Following the events of September 11th, 2001, when it was determined that a radical Islamic group operating under the name Al Qaida was responsible, its leader, Osama bin Laden, once supported by covert US operations in Afghanistan, but since recognized as a terrorist enemy of the west, was identified as the prime target for a response. An Islamic extremist group known as the Taliban was oppressively ruling Afghanistan at the time and, not surprisingly, refused to extradite bin Laden. After token negotiations in the United Nations, a well-intentioned, if largely ineffective international diplomatic organization, the decision was made to declare war on Afghanistan and remove the Taliban from power, paving the way, ostensibly at least, to capturing or killing bin Laden. This initial incursion was carried off relatively smoothly by a “coalition” consisting primarily of US forces but with some token international support. The Taliban was effectively neutralized, and a puppet government installed. Residual Taliban continued to pose a threat, trying to reconstitute their opressive rule. US and multinational forces would remain in theater for years in an effort to combat these extremist forces and maintain some semblance of civil order.
Osama bin Laden was believed to be hiding out in rugged territory straddling the border between Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, controlled not by either country, but by tribal forces ensconced there. Bush appealed to the then leader of Pakistan, President, General Pervez Musharraf and hastily forged an alliance in which Pakistani forces were enlisted to try and corral bin Laden and possibly capture him. Pakistan, immersed in a territorial dispute with neighboring India that saw both experimenting with nuclear weapons, now found itself in an important negotiating position with the US and was quick to cooperate or at least present the appearance of cooperation in order that it might gain some leverage. It wasn't until years later, under the administration of Barack Obama, the first US president of African descent, who followed George W. Bush in office, when US forces finally caught up with bin Laden in living in relative comfort inside Pakistan; a confrontation that resulted in his death.
Meanwhile, President George W. Bush, after pressuring the intelligence community to produce what later was exposed as pathetic “evidence” that Saddam Hussein in nearby Iraq had been tangentially involved in the terrorist attacks against the US and was producing so-called Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), ostensibly in preparation for a full-on attack on the United States and/or its interests abroad; the same Saddam Hussein against whom an earlier president, Bush’s father, George H. W. Bush had fought a war and prevailed but failed to “finish the job” and remove him from power, presented that “evidence” to the United Nations through one Colin Powell, who up to that point had been widely viewed as a man of great personal integrity by most of the American public and much of the world for that matter. After deliberations and under great pressure from the Bush administration, the UN eventually issued resolutions making demands of Hussein. Ultimately, this was used as pretext for a war in Iraq, carried off by another “coalition” consisting again predominantly of US forces, with grudging token support from other nations.
Hussein, while certainly no angel, was not the perpetrator of the September 11th attacks and by all accounts, was not in any way involved in them, directly or indirectly. Though he was removed from power and eventually tried in a hastily reconstituted Iraqi court, ostensibly of, by, and on behalf of Iraqis, convicted, and hanged for his crimes against Iraq, Hussein, through his certainly destructive program of cash “reward” payments made to the families of suicide bombers killing innocent civilians in Israel, was only a relatively minor player in the global terrorism threat on which was founded Bush’s new doctrine of preemptive action. The Iraq war, primarily a realization of the personal agendas of Bush and his Vice President Cheney, was a tremendous drain on the US national budget and cost thousands of American lives – more in fact than the September 11th attack, not to mention hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, most of whom were probably innocent civilians.
Bush invoked and far exceeded constitutional wartime powers to expand the power of the Executive branch, much to the detriment of the strength of the Constitution and of the United States’ form of constitutional democracy itself. During his tenure, he installed members of the Supreme Court, including a Chief Justice, tipping the balance from a progressive and rationally minded court to one with strong Christian “conservative” leanings. The damage to the American way of life resulting from this change alone is still being tallied. Wherever he had the opportunity, Bush used his religious beliefs as an excuse to undo decades of progress in civil rights and freedoms, medical research, and other areas. The Bush administration regularly interfered with the due course of scientific research, and pressured various governmental agencies to alter their reports away from reality in support of his beliefs. He and his administration effectively vandalized the United States of America, its government and its constitution, undermining the very foundations of what had been the greatest national experiment in the history of human society. The republican party suffered as well, allowing its right-wing religious constituency to influence run amok, fielding more than a few rank idiots as vice presidential and presidential candidates, and generally showing itself to be misaligned with the interests of the nation at large. Not that the democrats had it right either, but they were at least not so inflexible and dogmatic.
It is not, however, merely the ignorance of this failed president that makes his uncharacteristically modest if well maintained memorial a monument to ignorance; nor is it just the crimes and misdoings of his administration. It is the ignorance, intolerance, and bigotry of the religious multitudes, Christian and Muslim in particular, so focused on their myths and dogma. It is the ignorance of a huge portion of the American public, religious and otherwise, so complacent in the supposed checks and balances designed to protect against just such a criminal administration as to somehow overlook the fact that with the republican-dominated congress and hand picked Supreme Court, the administration in its first term had nearly completely dismantled those very safeguards and twisted the knife in the wound during the early part of its second. Only midway through his second term did the American public finally dislodge the republican congressional majority, and then only by the narrowest of margins.
American citizens’ direct and continual involvement in the public discourse, not merely in the electoral process, an essential ingredient of the American System, had been abdicated by the citizenry at large, probably beginning with the growth of the broadcast media into the position of dominant source of public information, effectively turning the great democratic conversation into a one-way presentation, excluding the input of the citizenry at large. Direct citizen involvement, the safeguard of first and last resort, was critical to the healthy pursuit of American Democracy. This involvement had already almost completely evaporated by the time of the George W. Bush Administration; yet this alarming situation was hardly even recognized by the public at large, lured into complacency by a media and political status quo that had by then been reduced to little more than a marketing campaign, selling politicians much the way of any other product: clothing, hygiene products, food.
Ignorant Americans stood by and watched their very way of life systematically undermined by a presidential administration reminiscent of nothing so much as the early days of the Third Reich, but in America, where such things were not supposed to happen. This was the administration that the founding fathers feared. This was the administration against which the various safeguards were installed in the first place, all those many years ago. Yet Ignorant Americans stood by and let it happen.
Ignorant Muslims world wide said nothing when extremists from among their ranks perpetrated horrible crimes against humanity, usually aimed deliberately at innocent civilians including children, under the aegis of the dogma of their supposedly peaceful religion.
Ignorant Christians the world over, but in the United States in particular, reveled in the delusion that events were unfolding that looked eerily similar to events they’d been brainwashed to expect leading up to the “second coming” of their imagined messiah.
None of these prophesied events came to pass of course. After years of brutal and bloody war, reasonable minds began to emerge, publishing in traditional media such as books, and new electronic media such as the Internet, the first global electronic information network, an omnidirectional medium in which everyone could participate worldwide. Eventually, the jumpstarted conversation resumed, this time with input not only from within the United States, but worldwide, from all sides of the issues. Eventually, reason reasserted itself, leading in time to a more rational and more peaceful public discourse and society as a whole began to heal.
On this hundredth anniversary of the tragedy that served as the trigger for this sad chain of events, it is for all the citizens of the Planet Earth to remember and study this and other atrocities throughout our history; to recognize in ourselves the tendency toward, and actively and aggressively work to prevent another one; to combat the forces of dogma wherever they may show their faces; to teach our children the time-tested methods of critical thinking, analysis, and introspection, and the imperative to apply them; to work for the strength of our society for the benefit of all the inhabitants of this tiny blue planet we call home.