Ten years on

Today’s a meaningful day.  Like everyone else, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when the planes hit the tower.  For those of us who have not known war, this was the closest we came to experiencing it.  And in a way, it was the start of an odd war, the so-called War on Terror.

I was hesitant about how to mark the day and but wanted to spend some time reflecting, so I decided to take the family to the Mission Church on Tremont St, where mass was being given in honor of my neighbours’ brother, a fireman on Ladder 5 named Manny Del Valle, who lost his life on 9/11.  You can read the story here: a young man who raced up to the upper floors to put the fire out.

Peter Moyer’s talk about his bro’ at the church was both simple and moving.  It was a simple statement of loss and a story of brotherhood and togetherness, involving his family as well the New York and Boston firefighters.  The Moyer family did not come out of this with a thirst for revenge.  Instead, they’ve been embracing the people around them and recognizing that war, especially when fighting an enemy as vague as terrorism, is not the answer.


Manny Del Valle could not sit on the bench that bears his name – he was killed when the North Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001.  But his mother, Gricel Zayas-Moyer held a photo of her son as family members from as far away as Puerto Rico gathered around the memorial to remember Manny Sunday, Sept. 11. They were surrounded by members of the Brookline Police and Fire departments, representatives of the Fire Department of New York, and a crowd of residents who came to pay respects to Del Valle, the other victims with Brookline connections, and the more than 3,000 people who died as a result of the terror attacks. (courtesy of WickedLocal Brookline)

A tough decade

Whilst I am just a spectator in all this I cannot help but reflect on what the last ten years have meant for America.  From the bursting of the bubble in 2000 to the downfall of Worldcom in 2002, from the Iraqi invasion in 2003 to the collapse of the financial markets in 2008 and the inexorable rise of China, it’s been a tough decade for the world’s only superpower.

When I grew up, America was an aspirational force.  Sure, my parents grew up with the Marshall plan but regardless, I considered America to be the home of great music and courageous politics.  How that has changed.

Misguided foreign policy and loss of legitimacy

America has done itself a ton of damage over the last ten years.  But unlike what many people here seem to think, it’s not down to some idiotic anti-Americanism, but quite simply to what the US Government has been willing to do to other nations in the pursuit of its self-interest.   American foreign policy is extremely blunt in asserting that it will use unilateral means in pushing its interests abroad.  That was fine when fighting communism; it’s short-sighted when directed at, say, the world’s 1.6 billion muslims.

The world has changed.  The War on Terror was clearly one of the most flawed foreign policy concepts in memory.  Anyone with some common sense and some experience of terrorism knows that terrorism is overcome with a mixture of vigorous intelligence action but first and foremost deep reforms that take away the roots of terrorism.  Ask the English. they occupied the tiny Northern Irish territory with overwhelming force since the second world war and only recently achieved a peaceful solution, that fundamentally came from inside.

In much of the world outside America, the invasion of Iraq was generally perceived as a move to get access to oil based on fabricated intelligence and a rather bizarre linkage between the 9/11 attacks and a mostly secular second rate dictator.  Tackling the Taliban, a former ally gone awry, was a good response.  Tackling Iraq led the entire world to scratch its head (with the possible exception of Tony Blair).  The net result was loss of life on both sides, the strengthening of Iran and the creation of a lawless zone of torture called Guantanamo Bay.  With great power comes great responsibility, etc etc.

Yet America holds the key

By the same token, I cannot see another nation able to be the aspirational leader that the world aspire to.  Not by projecting its military might arrogantly, but by showing the world was a dynamic and inventive democracy can be.

America’s at a unique crossroads where it’s dealing with high long term unemployment for the first time in its history, it’s financially constrained, it’s being overtaken by China, it’s politically deadlocked.  Yet it’s also this incredible vortex of creativity, passion, creation, invention and change.

Here’s to hoping that everyone takes stock of the lessons of 9/11, takes a moment to reflect and remember, and moves on to a more humble and at the same time more aspirational role for America moving forward. A great democracy that can overcome partisanship and put lobbying back into its box, that embraces a more caring vision of society whilst preserving its fundamental drive to achieve and innovate, and continues to shower us with great ideas and innovations.




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