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The Twelve Years of 9-11

What's Been Learned In Twelve Years? Well............

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, September 11, 2013.

This is the twelfth anniversary of al Qaeda's attack on us. We have been given to exaggeration, saying 9-11 changed everything, in law, culture, national focus, and purpose. That hasn't proven really true in many regards, small and large.

In small issues, the New York police and fire departments still do not have a phone system to talk to each other easily in a similar disaster. That was remarked as a cause of many deaths, given firemen were still ascending the towers pointlessly when they collapsed. They were rushing up the stairs with equipment that would serve no purpose except to exhaust themselves. There was no water pressure for the hoses, and the axes wouldn't matter as everyone else was heading down, and what exactly were they planning to do when they got to the plane and the fire so hot people willingly jumped 100 stories to their deaths?

In larger terms, the war on terror and the use of military power has changed under the Obama administration. An example came last night when the President spoke on Syria.

To my embarrassment, though, I'd forgotten 9-11 entirely, and this morning was reading the local paper about area firemen honoring their deceased peers of New York by staging exhausting replications of a run up stairs for many floors carrying hose and ax, totaling 75 pounds of gear, plus boots, helmet, and heavy clothing. Beyond question, these guys were heroes. They were risking their lives to save others, and as Tom Paxton's song about an office worker escapee says 'now every time I try to sleep, I'm haunted by the sound of firemen pounding up the stairs while we were running down.' It is a horrible, gripping image of noble sacrifice, and it is true. Our Light Brigade.

For all the chest beating and bravado of President Bush and vice president Cheney, very little constructive violence followed. Bin Laden escaped easily from Tora Bora, and we pointlessly and bloodily invaded Iraq. Obama pulled us out of Saddam's abyss and devoted energy and time to killing bin Laden and trying to get a positive position to leave Afghanistan. And, as his speech Tuesday evidenced, he's learned and wants the nation to learn from the mistakes of the past. There will not be US ground troops in Syria, where a clearly scared President Assad used sarin gas over a period of days last month to murder his own people in rebellion. Over a thousand dead, many women and children. Let's pause for a community throat clearing.

There is no doubt that the US itself has killed women and children in drone strikes and in person in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, which rather begs the question of who are we to lecture in ethical terms. But, I believe it true we do try to avoid civilian 'wastage', a ghastly term from World War One applicable again, as is poison gas.

Gas is a weapon of mass destruction and it's relatively cheap. As was discovered in the Great War, its targeting abilities are limited, as nations discovered when their own gas attacks floated back over their own lines. It was not used in WWII when it could be dropped on cities by everyone, but it's back as versatile weapon of terrorists for the last several decades. Sarin's victims vomit up and secrete out their lives in great pain and suffering.

Paul Fussell, a decorated combat vet, has pointed out that death by gas to a soldier is sometimes preferable to the more common alternatives, which civilians rarely see or witness or have explained. Being burned and ripped apart by artillery or machine gun does not mean a more glorious or less painful and prolonged death. When you're talking thousands of degrees of heat, whether it's nuclear or Torpex induced is of small concern.

Unlike Bush, Obama plays a long game, and Assad through Russia is begging to be allowed to sacrifice his chemical arsenal - previously unadmitted - and sign a treaty prohibiting their use if the US will promise not to execute any military intervention. Verification is the obvious problem here, because the US is unused to Russia as an ally, and nobody anywhere trusts Assad. But, we aren't mouthing off and sending an exhausted military to war again, and we're not celebrating past mistakes by repeating them, loading up with heavy gear and running into a fire which that equipment cannot suppress.