The tragedy of 9/11 continues: an historic opportunity lost

Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan

Yesterday, the people of the United States of America, and countless other people around the world, remembered the shocking horrors of the 9/11 attacks. Like many others that morning, I watched in disbelief, hardly believing the terrible images happening in real time before our eyes.

“The solemn day of commemoration offered frequent reminders for Americans of a time when they united in the face of unimaginable tragedy,” said an Associated Press article about the day of remembrance. “That fading spirit of 9/11 was invoked most forcefully by the president at the time of the attacks, George W. Bush, who said, ‘That is the America I know,’ in stark contrast to the bitterly divided nation President Joe Biden now leads.

The AP article continued, “Biden left the speech-making to others, paying his respects at the trio of sites in New York, Pennsylvania and outside Washington where four hijacked planes crashed on Sept. 11, 2001, killing nearly 3,000 people, shattering the nation’s sense of security and launching the country into two decades of warfare.”

With all due respect to Bush, who is a better former president now than he was a sitting one, there is much he could have said about his role in leading his country in the two disastrous, post-9/11 wars. He was largely a figurehead president, while other powerful men in his administration pulled the fateful strings. But as the late, former President Harry Truman famously said about his presidential responsibilities, “the buck stops here.”

Hundreds of thousands of innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan died, and many thousands of soldiers and security forces in uniform, from Afghanistan itself, the U.S., and other NATO countries. They include 158 Canadians. On a percentage basis of the total number of Canadians who served in Afghanistan, that was one of the highest rates of death, second only to the U.K. One of the most shocking statistics I came across, was that 30,177 American soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in Syria, committed suicide as of the end of 2019. That’s according to The Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs, of Brown University in the U.S.

The American involvement in the 20-year Afghan war officially ended on August 31 of this year, amid much chaos. That was as the Taliban, the extremists who ruled over Afghanistan at the time of the 9/11 attacks, regained power so easily and quickly after the fall of a U.S.- backed government. After 20 years of war, the deaths of so many people, and the expenditure of an estimated seven trillion dollars, it was, to say the least, no victory.

The continuing tragedies of 9/11 and those two misbegotten wars include a shaking to the core of a great country, once the light and hope of the world, the country that created the world’s first liberal democracy – yes, liberal – and dared to proclaim, all people are created equal. Yes, it was always a work in progress; but the strength and spirit of that idea helped immeasurably to save the world from domination by the most evil tyranny history has ever known, based on the idea that people are not equal.

The United States had an historic opportunity to show the world how a great democracy deals with even such an atrocious criminal act under the rule of law and due process in pursuit of justice: Send a strong and professional police presence to Afghanistan; conduct an investigation; find and arrest the material suspects; charge them with relevant charges; and take them back to the scene of the crimes to face justice and appropriate punishment according to the law if found guilty. But it failed to do that.

And now that great country is in a downward spiral, terribly divided, between those who believe in its founding principle, and those who don’t. Yes, it is as simple as that.

I don’t blame the millions of Americans who, in their distress and confusion, are being exploited and manipulated by others whose only motivation is a deceitful will to power, and not the good of a great nation.

Twenty years of war and so-called ‘nation-building,’ and trillions of dollars spent for no good reason has neglected the needs of the American people. Who got rich from the spending of that money? The increasing economic inequality of American society belies the country’s founding principle.  No wonder there is turmoil, even to the point of ominous talk about another civil war

.Meanwhile, here in Canada it’s like living next to an ongoing earthquake across our southern border. With our socio-economic life so closely tied to the U.S., the seismic waves of the ongoing upheaval are being felt. Canadians have long taken an interest in what happens politically in the U.S., far more than Americans take in our politics. The current angry divisiveness south of the border appears to have infected the Canadian national election now under way. Elsewhere in the world democracy is struggling to survive, and civilization itself is in peril.

I am a father, grandfather, and great grandfather of a large extended family. I live on a small farm in a secluded rural area of Ontario, Canada called Hope Ness. I am surrounded by a Nature Reserve. Some people say I live in a “paradise” on Earth.

With granddaughter Jorden in the garden

I try to live in Hope. I pray. But I am worried, I fear for the future of my family and the world.

Did this continuing tragedy have to happen?

I invite you to read the article below that was published 20 years ago as an editorial in the Owen Sound Sun Times newspaper a few days after the 9/11 attacks. I might change a few words now; but I’ll leave it as is, and ask you to consider if the point made was valid then, and is still:

The central question facing the human race is how to break the cycle of hatred and violence that is leading it, apparently inexorably, to self-destruction. That was the question hundreds, even thousands, of years ago. And it’s still the question, underlined yet again by the terrible events of last week, the mass murder of thousands of innocent people in the United States by religious or ideological fanatics. 

We say religious OR ideological fanatics because, although the mounting evidence so far points to a crime committed by Islamic fanatics, such atrocities are not the exclusive property of any one culture, creed, race or religion, no matter how much it may comfort us under such circumstances to think they are. They are the evil, criminal acts of human beings who are so full of hate and twisted in their beliefs they can actually justify, even sanctify what they’ve done. 

We have no doubt that somewhere in the Middle East today there are people celebrating the deaths of so-called martyrs who, by their deed of mass-destruction, are now regarded as being in paradise enjoying the pleasures of countless compliant virgins. But we also have no doubt that, just as there are grotesque perversions of every religion on earth, including the Christian, such concepts do not reflect the beliefs of the vast number of Muslims, a few of whom live and work in our own community. 

The crime that took place last week was on a scale that boggles the mind. We look on in disbelief. Our hearts and eyes recoil at the terrible images played over and over again on television as if someone is trying to convince us that, yes, it really did happen. Talking head after talking head tries to explain how and why it happened, and who might be responsible. There’s a sinking feeling in millions of hearts, that such a thing could happen and might happen again, in North America, of all places. Such terrible things have always happened somewhere else. Or, most comforting and reassuring of all, they’ve only happened on television or in the movies. So they’re not real. 

But of course they are. And though our society has refined the art and technology of seeming to safely distance ourselves from the cruel reality of human nature (while indulging in it for entertainment) it’s never really that far away. And perhaps now more than ever before we are being called by the terrible events in the U.S. last week to confront that reality and do something about it once and for all, or be doomed. 

People – young people especially – often question the sense of studying history. Why learn about what happened 5,000, 2,000, 200 or even just 50 or 20 years ago if you’re planning on becoming a mechanic? Anyway, it’s boring. 

In fact, history is anything but boring. But, more to the point, history is the chronology of human events that, if learned and properly understood, can be turned into a collective wisdom that could potentially save the human race. Someone once said, ”he who fails to learn the lessons of history is doomed to repeat them.” No truer words were ever spoken. 

Even a superficial study of history reveals that the human race has regularly repeated its most atrocious mistakes. Man’s inhumanity to man, war, atrocities and terrorism on a massive scale have occurred throughout recorded history, in every part of the world, including North America. And we can see a terrible cycle of violence, hatred and cruelty, as one evil deed begets another. There are people in the Balkans (the former Yugoslavia) today, for example, who still feel obligated to seek atrocious vengeance for terrible atrocities that took place more than 500 years ago. 

Today we understand the anger of the American people in response to a terrible atrocity. Those who say the entire civilized world was attacked, and may be attacked again soon, are right. It’s understandable the U.S., indeed the whole world, must defend itself, and respond aggressively to investigate thoroughly and take action to prevent further attacks. If the evidence points to outlaw terrorist organizations then criminal charges should be laid and justice should be done under the rule of law. If the evidence also points to the material involvement of rogue states, then they too should be punished. 

But we caution the U.S., and everyone else whose blood is understandably up after what happened last week, let’s not fall into the trap of history. Let’s not commit our own atrocities in retribution. That’s precisely the escalation of violence the terrorist enemy wants, so the cycle of violence can keep turning toward the apocalyptic goal their twisted minds crave. 

And then let’s all of us do some serious soul-searching and thinking about human nature and what we can all do to avoid falling victim to its dark side. 

Keep your hands on that plow, hold on: January 6, the fate of American democracy, and a door left open.

Keep your hands on that plow, hold on.” — The refrain from an old American gospel/folk song

The wonderful thing about the annual celebration of the arrival of a New Year is the spirit of hope it inspires. Whatever the troubles of the old year were — though they can’t all be consigned safely to history or memory — they can be met with a new resolve. For a wonderful moment, anything is possible again. The earth, this precious, little, blue-green jewel of a planet, has come full circle. Another journey has begun; and with it the chance, again, to get things right, or at least start heading decisively, resolutions in hand, in that direction.

I really would like to continue this post in a hopeful, positive tone, about how I’ve got my seed order in already for the 2021 gardening season, how the renewed interest in growing and eating food you grow yourself is a good thing for more than that good reason. It is also a continuous learning experience that helps keep your body, mind, and spirit healthy and hopeful. Or to put it another way: being close to the soil is good for the soul.

But first, dear, patient, persevering reader, allow me to pause long enough to consider an important event in a few days that could have a huge impact on the shape of things to come in 2021, and beyond. One way or another, January 6, 2021 could be a date that will go down in history as an epic turning point; hopefully, for the better.

This coming Wednesday, starting at 1 p.m., a joint session of the U.S. congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate, will meet in the House, to formally hear and confirm the results of the November 3, 2020 U.S. election. That is, the state-by-state, certified electoral college results as voted on December 14, 2020. That process gave the Democratic Party candidate, Joe Biden, 306 electoral votes for President, compared with 232 for incumbent, one-term President, Republican Donald Trump. Biden won the national, popular vote by more than seven million, in an election that saw more than 155 million American voters cast ballots, the most ever.

But Trump has not conceded defeat and continues to claim there was widespread fraud during the election, despite the claim being repeatedly dismissed in court for lack of evidence. Inauguration Day is January 20. The January 6 Joint Session, normally a routine affair, is shaping up to be anything but routine.

Sitting Vice-Presidents of the U.S., in their capacity as President of the Senate, preside over the Joint Session, unless they choose not to, or otherwise are not available. Vice-President Hubert Humphrey declined the job in 1969. In those circumstances the President pro tempore of the Senate presides, the Congressional Research Service says in its December 8, 2020 report, Counting Electoral Votes.

If the current Vice-President, Mike Pence, is not willing or available for whatever reason, he would be replaced by Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, the current President pro tempore of the Senate.

Assuming he will be presiding, Pence’s job will be to open the sealed electoral college result envelopes from each state, and hand them over to appointed ‘tellers’ to be read aloud to the Joint Session. At that point, his other role, to maintain “order,” could get much more than routinely interesting.

“When the certificate or equivalent paper from each state or the District of Columbia is read, the President of the Senate shall call for objections, if any,” the Congressional Review Service says. “Any such objection must be presented in writing and must be signed by at least one Senator and one Representative. The objection ‘shall state clearly and concisely, and without argument, the ground thereof.’ During the joint session of January 6, 2001, the presiding officer intervened on several occasions to halt attempts to make speeches under the guise of offering an objection.”

The report goes on to say, “When an objection, properly made in writing and endorsed by at least one Senator and one Representative, is received, each house is to meet and consider it separately. The statute states, ‘No votes or papers from any other State shall be acted upon until the objections previously made to the votes or papers from any State shall have been finally disposed of.’ However, in 1873, before enactment of the law now in force, the joint session agreed, without objection and for reasons of convenience, to entertain objections with regard to two or more states before the houses met separately on any of them.”

The report does not clarify what effect, if any, the actions of 1873 may still have on the application of the statute if multiple objections are raised during the upcoming Joint Session. Recent news reports have said up to 140 Republican members of the House may raise or support objections, and so far, 11 Republican senators. Might it be up to Pence to rule objections be handled state-by-state, or collectively, as in 1873? When objections are accepted as valid by the presiding vice-president the Joint Session is required to adjourn, and the House members and Senators go to their separate chambers to debate the issue, for a maximum of two hours. If Pence rules multiple objections during the reading of each state’s electoral results should be handled one at a time, that will certainly spell a long delay in the Joint Session process, and disruption.

The Congressional Review Service report raises another interesting point regarding the “basis for objections.” It says the federal statue and “historical sources” appear to suggest the “general grounds” for objections include “that the elector was not ‘lawfully certified’ according to state statutory procedures.”

The paragraph continues, “It should be noted that the word lawfully was expressly inserted by the House in the Senate legislation (S. 9, 49th Congress) before the word certified. Such addition arguably provides an indication that Congress thought it might, as grounds for an objection, question and look into the lawfulness of the certification under state law.”

The Trump campaign has raised the issue of the lawfulness of state election law — in swing states, not states he won – but the actions were dismissed in court. Will it be raised again on January 6?

There does seem to be lots of potential for the Joint Session to become problematic, to put it mildly. The chances of Trump and his political enablers succeeding in overturning the election results are said by many in the news media to be slim at best, to impossible. But after four years of Trumpism it seems anything, no matter how outrageous, is still possible. And the mechanism of the Joint Session leaves that door open.

Bad enough the fate of the world’s first and once-greatest democracy is at stake; but the fate of the world itself also hangs in the balance.

So much for my hopeful, positive intentions for this post.

Yes, I have ordered my garden seeds for the 2021 season. I strongly recommend you long-time, or Brave New Gardeners, do the same, ASAP, because lots of people are getting on board the grow-your-own bandwagon. It was true last year, and is likely just as true, or even more so, this year.

I promise, you’ll be glad you did: there’s nothing like gardening to offer refuge for the worried mind.

How soon history is forgotten

It’s tough to get a word in edgewise when you’re having a tooth filled. But the World’s Best Dentist and I always seem to do a pretty good job in the few minutes it takes for the freezing to take effect; and then afterwards for a few moments when the work is done.

Yes, yes . . . the infernal T-word came up. It was bound to: we both follow current events pretty closely; and in case anybody doesn’t get it yet, the fate of the world is at stake in the still-uncertain outcome of the incredible political events taking place in the U.S. Continue reading

Democracy is Hard Work

Democracy is hard work. And by that I don’t mean just for political candidates who, among many other things, participate in all-candidates’ meetings or debates where they’re asked all kinds of questions on the complex political issues they’re supposed to know everything about. I take my toque off to anybody who has the courage, or whatever it takes, to do that in front of a live, national television audience, or a crowd of several hundred people in a local riding.  Continue reading