I will love you always...
*Everyone in the world remembers where they were on the morning of September 11, 2001. And everyone dealt with it in their own way. I wrote this essay out of nothing short of anger, desperation and grief, and have chosen to let it stand as my testament to that terrible day. This essay was performed by a college drama class as a tribute to 9/11.
Two weeks ago today I witnessed one of the worst things I have ever seen. I live ten hours from New York City, and know no one who lives there or who might have been visiting. Yet it has taken me this long to be able to write about it with any kind of clarity, without feeling overwhelmed with rage and grief at the mere thought of it.
As the world now knows, on September 11, 2001 a group of vile, mindless assassins boarded four planes for the west coast and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a farmer's field in Pennsylvania, killing thousands of people in the process and shattering the security and peace of the most inoffensive, benevolent nation on earth. It was a slithering sneak attack, without warning, without provocation, aimed at destroying innocent civilians, perpetrated by criminals who hated the United States so much they were happy to live there and train there and have their children there in preparation for their suicide mission to bring it down. They had no "reason" for doing it, if reason means rationality and objectivity; they were merely fanatical thugs who used their religion as an excuse to randomly destroy the lives of Americans and strike a blow against freedom, capitalism, individualism.
This wasn't the first time terrorists attacked American interests - it wasn't even the first time the World Trade Center had been attacked. From the Pan Am jet downed over Lockerbie, Scotland, to the bombed embassies in east Africa, from the bombing of the WTC in 1993 to the attack on the USS Cole, and every other terrorist act perpetrated against Americans over the last twenty years, the world has become familiar with the chants of "death to America" and the ruthless, bloody determination with which these fanatics carry out their missions. This disaster, however, was the worst to have ever befallen the country, or the world for that matter. The loss of life is staggering, the destruction unimaginable, the pain and the outrage and the nightmarish images of "cruise missiles with wings", as someone put it, stabbing into the heart of the country almost too much to bear. At this writing, 6,333 people are missing and presumed dead, and I have no hope that this number will be lowered, or that it will be the final count.
In the days following this tragedy, stories began to emerge that helped us piece together what happened. Amateur video provided more angles than any of us will ever want to see, more on-the-scene terror of people running for their lives, more shock and horror and mass grief than we ever thought possible. But along with video, the technology of cell phones proved to be of inestimable value, allowing us to understand why the plane destined for Washington went down in a deserted field, or what the last moments in the twin towers were like, or where the trapped and injured could be located. It allowed people to phone their loved ones to let them know they were okay... and it also allowed those who knew they wouldn't make it out a last opportunity to say goodbye.
These phone calls, some of them recorded and played back for a tearful audience, reveal calm voices struggling, sometimes, to stay calm, or anxious voices full of fear. It is heartbreaking to hear. Every caller, regardless of whether they thought everything was well or whether they knew their time was limited, chose their final moments to pass along the same message: I love you. I love you, honey. I love you mom, dad. Tell the kids I love them. I will love you always.
Psychologists have commented on this, saying that when a person fears for their life they can often find a kind of calmness in their thoughts that allows them to prioritize their values and act quickly. When a person is about to die they usually want to express their heart and say goodbye to the person or persons who mean the most to them, as a kind of "closure", and may even feel a more peaceful acceptance of their fate if they are able to do this last, crucial thing. This is probably true...but it doesn't say anything about how the person on the other end of that phone is supposed to feel. For every person lost in this horrific attack, there are perhaps two, five, twenty...who knows how many...other victims - their loved ones - who were left alive to deal with the horror of this loss. For everyone who died horribly in the attack, tens of thousands more will have to live, horribly, with those nightmare images in their minds for the rest of their lives.
I can easily...too easily...empathize with the many thousands of people worldwide who took those phone calls or heard those recordings and knew this was the last they'd ever hear of their beloved. I can imagine the paralyzing fear and the nauseating grief...and the strident, overpowering, all-encompassing urge to make sure they hear the words...I love you too.
And because I can empathize so well, I can imagine what each one of them might say next, if they had the chance, if they had the means of speaking to their loved one after the event, after the hope of finding them alive was gone. I can imagine what I would say if it was the last time I was able to speak to the person I loved most in the world: I love you too, I would say, over and over again. But more...because I love you, because you are so valuable to me, because you were ripped from my life and stripped of your own, I will not let your murderers go unpunished, not as long as I can do something about it.
Because I love you, I will hunt down every person, every organization, and every government who committed, or aided in, your murder. Because I love you I will punish severely, with every weapon at my disposal, and with all the wrath that they put in my heart, every last proponent of death to Americans for being Americans, wherever they may be and whatever affiliation they may hold. Because I love you my revenge will be swift and sure and I will show these filthy, ignorant assassins that the scope of my rage and the power of death that I hold at my fingertips is like nothing they have ever seen. Because I love you, I will rid the world of the scum that currently inhabit parts of it, I will eradicate the homicidal lunatics, the frenzied, evil-hearted, anti-value animals who dared take you away from me, and for the rest, for the scant few that I don't manage to obliterate or terrify to death, they will know enough not to risk my fury ever again.
Because I love you, and because I lost you at the hands of a regime that not only condones terror but actively supports it even when faced with the full firepower of the US-led allied armed forces, I will give these barbaric lands, these cultures that breed insanity and then demand the free world respect them for it, a deadly ultimatum - dismantle your horrific government, hand over your terrorists, and prepare for lifelong, unyielding, unmerciful occupation by forces who have proven through the respectful and intelligent governance of their people that they deserve to rule a nation. If you do not, I will send you to your God with all good speed.
If I alone cannot accomplish this, I will advocate and encourage those who do have the power to do it, and make it known that they have my full, complete and total support.
Because I love you, I will not seek to placate the "hurt feelings" of any group or religion that whines about how unfair it is to be stained by the actions and beliefs of their compatriots. I will not jump to give them solace and soothe their souls while you lie buried under a pile of rubble, murdered because this culture and religion has bred hatred and disdain for you into their children. I will not bend over backwards to be seen consoling them at their places of worship while the spouses and children, the mothers and fathers, friends and colleagues of 300 dead rescue workers receive not so much as a word of condolence, or a moment of respect. I will not harm or hinder in any way the peaceful, law abiding lives of any citizen, but I will not put their interests before yours or your fellow victims simply because they are sensitive to the way their culture is being portrayed. I will not be forced into political correctness over a culture who offends me to the core when I see the black bags they shroud their women in or the merciless violence they inflict on their mothers, wives and daughters for the crime of showing an ankle, or refusing an arranged marriage, or for merely having committed the sin of being born female. I will leave them to their beliefs, no matter how offensive I find them, but they had better damn well leave me the freedom of mine.
I will remember the heroism of the men in the skies over Pennsylvania who had benevolence in their hearts for the untold innocents below who would have perished if the plane had been allowed to reach its target, for the men who knew they were going to die but who, unlike the vermin who overtook their cockpit, strove to prevent the taking of any other innocent life in the process. I will remember that even in the darkest moment, strangers held hands with each other while plummeting to their death, a final gesture of comfort and peace when there was no hope of either. I will hope that someone held your hand, that someone comforted you when I could not. I will remember these things whenever anyone, anywhere, chants that the USA is unholy, immoral, or evil, and will do everything in my power to make the world understand what the true face of unholiness, immorality and evil looks like.
I will not apologize for America or its love of freedom, its rational self-interest, its vigilance in protecting its interests or its desire to foster individual rights in every country or group within its sphere of influence. I will not apologize for a country that has welcomed every culture, every group, every religion - including the group that your ancestors and mine belonged to when they first came here - without question and offered its people prosperity, freedom and happiness to anyone willing to work for it, asking nothing in return but patriotism and pride. I will not tolerate accusations of racism or discrimination, not in this country, not given how obviously untrue such accusations are, not given the fact that regardless of how I or anyone feels about the practices of their culture they are entirely free to go on practicing them without anyone's interference, provided they harm no one in doing so. I will remind every critic of the US that it is the only powerful nation on earth that has never developed a thirst for imperialism, that it is has never set its sights on a nation or territory and invaded it, even though it could easily do so and win, that it shares the longest unprotected border in the world with another country that it could easily take any time it wanted to, and that its influence around the world stems from other nations' voluntary desire to emulate its free society, enlightened culture, and opportunity for all.
Because I love you, I will defend the life and the liberty that we once enjoyed together. Because I love you I will fight to make sure our children, and the children of anyone who believes in the sanctity of individual freedom, can grow up in a world where they know, for certain, that the slime and the residue of stone age fanaticism will never pollute them as it once did us. Because I love you I won't encourage our children to merely light impotent candles and pray to a God that either abandoned us or went deaf or never existed at all, I won't lie to them and tell them every culture on earth is just as valuable and just as worthy of respect as any other. Because I love you I will never let them forget that whatever horrors we may inflict, whatever carnage results and whatever atrocities may reach their ears, it was done first in self-defense and second as righteous punishment against the most horrific of crimes, and would never have come about if the evil of terrorism had not been allowed to slither slowly into our midst over the years, cautiously, gingerly, unchallenged. Because I love you I will never allow our children to believe their teachers and university professors when they try to convince young minds that it is all our fault and that we deserved what we got for not being more tolerant of evil. I will never again dismiss as "misguided crusaders" the thugs and vandals who attack our trade summits and who threaten the global economy, who seek to destroy the producers and the achievers and bring us all down to their level of misery and moral bankruptcy. I will call these thugs what they are - the spiritual brothers of terrorists, since they use the same tactics and have, in their hearts, the same hatred of the good for being the good.
Because I love you I will ignore the photo ops of politicians who clamber to do nothing while a nation mourns and whose speechwriters weave elegant battle cries that say nothing of substance. I will not reach out to shake the hands of former presidents who walk, not thirty feet away, past the beleaguered rescue workers clawing day at night at rubble and don't have the decency to get in there and dig. I will not listen to the platitudes of leaders who have never seen combat, who have never faced the horror of war, who have lived out a sheltered existence in a cozy world made possible by the heroism of previous generations but who have no appreciation for how lucky they are to have been born into such a world. I will not partake in maudlin, self-congratulatory spectacles of so-called "spirit", and I will not tolerate any administration that refuses to defend itself when attacked.
Because I love you I will build a memorial on the spot where you lost your life, but more than that, I will build you an even bigger, even better, even more meaningful memorial somewhere else: I will rebuild the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and this time make them soar even higher, in absolute, bloody-minded defiance of anyone who would try to stab into the heart of my country and my life. I will show the world the force of my will and the strength of my character, I will rebuild New York City even better than it was, stronger, more powerful, more confident, more smug, and wealthier than anyone has ever dreamed. I won't let anyone forget, ever, that for simply pursuing your life, for working to support yourself, for making money in a free system of trade and exchange, for having a purpose in life that made you get on that train or ride that elevator that day, for having a family that you loved and a life you wanted to live with them, you were killed in the most horrific way imaginable by a group of inhuman animals who, combined, couldn't even touch your goodness, your benevolence, your rationality or your worth. And I won't let anyone forget that the price for taking you away from me is severe, the penalty inescapable, the reasons for my revenge implacable, untouchable, totally justified and not open to criticism by anyone.
Because I love you, I will go on as though you are still with me, living the life that we worked so hard to achieve. Because I love you I will never forget that in your moment of terror, when your life was about to end and you knew it, you chose the last few minutes available to you to express your love for me. I will never forget that you managed to foil the assassins on those planes with those three little words, words that they have never heard spoken to them nor have spoken to anyone else, words that have never applied to them, words that have no meaning to a soul nourished on hate and misery, words and an emotion that they sought to eradicate through fire and destruction but which triumphed over them all the same: I love you.
Because I love you, and because you loved me, I will not rest until those who don't know the meaning of those words suffer for their barbarism and their hate. Inaction, leniency, tolerance...these things have not brought the world peace before, there is no reason to assume they would do so now. This is my declaration of love - my love for you, for my country, for freedom, and for my own life, and it will be heard around the world as long as I have breath to shout.
To the families and loved ones of the many thousands of victims of this tragedy, I can only say that the strength of the emotion and the rage that I feel must pale in comparison to their own thoughts at this time; I want only to say further that now is not the time for them to bow to the pressure of the politically correct or to suffer in silence in deference to the feelings of others. George W. Bush spoke of an "unmarked grave of discarded lies" - let's consign altruism, self-sacrifice and political correctness to that fate, too. My heart goes out to the victims and their families, and I hope that somehow they find the strength to demand justice, to insist on the respect they deserve, and to expect vindication - they will have my unquestioning support if they do.