Falling Into History, 20th Edition

Got it: white is patriotic.

Today is the 20th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks and there are many tributes and remembrances on all the usual pundit sites, many of them maudlin and almost all of them self-serving.

What I don’t see a lot of is anger. An entire generation of Americans has only known us to be at war, and the end result is what, exactly? We were lied to from the start (thanks a lot Chimpy) and cajoled into a 20-year catastrophe. And it is not lost on me that the same voices from Dubya’s Administration that marched us into the sands is now opining on all the cable news networks, including the allegedly liberal MSNBC. They lost the war, but they won the career.

We’ve been running this post since the blog began. It is from the SF Chronicle circa 2006 —I don’t even know how many Friedman units ago that is. One of the reasons it endure and resonates so well with me is because it is angry, rightfully so.

This essay itself has fallen into the void and is no longer on the SF Chron’s servers. I want to ensure that it remains on the web, so I am including it verbatim. Bad Blogger!

This essay was written by Neva Chonin (author of the long gone and lamented Live! Rude! Girl! column), who has since left The Chron; I do not know where she writes now and I wish I did. I think this essay easily remains the best writing about September 11 that I have encountered.

Oh, we’re keeping it on top today, anything new will be below–Tengrain

He’s one of those average men you pass without noticing. A little tubby, wearing beige Dockers and a pink polo shirt. Not much to look at, were it not for the fact that this particular guy is flying. No, flying is the wrong word — he’s falling, falling through the blue sky, a lifetime of memories clutched in his outstretched hands and nothing we know about below.

He’s falling into history.

I can’t remember when or why I started Googling the words “Sept. 11” and “falling.” I was looking for … something. Chills? Answers? What I found were pictures of the jumpers — the people trapped on the upper floors of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, who chose to breathe free one last time before dying. Some leaped from their offices holding hands, lines of them, clinging to one another until gravity and wind tore them apart. A solo jumper, dubbed “The Falling Man” by media, went on to become emblematic of that day’s unanswered questions.

But it’s the guy in the Dockers, my own private falling man, who haunts me. He’s helped me, too, because five years later I think I finally know why the day of his death owns a horror all its own. It’s got nothing to do with flags and national security and God bless America. It’s basic and internal. It’s this: the disorientation of witnessing the average turn surreal, like a Magritte painting that has escaped its frame and invaded the world to upset the equilibrium of what we earnestly call “reality.”

This, too: It’s the shock of seeing an arrogant and seemingly untouchable superpower sucker-punched on its own turf for the first time, not by another superpower but by humans as puny as we are, whose only weapon is their confounding will to die. It’s the eeriness of watching two iconic towers taken out by passenger planes turned passenger missiles. It felt, then as now, like a conspiracy against reason. Jets do not fly into buildings. Except when they do. A guy in Dockers doesn’t fall from the sky. Except when he does. The whole day defied logic, because it couldn’t have happened. Except it did.

I can grasp the horror of civilians in war zones, living under daily bombardment and burying neighbors and family after every air raid. That was my mother’s life, and her stories are programmed into my brain. What I can’t imagine are the feelings of those trapped in either missiles or targets on Sept. 11. I can’t, for instance, fathom seeing office cubicles disintegrate around me, or watching from a coach-class window seat while my plane descends toward the World Trade Center or the wretched Pentagon or, in the case of United 93, a rolling rural blankness. These experiences remain so defiantly strange and outside the repertoire of war that I’m left without context, and without context I’m bewildered. Their singularity defies description. Maybe it was like walking on the moon or surviving a death camp; you had to have been there to know what it was like.

That’s the revelation my falling man gave me: That I will never understand. For me, the tragedy of Sept. 11 has always been measured in political fallout. I remember a friend commenting, two days after the planes hit, “Well, that’s it for Iraq.” He saw the future closing in even then, and he wasn’t the only one.

But the rest of the country — liberal, conservative, atheist, evangelical, gay, straight, black, white — was too busy waving flags to hear reason. Polls continue to show that at least half of the American public believes Saddam Hussein was involved in the attacks. Yes, they are just that stupid. Don’t make excuses for them. Don’t blame Fox News for telling them what they want to hear.

Let’s talk about liberal responsibility, instead. Let’s talk about why Democrats of all stripes felt free to put our civil rights into our president’s neoconservative hands. Do you remember what you were doing in the weeks following Sept. 11, 2001? Do you remember your cowardice? I do.

I remember Sandra Bernhard, daring to tell an anti-Bush joke at the Warfield that fall, being booed by a “liberal” San Francisco audience. I also remember writing a column at about the same time questioning where all the flag-waving and jingoism would lead us, and receiving hundreds — yeah, hundreds — of hate letters. That’s not counting the death threats. And I remember getting a few pathetic messages from self-identified Bay Area “progressives” saying they shared my misgivings, but “would never say so in public, of course, ha ha” (actual quote).

Ha ha. See you at the next protest picnic, heroes. If you still think the White House cared about anything more than its own agenda and the cost of real estate when it watched the twin towers go down, if you still believe Bush and company shed one tear for the people trapped in those buildings, well. Wherever your mind’s at must be a sweet, peaceful place. I hope I never go there.

Five years after reality went boom, taking our Constitution, civil rights and common sense with it, I can finally cry for the people who died that day, those whose deaths have been so ruthlessly exploited and memories abused. This, thanks to the image of a guy in Dockers falling through the warm September air. I cry for the unique terror of his death, and I cry because he reminds me of how far we’ve all sunk. His descent lasted less than a minute; we’ve been in a free fall ever since.

This entry was posted in Afghanistan, Chimpy's Great Adventure, Iraq, PDB 2001, September 11. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Falling Into History, 20th Edition

  1. Jimmy T says:

    Yeah I remember it well. The obscenity of those lucky duckies taking their chances with the pavement rather than being burned alive, and then seeing it repeated by endless looping by the mass media thus giving it a salacious flavor. I gave up all my cable media channels rather than subjecting myself to the insanity, and never brought them back. I think “The Cowboy Junkies” pretty gave a clear voice to that day. Try not to cry…

    Liked by 3 people

  2. laura says:

    Thanks for reposting Neva Chonin TenGrain, it cuts like a knife and it feels so right. Grasping for the comfort and security of life before and only coming up with jingoistic platitudes, car flags and shopping while accepting the fucking Patriot Act has not served us well.
    Funny old world.

    Liked by 4 people

    • MDavis says:

      Also the claimed importance of Securing the Fatherland, er, Homeland.

      Liked by 3 people

    • What laura said.

      9/11 wasn’t so much an attack on democracy as a injury that lead to a wildly over-reactive autoimmune self-destruction of it.

      When I heard people saying “The Constitution is not a suicide pact” I knew bin Laden had succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. He couldn’t destroy a superpower with three planes and a few thousand deaths. All he could do was poke us, and watch us do it to ourselves.

      Which we promptly did, and continue to do to this day.

      America, for the price of a few buildings and a few thousand deaths, promptly abandoned the principles of the Constitution that we proclaimed to be the beacon of freedom to the world, in favor of blinding red bloodlust for revenge.

      We showed the world who we really were.

      We are still holding people in Gitmo, on “trial” for their crimes, a trial that couldn’t pass muster as ‘fair’ even in the most despotic regimes on the planet, of defendants who were brutally tortured over and over and over and over and over again, then held in solitary confinement for nearly twenty years.

      A trial that by our own rules is completely illegal. There is no constitutional or legal justification for holding civilian foreign nationals on a military trial for crimes committed against the American people, using confessions elicited under torture that are explicitly banned by the Constitution we claim to hold dear. They just made that shit up on the spot.

      The world learned that America wasn’t really so special after all.

      Liked by 6 people

      • Redhand says:

        You are spot-on with this. 9/11 was the catalyst for our own self-destruction. OBL succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.


      • Redhand says:

        Let me just add that one of my oldest friends called me yesterday to talk politics. Both of us feel that America is now like Weimar Germany.


    • Jimmy T says:

      Yeah, after the towers came down I was on board with making the culprits pay. But the former former guy (Bush) didn’t go after Bin Laden even after two terms in office. We got close, actually had Osama trapped, but for some inexplicable reason we attacked Iraq instead. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, but the lies about it’s weapons programs flew fast and furious, nevermind the fact that the financing, planning, and 14 of the 16 highjackers came from Saudi Arabia. It tuned out that the Bush’s and Bin Laden’s had been business partners for a number of years. I’ve always wondered if W placed his business interests ahead of the national interests. Well, I don’t wonder really, but a thorough investigation would be justified. I don’t expect it though…


      Liked by 1 person

      • Well I don’t know about Shrub placing his business interests over country ( the Bin Ladens and the Carlyle group WERE business partners, but OBL was on the outs with the rest of the (very large) family…the bin Ladens were only second to the house of Saud in the power hierarchy of Saudi Arabia at the time) , but VP Cheney sure as hell did. Remember the January 2001 meetings in the VP’s office where they reputedly laid out a map of Iraq and divvied it up?

        Iraq was always the primary target of the neocon/petrocriminal cabal. In their mind, bin Laden spoiled a perfectly good plan to gin up the war in Iraq. It’s not for nothing that *on September 11th Rumsfeld was scribbling notes about pinning the attacks on Saddam during meetings.


        With the intelligence all pointing toward bin Laden, Rumsfeld ordered the military to begin working on strike plans. And at 2:40 p.m., the notes quote Rumsfeld as saying he wanted “best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H.” – meaning Saddam Hussein – “at same time. Not only UBL” – the initials used to identify Osama bin Laden….”Go massive,” the notes quote him as saying. “Sweep it all up. Things related and not.”

        Trump was largely an agent of chaos, stupid, easily lead but with a mangement style of setting his subordinates against each other in Thunderdome-esque competition for his favor.

        He attracted griters and crackpots and obsequious yes-men, and his capricious and utterly arbitrary style of decision-making managed to keep his administration from really damaging the country (with the exception of that fucking nazi white supremacist Miller). The greater damage he inflicted on this country was the mainstreaming of the bugfuck insanity now engulfing the GQP.

        Had he been president in 2001, there would have been a catastrophically wrong reaction, but I don’t think it could have been sustained; he’d immediately have started blowing up any unity in the country, and he would have antagonized allies from the outset.

        Hell he’d have probably tried nuking Tehran or something.

        Bush’s administration was stuffed with clear-eyed neocon fanatic warmongers who thought they had the divine right to rule the world, and worse, the competence to try to make it happen.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Tony Prost says:

    “A trial that by our own rules is completely illegal. ” That is the whole point of Guantanamo: it is not illegal if we do it in Cuba!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Big Bad Bald Bastard says:

    I spent the morning at my volunteer coaching gig, with many of the same coaches I spent Saturdays with twenty years ago. It was comforting being with people I attended memorial services with so long ago, but oddly, such a short time ago,

    Looking back, the aftermath of 9/11 was a huge gaslighting campaign by the Bush regime, with the complicity of the media. Slowly, we were led into war with an innocent country (and an impoverished country held hostage by the Saudis), innocent Muslim-Americans were demonized, the incompetent Bush was lionized, and we were subject to an intrusive Security Theater State which kept nobody safe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • MDavis says:

      When the media and public seemed to get a bit – not on board – out would come another OBL threat assessment. I remember one which caused a public argument about why an Islamic man would dye his beard black.


  5. psanitymt says:

    The thing is, there were plenty of people who spoke out at the time. There were large protest marches and rallies in major cities against the bombing and invasion of Afghanistan; even my small town in Montana mustered a march of six or seven hundred. There was effectively zero media coverage, as though these demonstrations never happened, to maintain pretense that Americans were all “united”. (And, before you say, no, that was before Iraq — no, there were people in the streets protesting as soon as it became clear that our country would bomb and/or invade Afghanistan. Like, 2-3 weeks after 9/11.) Watch out for those memory holes, they’re everywhere.

    Liked by 2 people

    • tengrain says:

      I marched in more than one in California before Iraq, psanitymt. I believe you that Montana had a protest.




  6. TheOtherHank says:

    George Bush is a fucking war criminal. I am not now nor will ever be on board with his rehabilitation. He should be in a cell next to Kissinger. Fuck those fucking fuckers.


    • pagan in repose says:

      Don’t forget the Network News and the NY Times for aiding and abetting.

      The real 9/11 is Global Climate Change and the every day results of Natures response to our polluting of the living planet under all our feet all the days of our lives. We do not live without the planet. Never have never will. Think of it with your next breath. Think about it with your next glass of water. Without either, most all life on this planet will die.

      Yes, we are all that falling man.


  7. R White says:

    I often look back and wonder what the response could’ve been had Gore not conceded the election so easily nor the extreme court’s corporate whores in black robes involving themselves to throw the election for the dry-drunk, ex-coke fiend dubya. The response would’ve been measured and well thought out, but the bloodlust was so great in those moments after the tragedy of that day that in the end, the carnage inflicted upon our enemies would’ve been the same, if not greater. The only difference would’ve been with morally bankrupt republicans and the worthless media criticizing Gore’s every decision and action, things that never happen when we unfortunately continue to elect republicans who have all failed upwards in life and are allowed to learn on the job.

    We all look foolish and barbaric when we as a post-industrial fading empire continue to embrace a “cowboy” swagger, a false sense of bravado on the world stage by forcing our will on others by the barrel of a gun without once trying to learn the complexities of the world’s diverse cultures along with ignoring the real dangers of global warming. As time marches on and our shared problems become greater, we are all becoming like those unfortunate individuals in the two towers who in those moments had to either choose to stay and be burned alive or to hopelessly jump and to fall into the unknown.


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