9/11 reflections with Joseph Blumenthal: Prayers for peace in vain

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Published: 9/8/2021 3:19:45 PM

I was working in Northampton when the jets crashed into the twin towers, but I felt the impact more closely a few days later. A college friend who lived in Brooklyn hired my klezmer band to come play at the social hour for her daughter’s bat-mitzvah. It was a very fancy event, held at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s Palm House, with amazing food.

The date was Sept. 15, 2001, four days after the destruction of the World Trade Center. After some debate they decided to go ahead with the affair. As we drove into the city, we saw the giant white cloud hovering over ground zero, where the towers had been. We set up on the terrace outside and started playing, most people not paying much attention. In the middle of our set it was arranged for the daughter to play a Jewish tune on violin accompanied by her father on guitar and me on bass.

After that, while we had the attention of the audience, I made a little speech about what would happen next. We’d make a prayer for peace; when a klezmer prays he might play a doina, a long improvised solo. It was followed by a slow dance tune, and as everyone got in a circle and moved around us, the enormous cloud that was the remains of the World Trade Center and its occupants forced our attention to the weight of history crashing down upon us.

Unfortunately, our prayers for peace were in vain. Our President, George W. Bush, was ignorant of history, international affairs, and the nature of terrorism. Just as a poor response to an act of terrorism led directly to the great catastrophes of the 20th century (The Great War, the Russian Revolution, the rise of Hitler and the Second World War), Bush’s response to the Sept. 11 attack was disastrous.

Terrorists can kill a lot of people and attract a lot of attention. But they cannot threaten a system of government unless that government’s leadership responds in a damaging way. I don’t doubt that Bush had to go into Afghanistan to try to find Osama Bin Laden, though he didn’t have to stay there as long as he did. But he did not have to go to war in Iraq, which had no connection to the act of terror.

Bush’s father knew better than to topple the Iraqi government after pushing its troops out of Kuwait: with a background in foreign policy he knew that the U.S. could not govern Iraq; having fought in a war he knew that everyone (other than those who sell arms) loses in war.

The son, wanting to prove himself tougher than his father, surrounded by advisers who talked tough but who like him dodged service in Vietnam, started a war that destabilized the entire Middle East. All the atrocities of ISIS, the turmoil in Egypt and Libya, the rise of Iran with its subsequent control of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and the refugee crisis in Europe stem from his actions.

The domestic consequences of his actions were less severe, but very damaging nonetheless. Was there really a need for the Department of Homeland Security and its increase of government intrusion into our private lives? A whole new generation of veterans lives with the aftereffects of having gone to war.

Future generations will have to pay off trillions of dollars which were wasted in the last 20 years of military action in the Middle East and Central Asia. The United States is poorer and weaker as a result of the aftermath of Sept. 11. Osama Bin Laden succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

Joseph Blumenthal lives in Northampton.

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