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Mike Reyes, aka Mr. Controversy, has considered himself a writer ever since he was a child. He wrote for various school publications from about 1995 until 2006, and currently runs both The Bookish Kind and Mr. Controversy, which is an offshoot of the regular column he wrote in High School. He's also authored several short stories such as "The Devil's Comedian", "The Devil v. George W. Bush", and most recently "Wait Until Tomorrow". He resides in New Jersey. Any inquiries for reprinting, writing services, or general contact, should be forwarded to: michaelreyes72@hotmail.com

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Recovering Republican Remembers 9/11 or "The Column That Might Lose Me Readers"

Warning: Anyone, and I mean ANYONE who is sensitive to 9/11, should NOT read this. The following is not meant to be disrespectful to anyone, it's merely a commentary.

September 11th, 2001; I was still in my senior year of High School. I had just started going out with my then girlfriend and everything in the world seemed some sort of right. I had no clue that come second period, everything would change. In the middle of Psychology class, the head of the Social Sciences department burst into my class and said, "An airliner has hit the World Trade Center." I couldn't believe it. At first I thought it was merely a joke, or some sort of promotional ploy for some stupid Hollywood disaster movie. I just couldn't believe that such a thing could happen. Could it?

Sure enough, news started to leak in, and not long after an information blackout was imposed upon the whole school. The rest of the day, no matter how many attempts at work and normalcy were made, was tinged with a great upset. People would be getting information from their cell phones about what had happened. The school prayer group met in the library and prayed intensely, while others would yell at them that their prayers were useless. After a day of being locked down in a media vacuum, I went home and saw my father waiting for me at the bus stop. This was an unusual occurance, and I knew by the tears in his eyes he just wanted to see his boy. It was also unusual because for one of the only times I can remember, he was crying in front of me. To put this in perspective, my father was a United States Marine, and he was the living embodiment of the Corps. Big emotional shows like this were rare, but when they were on display it was for something big. In this case, it was my father watching the city of his childhood in pain. New York was hurting, so naturally my father was hurting as a child who just watched their father get shot in the gut. We walked home, and sat down to watch every

Every channel, every news station, around the clock, covering the horror show that was unfolding in Manhattan. Watching the buildings was like waiting for a family member to die. You knew they were going to fall, and you knew that someone was going to have to answer for what had happened. I can't remember when it was, it might have been the night that 9/11 happened or the night after, but there was a rally in the town next door. People gathered with all the American flag paraphanelia they could grab, and they were lined up the main artery that fed traffic from the Parkway into the beginnings of Brick Township here in New Jersey. As flags waved, "Born in the USA" was blairing, and everyone was cheering and whooping, I couldn't help but think to myself, "Please don't let there be a war. I don't want to go to war." I didn't mean to sound like a selfish coward, but I just had a strange feeling that this was the end that Nostrodomus predicted in that Orson Welles video my parents foolishly let me watch when I was a kid. (Which, by the way, did nothing to quell my fears of the world ending.)

After a while, coverage sank back to only the news stations. MTV heavily ran a music video by Live, which used footage of the aftermath in New York. Stock markets sank, heroes were named, people went on looking for their missing friends and family, and telethons were organized to raise money to help those affected. Partisan walls in Washington were torn down, as displayed by the houses of Congress singing "God Bless America" together. With all of this unification, undoubtedly brought upon by the severity of the situtation, there was that undercurrent running through my mind. "I hope we don't go to war." Entering Afghanistan was all it took to set off my fears.

Still fearing a conflict, and knowing of the draft back in Vietnam, I was scared shitless that the draft would come back and have me shipping off to some foreign nation I never learned all that much about in school. Though, to be fair, my parents were saying things like, "Oh, you'll be 4F. Your glasses and your ADD will make sure of that." and "Well, we'll send you to Canada if we have to." I would have hated to be a draft dodger, seeing as it's somewhat of a social and political stigma to United States citizens, but on the other hand I was sure as hell not going to let some guy who I only had faith in because it was the way to survive in my house, send me to die. My grandfather, who still lives with us, is a staunch Republican; and for a time I was too.

This carried all the way into the fall of 2002, which made things even more interesting seeing as I was starting college at a Liberal Arts college. What was more interesting is I would eventually graduate with a degree in Political Science. Not only did I have extremely liberal friends, who hated when I gloated the victory in 2000 in front of their faces, I now had extremely liberal people I would try to make friends with, possibly romance, and in some cases turn into bitter rivals with. I still had some pretty good friendships though, and as the years went on my friends and I discussed, mocked, and debated various political viewpoints and events. Then sure enough, the real war hit.

March 2003, as if it were a sick alternate ending to the second season of 24, President Bush came on television and laid out the facts. We had bombed Iraq. We were starting a major military operation. God help us all. The military conflict that wasn't supposed to take too long had started. Sure enough, on June 5, 2003; the President made his now infamous appearance in a flight suit on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, and declared that, "In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed." Yet the fighting still continued, and it was looking less and less like George W. would be serving a second term. That was, of course, assuming the world made sense again. Sure enough 2004 came, and sure enough I was still a Bush guy. The world still didn't make sense.

I was supporting the President because not only was I still kind of afraid of the whole conflict, but also because of that part of me that enjoyed rooting for the underdog. The guy who wasn't supposed to win, because the odds were stacked. Whatever the reason, I still supported the President. Though, the most I could muster for a defense was, "I didn't like Kerry". As soon as I got my abscentee ballot, which I had to use because I would be away at college the day of the election, I selected George W. Bush for president and marveled at his victory the night of the election. My two friends who just got married, on the other hand, refused to talk to me. Again, I wasn't interested in social stigma, I wanted to feel secure.

I credit my eventual enlightenment to the ways of the Republican party to a couple things. Constant exposure to Liberal thinking friends, traveling abroad to England and seeing what the world thought of the US, and my grandfather becoming less and less of a role model after my grandmother passed on. All of those factors helped me realize that not only were the Democrats the better choice, they also made funnier jokes and had better senses of humor. They genuinely cared for people, and they were the true underdogs. One of the strengths (if you can call it that) of the Republican Party lately has been that they run as if they aren't the status quo. They run campaigns as if Clinton is still in office, and they don't stand a snowball's chance in Hell to get in. The Democrats have been the true underdogs, and don't have to convince the public otherwise.

In the primary election of 2008, I registered myself as a Democrat and voted for Barack Obama in the Presidential Primary. My conversion was complete, and I haven't looked back. Partially, I wanted to give the Dems a chance because I gave the Reps a chance back in '04. Also, Obama had, and still has, an allure as a candidate that's almost impossible not to like. Yes, he's like a character out of the West Wing, and yeah so's Joe Biden; but you know what...I like that. I like that this Sorkonian view of politics has started to come into reality, and politics is something that can make you feel hopeful, warm and fuzzy. Seven years after the disaster in New York, and I made a political 360. I believe in hope again, and I know that hope is not easy to sell or even prevail over the message of fear and security.

Which brings me to the part that warranted the warning at the beginning. I think we should stop glorifying and abusing the memory of 9/11, particularly the Republican usage of the tragedy as a "get out of jail free" card. Rudolph Giuliani, "America's Mayor", is a good example of abusing tragedy for personal gain. All he has to do is mention 9/11 and he immediately thinks his credentials speak for themselves. Ok, we get it, you were mayor of New York when 9/11 hit. You have executive experience. So why aren't you VP nominated, instead of a former beauty queen who hasn't done much except play at politics as usual while her family could have benefited her being home with them?

I think it might be time to stop reading the names and interrupting news coverage to cover the memorial services. I know, it sounds completely insensitive and I don't mean it to be. But if we really want to honor these people, whose lives were cut short by maniacs with no regard for human life, then why don't we finish the new World Trade Center like we said we would all those years ago? Oh, right...stupid petty business squabbles got in the way, and instead of completing a true tribute to those who lost their lives, we continue with media spectacle. Also, if you look at your calendar, you might see today labeled as "Patriot's Day". Why don't you give everyone the day off, for reflection and ponderance, especially since you feel you should be running the coverage of the whole memorial service? Patriot's Day is nothing more than a Hallmark holiday, and it feels like a slap in the face to those who lost people on this solemn day. I would hate it if someone sent me a "Patriot's Day" card, which basically is a "Sorry your husband/wife/loved ones died on this day and it was politically and commercially exploited for personal means" card. I'm not saying to stop having memorial services, I'm saying we should stop televising them and making a big deal about it.
People still go to work, kids still go to school, students still have classes, life has gone on. I'm sick of this "Never Forget" slogan rhetoric. Of course we'll never forget! It's kinda hard to forget anything when someone's shoving it down your throat fifteen million times. I'm not saying we should "get over" 9/11, but I am saying we shouldn't allow ourselves as a country to be consumed with the fear and hatred of the past. The Bush Administration let us wallow in it for eight long years, and what did we get for it? A harshly divided nation that had a couple months of unity and peace, followed by a lengthy and costly war that has cost us more lives than we lost on that very day when the world stopped turning.

Maybe I am saying get over 9/11. In fact, yes I am saying that. Get over 9/11. It happened, it was extremely sad, and people are still paying for it to this very day. I'm not saying to forget it, I'm not saying it shouldn't be remembered with due respect, I'm just saying we should stop trotting it out once a year as something for the news cameras and making it part of the political discourse.

I am deeply sorry to anyone who has lost anyone in 9/11, or to anyone else I may have offended with this. It's just that the way I see it, we're America, and 9/11 will live on in our history, as well as those taken from us in it. We will truely never forget, but enough with the specials, the commorative coins, and the televising of the memorial service. Build the new WTC, build the memorials, and give these people a proper memory for future generations to remember. The rest of the world is going on out there, even remembering the scars of their own pasts haunting them day by day, but you don't see them being all consumed by it. We've got some lessons to learn about the past, and we've got a possibly bright future we can pave out for us. How, then, can we carve out a bright future for ourselves when we're constantly reminded of the fear, the terror, the bandwagon patriotism, and the bad politics that were executed after this event? Before we'll ever be able to allow the message of change and hope to resonate within us, before we're ever able to heal completely from this terrifying atrocity of recent history, we must first allow ourselves to.

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