The 10-Year Shadow of Sept. 11
To say that every American was affected in some way by the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, is the same as to say that the sky is blue. However, each American has weathered the response differently over the years.
I still remember that terrible morning when my partner, Bill Rattan, woke me up because a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. We were both glued to the TV as we saw a second plane hit the second tower, and then the incredible collapse of both towers, all there for all Americans to absorb.
Then the plane crashed at the Pentagon, and the fourth plane, thought to be targeting either the Capitol Building or the White House, crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania after passengers attempted to take control. No one survived any of the flights.
I remember being numb, having a sense that this was a joke — that someone was repeating the 1938 War of the Worlds hoax by Mercury Theatre on the Air. Directed and narrated by Orson Welles, the first two-thirds of the 60-minute broadcast was presented as a series of simulated news bulletins, which suggested that an invasion by Martians was in progress. On that September day, I thought it must be a hoax. We could not accept that this was really happening.
For about an hour, I was in denial. Then the reality became clear to both of us. Nearly 3,000 victims and the 19 hijackers died in the attacks. The overwhelming majority of casualties were civilians, including nationals of more than 70 countries.
For the first time in history SCATANA (Plan for the Security Control of Air Traffic and Air Navigation Aids) was invoked, closing all airspace and immediately grounding all non-emergency civilian aircraft in the United States, Canada, and several other countries. Tens of thousands of passengers were stranded across the world. The Federal Aviation Administration closed American airspace to all international flights, causing about 500 flights to be turned back or redirected to other countries.
We got mad, really mad, and both Bill and I wanted the United States to obliterate the Middle East. As the culprits were identified, we supported the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and hoped the United States would bring Osama bin Laden to justice. Unfortunately, then-President George W. Bush got distracted, started a war we didn’t need and invaded Iraq.
The politics of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, will be discussed and re-examined under the microscope of history, but in the meantime our lives have gone on.
To encourage travel, the airlines sold their seats for pennies. As a gay man, I love to get a great deal. I remember that on Sept. 15, I booked five trips to Puerto Rico — where I’m from — and three trips to Europe, and two trips to South America -- all of them for less than $2,000. We didn’t book any more flights because there was no room in the calendar.
So while the world went to war, while the hunt for Osama bin Laden was going on, we were traveling at bargain prices, having decided to completely live in denial. Funny, but when I found out I was HIV-positive, I reacted the same way for two years: denial. The sky was cloudless and blue...
The problem with denial is that eventually you have to come back to the real world. Just like I started treatment for my HIV, I had to start dealing with the war on terror.” I’m 55 years old, and I consider myself somewhat intelligent, but to watch President Bush screw the American economy while carrying a war of necessity and a war of choice — neither of which was funded — and to watch the United States go from a country that was admired and respected in the world to the laughingstock of the world was too much to tolerate. Thunderstorms became the forecast...
I lost it when Bush used the same-sex marriage issue to get re-elected in 2004. Matt Foreman of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force described the election results as “a right hook to the chin ... but certainly not a knockout.”
Oregon represented gay-rights groups’ best hope for victory, but an amendment banning same-sex marriage prevailed there with 57 percent of the votes, leaving some activists in tears. Similar bans won by larger margins in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio and Utah.
More than 20 million Americans voted on the measures, which triumphed overall by a 2-to-1 ratio. In the four Southern states, the amendments received at least three-quarters of the votes, including 86 percent in Mississippi; the closest outcome besides Oregon was in Michigan, where the ban got 59 percent.
Faced with four more years of “W” (whom we never thought actually won in 2000) and having been declared second-class citizens by the American electorate, we felt we had to leave our country. Category five hurricanes were coming...
I talked with the Spanish consulate and was ready to make a move to Barcelona, but we were stopped by the fact that we needed to have insurance. Because we were both HIV-positive, our insurance was Medicare, which is not accepted outside the United States. So we boycotted Christmas in 2004 and sent out black cards to each person on our address list, explaining why we felt there would be no reason to celebrate. It was the first time I felt I didn’t want to be a U.S. citizen, but I had nowhere to hide. I started calling myself Puerto Rican and denying that Bush was my president.
As we watched the atrocities committed by the Bush administration, The Daily Show became our nightly relief. We wish to thank Jon Stewart for the free therapy. Every time we heard the word nucular by “W,” it was as if someone was stabbing us with a dagger. But when Mr. Stewart made fun of it, we were healed a little.
Then came 2008, and we had hope. Even though we were both for Hillary Clinton, we were glad to see the Democrats take the White House and both Houses of Congress. Bright skies ...
Unfortunately, Barack Obama was not the president we had hoped for. First of all, he was against marriage equality. Worst of all, he turned out to be a sucker. His inability to lead and his naiveté in dealing with the Republicans proved fatal. The 2010 elections were a disaster, and the birth of the Tea Party moved the Republican Party to the extreme right, to a point where “W” seemed to be a moderate.
Obama was unable to end the Bush tax cuts in the budget negotiations and was ineffective in dealing with the Tea Party in the debt-ceiling bargain. The United States became the world’s laughingstock, Congress’ approval rating went down to 12 percent, and Standard and Poor’s downgraded the American debt from AAA to AA+. Severe thunderstorm warnings...
Then Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan on May 1, 2011, by a Navy SEALS team. The operation, code-named Operation Neptune Spear, was ordered by Obama and carried out with support from CIA operatives on the ground. The raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was launched from Afghanistan. Afterward, U.S. forces took bin Laden’s body to Afghanistan for identification, then buried it at sea within 24 hours of his death.
Al-Qaeda confirmed the death on militant websites and vowed to avenge it. The Pakistani government condemned the action as an intrusion on their sovereign status. However, Pakistan, the Bush ally in the “war against terror,” which has received billions of dollars from U.S. taxpayers, has not been able to explain its ignorance — or worse, aid — in the hiding of Osama bin Laden in plain view, just a few miles from the West Point of Pakistan. Sunny weather, with cloud cover...
We thought the death of bin Laden would bring closure to the 9/11 tragedy. We were also encouraged when the Obama administration finally moved to revoke Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, so that LGBT Americans can serve freely in the armed forces, and the president is coming our way toward marriage equality. New York became the fifth and largest state to legalize same-sex marriage, and opinions are finally moving toward equal rights for the LGBT community. However, the economy is doing poorly and the Republicans are doing everything possible to harm it so that Obama is only a one-term president. Unemployment has not recovered, and we may be nearing a double-dip recession.
The truth is that Americans will always live under the shadows of the 9/11 tragedy, and the two wars we are still fighting are proof of that. We should bring everyone home. Bin Laden is dead. We can rebuild our economy if we choose to spend all that reconstruction money used in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan right here in the United States. We may even be able to balance the budget. So the weather forecast for 2012 is yet to be determined...
Carlos Mock has published five books. You can follow his work at: www.carlostmock.com.