Rendered Fat Content


It’s nearly obligatory to reflect on each anniversary of 9-11, to look back with regret, sometimes to rekindle a sense of vengeance not yet satisfied; perhaps never to be satisfied. For others, it’s a sadness that re-emerges along with a sense of loss. Everything felt different after that and we understood without fully accepting that we would not ever be able to go back home again. This anniversary evokes nostalgia for what came before and would not be coming ever after again.

As The Muse and I limped back toward home in our rental car generously ceded to us without drop charges since airplanes were not flying in the days following, our route took us from the Southwest north and even further west through what would later be referred to as red states. We had little besides the radio to accompany us across those vast deserts, but the radio was suddenly toxic. Too toxic to listen to. A side of the American character hardly imagined before became the prominent theme. “Kill them worse than they killed us,” the radio insisted without knowing who had done the deed or what had actually been killed.

The Muse and I quickly resolved to leave the radio off.
Forced into dialogue then, we tried to make sense of the history we’d apparently been included in. We were setting up for a workshop at Los Alamos National Laboratory when the news of the first airplane hitting a tower came in from New York. We shrugged and continued setting up as the first workshop participants arrived, mumbling about the curious crash. Then the second plane hit. We were thousands of miles away from the epicenter. We decided to go ahead and start the class, and we did.

Shortly thereafter, news leaked into the classroom that The Pentagon had been hit and that the Lab was closing. We quickly dismissed the session and packed up the rental car, determined to get down off that damned mesa as quickly as possible. Outside, turreted Humvees with large caliber machine guns roamed the streets. Camo seemed the fashion of choice. We tucked our tails between our legs and beat feet to the bottom of the hill.

We took refuge in a friend’s house, where we watched the astounding news, still uncertain what was happening and why. We could only speculate. We’d worked in the Twin Towers neighborhood, had friends and colleagues working on Wall Street. It all seemed unbelievable, yet there it was.

The first night on the road home found us in Crested Butte, Colorado where we joined in a candlelight march through the middle of town. There was no heated rhetoric bouncing off those crooked old brick storefronts, just a solemn silence, deep and heartfelt. As the vigil ended, a band started playing in a bar off to one side of the street, and several marchers melted into another sort of observance, one resembling normal life in that old mining town.

It’s taken me more than a decade to finally realize what happened on that otherwise sweet late summer morning. Later, the US mustered an impressive show of force, initiating what would become the longest war in our history, which is saying something. I believe now that those feeble terrorists understood something we could not quite catch about ourselves amid our instinctive saber rattling and beneath our seemingly overwhelming firepower. Those terrorists seemed to have understood something about our nature, our character, something we were perhaps not even aware of. I believe we played right into a rather weak and emaciated hand, on their terms.

There’s an old adage that counsels to never engage in a fight with a masochist because what you see as punishment, they will experience as a gift. Like the old public relations saw that there’s no such thing as bad press, for terrorists, there’s really no such thing as a losing battle with any overwhelmingly powerful foe. No better way to characterize the righteousness of a cause than to entice some big-booted lug to squash you like a bug. I believe the terrorists, whose franchise had been wearing rather thin then, figured they could bring down the victimization machine by poking their stick into what they knew to be a hornet’s nest, and thereby fatten their franchise. We, of course, could hardly not comply.

Why, we ask ourselves, didn’t our response eliminate that enemy? Because our response pretty much guaranteed, as the terrorists well understood, the infinite generation of more terrorists no matter how many we managed to kill. New ones would find ample reason to join the cause, no matter how obviously lost and frail, if only to stand up to the overwhelming. It would have been inhuman for many to respond otherwise. They knew that, and we apparently didn’t.

I have a yellow jacket trap on my back deck. It features some yellow jacket-sized holes leading into a central chamber. Inside that chamber, I stuck a pheromone-laced thing-a-ma-bob that emits a scent yellow jackets find irresistible. They crawl in through one of the conveniently positioned holes but they cannot crawl back out. Once inside, they stand right on top of their hearts’ desire, but die there without food, water, or freedom. Their nose misleads them.

I heard a bunch of whacky-seeming alternatives to war following 911. I even championed a few. The Muse and I participated in an antiwar rally or two, one where I read a poem I’d written about how embarrassed the policy makers would be once they discovered that their war didn’t win them anything. I’m still there, here, protesting this endless war, though it’s now become nearly intractable, just as those terrorists understood it would become. Once one bites the rubber worm, the hook dominates the experience. Fight though you might, one might pray for a catch-and-release fisherman, but further fighting just ensures a more deeply engaged hook.

I am a somewhat student of history. This year, in the centennial of the First World War, it’s easy for me to see the folly fueling that foolish conflict. It might take us a century more to understand the equal folly embodied in our war on terrorism. The saber rattlers might never catch on.

I mean no disrespect toward anyone engaged in this terrible struggle. I’ve grown to respect the primitive terrorists who understood something about our character that we could not fully appreciate. Those saber-rattling radio commentators didn’t know then how very much like yellow jackets they were, that they had been exposed to some phony pheromone deliberately intended to get us to start rattling and employing our sabers again. They didn’t understand the ulterior motive our foes held. It’s a difficult dilemma, one reliably proven through the ages to bring almost exactly the opposite of any saber rattler’s intentions while almost perfectly satisfying the enticing masochist. One day, upon genuine reflection, I’m hoping the yellow jackets learn to ignore the phony pheromones.

©2015 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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