The Decade Of 9/11
On September 17, 2011, 9:44 PM by Karl Moats
The decade that America lost it’s soul and it’s dignity as it sunk into two unwinnable wars and an economic depression.
The President ordered from Costco for the Osama Bin Laden watch party. Turkey pita sandwiches, cold shrimp, potato chips. The White House’s comfort food of choice to witness the end of the world’s most wanted man.
“Now entering Pakistan,” CIA director Leon Panetta narrated over the big screen. Joe Biden kneaded rosary beads. Hillary Clinton covered her face in shock. But President Obama looked on. Stone-faced.
Geronimo. The code name for Osama Bin Laden.
EKIA. Enemy Killed In Action. Osama Bin Laden had been shot in the head.
A hushed silence. “We got him,” President Obama said finally, quietly. A pause. Then the backslapping, the high-fiving all around. “We got him.”
With that Obama grabbed a sandwich to go and marched upstairs to tell the nation.
Osama Bin Laden was irrelevant by 2011. Al Qaeda, decimated by Drone attacks from above, infighting from within, and reviled across most of the Muslim world. But the visceral joy was still there. That sneering, bearded mug of barbarity was shot in the head. By an American bullet.
The mystique died next. Turns out, Osama Bin Laden was not a hardened ascetic denouncing the West from a snow-capped mountain pass. Instead, he reclined on the third floor of a million dollar compound forty miles from Pakistan’s capital. He was a vainglorious media junkie who dyed his beard for his next video. He spent his time looking at a) himself on TV and b) porn.
Osama Bin Laden was protected not by legions of hardened Mujahideen fighters but two well-to-do Pakistanis and their children. A private family that kept to itself with no phone-lines. They burned their trash indoors lest anyone riffle through the refuse.
He spent his final days listening to the pitter patter of children’s feet. Buffalo crowning a yard over. And that cloudless night the incoming roar of four U.S. helicopters and then gunfire. He was shot once in the head, once in the back, before his body was unceremoniously dumped somewhere in the Indian Ocean.
A decade after September 11, Osama Bin Laden was not the savior of the Muslim world but its scourge. His name sneered, not chanted. A decade later, Osama Bin Laden was no longer the bearded totem of resistance to American imperialism. He was the crutch of Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi and the region’s other loathed strongman who argued they alone could safeguard against him.
A decade after 911, America rebuilt the World Trade Center taller than ever. It is the façade of Arab strongmen that tumbled. The rusted rebar and rubble expose depraved men clinging to fists full of petro-dollars. Their towering walls of brick and mortar no match for the pixellated Facebook walls of ones and zeroes. Social media did not topple Mubarack. The audacity of Tahrir Square did. But social media helped the rage go viral. Skyping, tweeting its way from Tunis to Hama. They were felled by students, lawyers, and bloggers who knew simply there must be another way.
In the end, Osama Bin Laden felled two skyscrapers in New York but no governments. He is survived by three wives, a moribund al Qaeda network, and an Arab world freer in spite—not because—of his cruelty.
You know where you where when you first heard the news.
Blackberry-faced New Yorkers peered up from their smart-phones and asked strangers simply, “Did you hear?” Mets and Phillies fans cast aside their divisional rivalry and chanted “U-S-A! U-S-A!” NBC pulled away from Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice”.
Ten years after 911, we have not had our The Naked and the Dead. Or our Apocalypse Now, though The Hurt Locker comes the closest. The pain is still too visceral. The timing, still too soon.
Instead, Hollywood churns out a lineup of souped-up but ultimately forgettable war flicks. Jarhead, The Green Zone, The Kingdom, Body of Lies, etc.—box office disappointments rich in sparkling CGI explosions but light in historicity. Again and again, they depict testosterone junkies defusing IEDs, battling terrorists and themselves. Troops enduring ephemeral moments of action in between months of endless wait.
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