This CNN column by Bob Greene is so blithely, obliviously absurd that I am almost speechless. He latches onto one phrase from a posthumous Korean War Medal of Honor citation, “utterly disregarding his own safety,” and repeats it over and over again like some kind of magical talisman as he uses our troops to “prove” that 9/11 did not change our national character:
That’s what hasn’t changed in the United States — for all the ways we tell ourselves that the U.S. has been altered since September 11, 2001, for all the points we can enumerate about how Osama bin Laden was able to disrupt the usual flow of American life, an important thing to keep in mind is that, despite everything, there have always been, and will always be, people among us who make the choice to do exactly that: put the well-being of others ahead of their own.
They were there at the towers in 2001, and they were there in Pakistan on Sunday, and if we’re lucky — and we eternally have been — whenever they are needed, at home or across the seas, they will be there again.
How did Osama bin Laden change us?
In the undying ways of the human heart that should and do matter, not at all.
Apparently because there are still people willing to sacrifice their lives for their country, even when the cause is not worthy of such a sacrifice, that means that our national character must be honorable and good.
Sure, it’s great that America still has courageous and selfless individuals, but in case Mr. Greene hasn’t noticed, America also still has greedy individuals and corporations who are allowed to bribe the government into protecting them from taxes and regulations while the poor starve, the unemployed despair, and the uninsured die.
And in case Greene also hasn’t noticed, America has become increasingly comfortable with torture, indefinite detentions, warrantless wiretapping, and unchecked executive power, all in the name of the “War On Terror” that started on 9/11.
Even Greene’s heroic troops are now polluted by racists and sociopaths, because the military couldn’t find enough brave sacrificial lambs and had to start recruiting thugs who only wanted to rape and kill with impunity.
Yes, there has been some encouraging progress over the last ten years, most notably in the gradual move towards acceptance of marriage equality and gay troops, but the country’s overall trajectory since 9/11 has bent towards authoritarianism, corruption, selfishness and cruelty. The continued presence of a few good people does nothing to change that.
Just because there are still people willing to die for the American ideal, doesn’t mean the American ideal isn’t dying.