the loop of the crash filled the screen.
I also wonder as whether Americans understand any sense of magnitude when it comes to the media. The last time I saw nearly ever channel preempting their day's programming for what each espoused to be the most complete coverage of the situation was the Columbine shooting. Does that mean the next big "story" will have to top two giant skyscrapers crumbling to dust? Remember most of the news today barely fills an hour broadcast and the reports of violence, destruction, terrorism, human failure from around the globe is tossed in for three minutes between half an hour on the weather and twenty minutes on traffic.
I don't think we need to see the same footage over and over and over again.
Bush continued to describe the state of the people as feeling "terrible sadness" but more importantly "quiet unyielding anger." I certainly hope we all realize that the difference in definition between the evil fanaticism (that we blame for these acts) and "quiet unyielding anger" is a thin, dubious line. "Our country is strong" and we are "a great people" and the "foundation of America" holds true and business and government will continue uninterrupted. But Bush concedes that our sense of safety has been "threatened" but he is joined by people of "every walk of life" (again) to ensure this great country of ours picks itself up by the bootstraps and marches headlong into what? "War against terrorism?" "Peace and security?" "Justice and peace?" Interesting dyads of words. Can we defend freedom and find peace without added violence?
Finally, as the hours passed, newscasts (at least here in the Bay Area) began to touch on the topic of blame, the fear of jumping to conclusions, and the uncomfortable area of race, religion, and xenophobia. How was the footage of Palestinians celebrating the attacks helpful to the overall conversation? I find myself frustrated, disgusted, and genuinely scared of ourselves, our own misinformation, our own prejudices, and our almost too consumerist willingness to swallow patriotism as a miracle pill for grief, guilt, helplessness, and rage.
I wish us all wisdom. I wish me wisdom. It is a conflicted place to be. I know that if I had someone in one of the twin towers or on one of the hijacked planes, I would probably feel very different. But then again I have suffered loss, I can imagine the magnitude of such a tragedy, and I encounter moments of domestic "terrorism" in my own neighborhood every day. I know the answer does lie in communication, in education, in compassion, in gratitude, in honor, and in being real with ourselves.
FRIDAY. 3:32 PM It's been a pretty exhausting week -- for myself, for my friends, and for the country at large. I really have very little to say. I want television to go back to its usual programming, in part to find some normalcy and more so to stop the drivel that the mainstream media is filling the channels with. I want to stop hearing snippets of conversation around me at work or on the bus or at a restaurant or on a message board where people give up their good sense and fall into the racism, propaganda, and Patriotism around them. I want people to learn, really learn, from this giant experience and not forget it once the news or the papers stop selling it. I want, mostly, to stop being angry, frustrated, sad, tired, discouraged, and anxious over what people will do to one another.
© 2001 Edmond Y. Chang. All original material. All rights reserved.
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