Alone with J
By J SWYGART
Mostly by happenstance, I found a unique perspective on Sunday from which to soak in a remembrance ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Seated with my wife in the second deck of beautiful PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball club, we observed — along with the rest of the small September baseball crowd — a moment of silence, and then watched as a large U.S. flag was unfurled in centerfield by members of the Pittsburgh fire and police departments.
It was a solemn but tasteful ceremony, brief yet effective in honoring the lives lost, and the heroic acts of first-responders, on that horrific day 10 years earlier.
Adding an unexpected chill to the day — although we would not know until reading the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the following morning exactly what we’d witnessed — was an unannounced stadium flow-over by what almost certainly was the president of the United States.
After the baseball game got under way, a quintet of military-style helicopters passed over the stadium — and subsequently returned a few hours later going in the opposite direction. In the newspaper the following day, it was reported that President Obama had flown from the Pittsburgh airport to Shanksville, Pa. — some two hours (by car) southeast of Pittsburgh — to attend ceremonies honoring those who perished in the terrorist hijacking of Flight 93.
When it comes to observing the 9/11 anniversary, my wife and I — perhaps reflective of America as a whole — take slightly divergent mental paths.
She wears her patriotism on her sleeve, and more than once during the weekend — whether during the actual 9/11 remembrance ceremony at PNC Park or reading about the events of 10 years earlier in the newspaper — her eyes swelled with tears. The loss of human life at Ground Zero, and the heroism of those aboard Flight 93 in preventing terrorists from carrying out their suspected mission — that of crashing the plane into the White House — affect her deeply even to this day. That truest of human emotions is among her many strong points.
My wife has not a political bone in her body. She is equally disgusted by Republicans and Democrats alike, and — to her credit — is able to separate the sadness of 9/11 from the political gamesmanship that came before and after that day.
And that is largely where we part ways. My patriotism is a little light on flag-waving side of the spectrum, and perhaps too heavy on the politics of the moment.
While I, too, remember the overwhelming sadness of that fateful day 10 years ago, and was not immune from the sense of unity — the type which I had never before experienced — that lingered across this country for months afterward, my thoughts of 9/11 annually go to what happened next: a ill-advised war in Iraq based wholly on faulty and manipulated intelligence. It is George W. Bush’s legacy. And America’s.
After nearly 10 years or war waged in two countries — and after numerous sacrifices of civil liberties — is America safer today that it was in 2011? Probably not. More vigilant, yes. But not safer.
Our standing in the eyes of the rest of the world will always be a mixed bag. It was easy, prior to 9/11, to understand how many of our global citizens had come to look at the U.S.A. with a certain degree of disdain (our allegiance to Israel a chief factor). The same can be said for the post-9/11 world. This country has many problems — foreign policy being just one.
But if history teaches us not to repeat past mistakes, and if those lessons can truly be learned, perhaps there are better days ahead.
I’ll cling to that hope, and look forward to the day when the 9/11 anniversary can be observed without this country’s involvement in another war — especially an unjustified one.
The writer is the opinion page editor of the Decatur Daily Democrat.