Everybody remembers where they were on Sept. 11 because of the intensity of emotions, fear, empathy, anger, and the powerful emergence of our instinct for retribution and the sensation that now any level of violence was justified to exterminate the perceived threat.
I was shivering that September morning, sleeping on a cold floor in the highlands of Chiapas, but my host had just gotten cable TV and he awoke me with the words that "the United States is burning." So we watched the alarming images and as we tried to make sense of it I felt all those sensations.
It took me a few days to cross back into the U.S. because "the skies were closed" and by the time I got home it seemed that indeed the "world had changed forever."
Vengeance had been enthroned as our national purpose and everything else -- even making our best attempt to track down the true culprits was secondary. Talk of tackling root causes of the violence or prioritizing a safer and better future world was considered practically treasonous as you stood either "with us or with the terrorists."
As I awoke this morning, thinking about the gruesome attacks in Paris last night, I reflected on the cataclysmic mistakes we made after September 11.
I remembered that the French were among those who recognized the dangers of President Bush lashing out at convenient targets like Saddam Hussein -- who very clearly had nothing to do with wounding the United States. The French argued that a unilateral invasion that ignored international law would destabilize the Middle East and make things worse and far more dangerous; but French diplomatic efforts to restrain this idiotic foreign policy disaster in the making were rewarded with scorn.
So now, as we sympathize with our French friends, remembering Lafayette and the long history of solidarity our nations have shared during war and peace, let's honor the dead by seeking a better world, not simply by avenging them in ways that further injure our fragile world and blight the prospects of future generations.
Justice must be sought, but it will not be served by mindless brutality, torture, drone strikes killing civilians, or many of the tactics deployed after September 11.
Almost a generation later we are reaping the consequences of the policies that were pushed on a grieving nation by neo-con opportunists. Let's not make those mistakes again.