What It Do: Never Forget (What?)

The “Never Forget” response to 9/11 has always puzzled me, as if there was ever a possibility that anyone who was cognizant that day would forget what happened, or that we as a nation would ever forget.

I still remember exactly where I was, how I found out, and pretty much everything else that happened that day, as do most folks, I’m sure. And if there was ever a chance of 9/11 fading from memory, the decade-plus of grinding war that has followed surely erased it.

For some people, “Never Forget” probably means something along the lines of “Never forget that the attackers were Muslim, so therefore Islam is evil!” These folks probably supported Michele Bachmann in last year’s Republican primary. While widespread anti-Muslim prejudice remains—this is the United States of America, after all—it does seem that some of the “otherizing” that occurred in the years following the attacks has faded.

Most of the hardcore anti-Islam prejudice in the American body politic comes from Bachmann and the strain of aggressively evangelical conservatism she represents. Outside that very insular bubble, people—for the most part—seem to be wrapping their minds around the idea that Islam is not some sort of death cult, and that Muslims are just people like the rest of us.

So that particular iteration of “Never Forget,” though possibly making the most sense from a linguistic accuracy standpoint, is not really what most people mean by the phrase. Instead, most people seem to offer it as some sort of pseudo-prayer of remembrance for those who lost their lives that day. Certainly not malicious, and I suppose you could say their hearts aren’t in the wrong place.

But with the L.A. Lakers tweeting a picture of Kobe Bryant with “#NEVERFORGET” stamped across the front, and mid-budget hotels dedicating their continental breakfasts to the victims of 9/11, the whole idea has about as much to do with what happened on 9/11 as ribbon-shaped magnets made in China have to do with “supporting the troops.”

In some ways, I don’t mind the expression, especially compared to the atmosphere immediately after the towers fell. I’ll take shallow gestures over war fever any day.

After 9/11, we let an incompetent oil salesman who knew how to work the crowd with a bullhorn—he was a cheerleader, after all—talk us into throwing what amounted to a global temper tantrum, starting in the mountains of Afghanistan and leading to the ruins of Fallujah.

It cost thousands of American lives, god only knows how many billions of dollars, and the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans. When all was said and done, what do we have to show for it?

Afghanistan has regained its historical place as the world’s opium factory, and between the heroin dealing warlords, the beyond-corrupt Hamid Karzai government, and the resurgent Taliban, it is not clear what we accomplished there, save for making sure the junkies of the world could reliably get that good shit, yo.

We’re out of Iraq, but the country remains torn by violence and bloodshed, with the security outlook unlikely to improve in the near term. Also, now that the Iranians don’t have to worry about Saddam’s crazy ass in their backyard, they have been actively working to expand their dominance of the Middle East, and we’re currently dealing with one of the consequences of that dynamic right now in Syria.

Vladimir Putin has been the public face of Syria’s international support for obvious reasons, but let us not forget that the Assad regime is also supported by Iran in ways economic, military, and diplomatic. An argument could be made that Assad has been able to cling to power in the face of widespread opposition in no small part because of the support he receives from emboldened Tehran.

Interesting that the war-weariness from Bush’s grand military misadventure may prevent Obama from getting his bomb strike on in response to blowback from that same misadventure. I generally support Obama—hi haters—but he’s dead wrong on this. He’s making the same mistake that so many of our leaders make, rushing to action with no realistic long-term strategy or endgame, trusting in American military prowess to fill in the gaps.

Over the past 12 years, with every troop that came home disfigured or disturbed, or didn’t come home at all, we’ve been reminded what war costs, despite our new cable-TV friendly method of fighting it. We’ve seen the humbling limits of our vaunted “power,” whether we want to admit it or not.

Dubya once said, “Fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again.” Deep.

When it comes to Syria, the American people seem to have processed some of the lessons from the first time we got fooled, and are somewhat reluctant to get fooled again.

May we never forget that.