On the John
Originally published in the Indiana Daily Student on November 27, 2001
Selected for PBS’s Washington Week
At the tail end of my drive back to school Sunday night, I saw something really disturbing. It wasn’t a picture of ground zero, or Osama with an assault rifle, or Laura Bush saying how she did not realize that America was vulnerable. Driving south on College Ave I saw these words printed on a sign at the Budget Rent-a-Car: “FLY YOUR FLAGS. DRIVE OUR CARS.”
This is not the first time I’ve seen someone trying to cash in on September 11th. About two weeks ago, I saw a commercial for a commemorative coin. The coin was adorned with the Twin Towers and an American Flag, and it was immediately called a “collectable.” Also, the nice people distributing the coin lowered their original price so that every American could own one and “do their part.” I felt sick.
I understand that we are a nation built on capitalism and a person’s ability to make as much money as possible. I understand that right now we are a nation with a struggling economy, and there is a need to give that economy a jumpstart. I don’t mind seeing the travel industries encouraging people to return to the skies in an effort to return to normalcy and to live without fear. I don’t mind businesses showing support to those who were directly affected by the attacks. I don’t even mind the endless montages of flags, people, and sad music, even though they’re getting a little old.
What I do mind is when people try to capitalize on a tragedy for their own personal gain.
Is this really what our country is about? It was only two months ago that Americans were looking at each other with a kind heart. People smiled together and understood each other’s pain. I think we understood each other not just as Americans, but more importantly, as humans. Now, as the healing process moves on, we’ve “returned to normalcy” to a fault.
I wonder how the Taliban would react to something like this. How truly ironic it is that one of our responses to the attacks—attacks that were set off by a group of people’s dislike for our way of life—was to prove to the Taliban that, “Yes, we do care more about our money and our system than our people.” Osama and his buddies are either laughing or cringing.
It is important to go on with life, and to return to some semblance of normalcy. But when I see signs like the one posted at Budget, I am embarrassed to call myself American. Growing up, I was always taught to question what I see, but I was also taught to believe in America and American ideals. I don’t have any problems with capitalism, but a system is only as good as the people who run it. There is a time and a place for everything, and it is time that we step back from our way of life and really examine it. Obviously nobody deserved to die on September 11th, but maybe our country did need some sort of a wake up call to return to the human race. For years and years, Americans have been running from goal to goal and gold to gold like horses wearing blinders. We rarely recognize the effects that our actions have on other Americans, much less on the rest of the world. Maybe a return to normalcy is not the best way to go.
Copyright 2001, jm silverstein