Thursday, September 8, 2011

9/11 Nostalgia

The attacks of September 11, 2001 are etched in our memories. As the world marks a decade since that fateful morning, media outlets overflow with remembrances. Documentaries chronicle the intervening years from nearly every point of view. Months after the attacks my production company tried to put “Created Equal?” together, but it never happened. The treatment is eerie in how relevant the issues remain 10 years later.

The tragic events of 9-11 were a wakeup call for the world. We were forced to acknowledge our vulnerability; and we shared our pain. We mourned together for those lost; and we longed for the sense of security and unity that we once felt as a nation and a world. Despite our race, gender, sexual orientation, age, or socio-economic status, we all share the impact of 9-11.

It is in this moment of unity that an opportunity exists to highlight the inequalities that gay Americans face daily, in our nation. Acclaimed and award winning filmmakers will tell the stories of the gay and lesbian Americans who were affected by this tragedy in their own words and their own actions:  
  • A gay priest in New York dies while giving last rites to the victims of the tragedy. The Pope accepts his firemen’s helmet and “fast tracks” him towards saint-hood, yet his church still officially condemns him.
  • A male couple with a young son die when their plane crashes into the World Trade Center, yet in many states, it is illegal for them to marry or to adopt the child.
  • A young gay man dies helping to thwart the hijacking of a plane bound for the White House, yet his partner remains with no right to inheritance, and no legal recourse.
  • A young lesbian woman dies leaving a partner of 13 years and two children, yet they have no legal right to the woman’s remains or other benefits.
  • Governor Pitaki (R-NY) extended state benefits to victims of the World Trade Center while Governor Jim Gilmore (R-VA) refuses to extend the benefits to the partner of a woman who perished at the Pentagon.
  • The American Red Cross continues to turn away gay men who want to donate blood (unless they have not had sex in 24 years). Citing the need to protect the blood supply The Red Cross accepts blood donations from drug addicts and prostitutes.
  • Immediately following 9-11, President Bush suspended all discharges from the military, including those resulting from the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Gay and lesbian Americans are good enough to fight in a war in time of crisis, but not in time of peace.

My 9/11 nostalgia isn’t rooted in the lost opportunity of telling those (and other) powerful stories. The days immediately after the attacks the country, and indeed the world, united. At the National Day of Prayer President George W. Bush (#43) said: “Americans showed a deep commitment to one another, and an abiding love for our country. Today, we feel what Franklin Roosevelt called the warm courage of national unity. This is a unity of every faith, and every background. … Our unity is a kinship of grief, and a steadfast resolve to prevail against our enemies. And this unity against terror is now extending across the world.“

For the next three weeks, President Bush was remarkable. He was eloquent. He counseled that Islam and Muslims are not to be feared. He urged patience for those who were itching to bomb something. We now know that war strategies were at fever pitch behind the scenes and what has become known as Top Secret America was born. But for a moment, this public three week window gave a glimpse as to what kind of nation we could be.

President Bush’s calming of the nation took away the understandable emotional vengeance that permeated the culture. It resulted in near unanimity of personal support for his leadership and affection and admiration for the country from around the globe. He could have led the nation and the world to a different response. The unconventional attacks warranted an equally unexpected response. Had the perpetrators been caught, tried and jailed then trillions of dollars, tens of thousands of dead and the moral decline that America experienced would have instead been a demonstration of how Jeffersonian Democracy works.

History repeats itself. One attack leads to a responsive attack and so on and so on and so on. We can trace assertive violence back to the beginning of mankind. President Bush broke the cycle. From September 12 to October 06, 2001 the guiding principal was patience and nonviolent responses. There was an opportunity to change the predictable reaction. George W. Bush’s devout beliefs would have given him political cover if he needed it. It was not to be.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have resulted in twice as many U.S. deaths than the attacks themselves. Protection in the name of terrorism has bankrupted the U.S. treasury. The Constitution was diminished with the passing of the Patriot Act. The once sacrosanct concept of “innocent until proven guilty” has been replaced with “if you don’t have anything to hide…” The largest federal bureaucracy in history was created: Homeland Security which prior to the attacks was a term used only by George Orwell in his prophetic book 1984. Fear and revenge permeate the American psyche.

On the decennial of the attacks it is incumbent to remember those who died and honor and give thanks for the bravery and heroism of so many. We must also mourn that lost opportunity and continue to aspire to be the nation we profess to be.

1 comment:

  1. "We must also mourn that lost opportunity and continue to aspire to be the nation we profess to be." Craig, this is what I have been saying all along. Thank you for putting it so eloquently.