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What Have We Learned from September 11?

What have Americans learned from the tragedies of September 11, 2001? Following the murderous attacks on 911, it became fashionable, and not only outside the United States, to hear smug voices wonder whether Americans had learned their lessons and whether they would be wise enough to apply those lessons in the future.

Basically, the (self-serving) point seemed to be, that Americans should understand that they display(ed) the following traits: Americans are simple-minded, they are stupid, they are unsophisticated, they are reactionary, they are egoistical, they are greedy, they are arrogant, they are imperialistic, they are war-mongering, they are treacherous, and they are the reason for most of the world's problems of the past 60 years.

(Please don't let anyone tell you that it is only American leaders that should be so qualified. If George W Bush et al are in power, and if he truly is the villain he is depicted as, then it can only mean that the American people (or the majority of them) are (criminally?) thoughtless and oblivious of the rest of the world, and this, in fact, ties perfectly in with the ugly statement that America deserved 911, meaning that the 3,000 people who were murdered that day got their just rewards.)

So, did Americans learn anything?

Let's see… If Americans learned any lessons, let's see what they learned…

On that day three years ago, Americans learned that they had uncommon valor

Firefighters and cops stormed up the stairs of the Twin Towers while its occupants helped each other make the long climb down (one man went down one hundred floors with a woman in a wheelchair without knowing who she was)

On that day three years ago, Americans learned that they were smart and intelligent

People in charge of the city's rescue operations managed to save thousands of people in the World Trade Center

On that day three years ago, Americans learned that they are supportive of their fellow human beings and that they are generous

Americans grieved together and untold citizens lined up to give blood for the people of New York City

On that day three years ago, Americans learned they possessed heroic qualities

Knowing they were doomed, the passengers from flight 93 stormed the cockpit and prevented the fourth plane's kamikaze attack. To quote George W Bush: "We learned of passengers on a doomed plane who died with a courage that frightened their killers"

On that day three years ago, Americans learned they were resilient and innovative and they refused to be (or to remain) devastated and by the events and cowed by an uncertain future

New Yorkers started rebuilding their lives and their businesses almost at once. To quote an article about Europeans caught in Manhattan on that fateful day : "People grieved together, but they immediately went on to rebuild their businesses and their lives with an energy [Frenchman Bruno Dellinger] can't imagine fellow Europeans at home ever would; it made him buy the little [American] flag now resting on his bookshelf"

On that day three years ago, Americans even learned that somehow their country seemed (I hesitate on what words to use to say this) to be watched over by a Higher Power

Although standing only dozens of yards from the next to the Twin Towers the small 17th-century chapel in which George Washington had prayed when becoming the nation's first president was entirely spared, with not even a single broken window — naturally, St. Paul's Chapel served to house the wounded and, in the weeks that followed, the workers cleaning up the débris.

To quote Rudolph Giuliani: it "stood strong, powerful, untouched, undaunted by the attacks of these people who hate what we stand for".

Wait a minute. These lessons are obviously a mistake that only simple-minded Americans could make. The only lesson they were supposed to learn was the self-serving foreign opinion that Americans are simple-minded, stupid, unsophisticated, reactionary, egoistical, greedy, arrogant, war-mongering, imperialistic, and treacherous, and they are the reason for most of the world's problems of the past 60 years!

But how can you accept people who react(ed) as Americans did on that day as being simple-minded? As being egoistical? As being greedy? As being arrogant? As being treacherous? As causing most of the problems of the past 60 years? And would men and women of such quality accept such flaws in their leaders, and in the latters' policies, at least for any length of time?

Maybe there is another lesson to be learned here. And that is that it is not Americans who need to learn lessons about the American people. It is that it is smug foreigners who need to review what they know (or think they know) about Americans and who need to take a deeper look at their self-serving opinions about themselves…

After all, one Romanian far away in Bucarest learned something entirely different

September 11, 2004

© Erik Svane