Has 9/11 Changed Us? Not much
Six years after Sept. 11, America has yet to turn somber remembrance into sober reflection.
Yesterday, we rightfully condemned the terrorists who killed nearly 3,000 of us and praised the heroes who lost lives saving lives.
Today is just another ordinary day of national and global gluttony.
Nothing has changed these parallel universes, not Sept. 11, not the fact that we are likely to lose our 4,000th soldier in Iraq by year's end, in a needless war that President Bush falsely tied to Sept. 11. Nothing has truly pricked America to check out its conscience. Bush to date has not asked for sacrifice and certainly none have been volunteered.
The evidence is in our toys and our girths. We continue to drape ourselves in the innocence of the victims of Sept. 11 against the "face of evil," as Bush puts it. Yet we maintain our bedeviling assault on the world's resources, with no worry as to when mere envy of us around the globe is stirred up into evil in a cave in Afghanistan.
Yesterday, for instance, the White House put out a "fact sheet" on Sept. 11, reassuring us that "We Are Attacking Terrorism At Its Roots By Advancing Freedom, Liberty and Prosperity." The problem is, many of our notions of prosperity are now so antiquated as to be pugnacious.
Within minutes of the White House fact sheet hitting the wires, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the National Automobile Dealers Association announced a new database. The database reminds us that sport utility vehicles remain the most popular light truck in the nation. As an example of our dependence on gas guzzlers, 61 percent of light truck sales in Massachusetts are not minivans, not pickup trucks or commercial vans, but SUVs.
Despite losing so many US civilians to Sept. 11, despite losing so many soldiers to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, our global share of petroleum consumption has actually increased slightly, from 21 percent to 21.9 percent, according to federal statistics. Our dependence on foreign oil has grown, not decreased. With no hint of irony or national sacrifice, Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of the auto alliance, said in the press release, "Continuing to meet the vehicle needs of recreation enthusiasts and American family vacations is a paramount concern of automakers. Pickups, SUVs, and crossover vehicles are instrumental in meeting those needs." This is the same industry that has bitterly fought better fuel efficiency.
Not surprisingly, our bigger cars continue to go hand in hand with bigger, energy-sucking homes. We behave as if we can build a personal fort against the next Sept. 11. The average size of a new American house has grown by nearly 200 square feet since Bush took office. According to the US Census, the average house size has grown from 2,265 square feet in 2000 to 2,456 square feet in 2006. Last year for the first time, the South joined the Northeast in crossing the 2,500-average-square-foot mark. This is despite the long trend of families being smaller.
As we mourn the dead of Sept. 11 and bemoan the soldiers who die daily in Iraq, we eat like there is no tomorrow for ourselves, inspiring a growth in obesity rates that would embarrass a hog. According to the recently released report by the Trust for America's Health, 47 states are now more than 20 percent obese. Mississippi has become the first state to crack the 30-percent-obese barrier. The government has estimated that obesity costs the nation between $69 billion and $117 billion a year.
Fourteen other states are at least 26 percent obese and putting on the pounds to join Mississippi. "While the obesity epidemic has garnered increased attention," the report said, "a comparable increase in action has yet to occur." The White House says about Sept. 11, "We remember the heroic men and women who risked and sacrificed their lives so others might survive." What does it say about their sacrifice when Americans, in an unprecedented fashion, eat ourselves into early graves?
Big cars. Burgeoning houses. Bloated bellies. There is, of course, much more to America than this, especially our freedoms. But these are symbols that we take too much liberty with our prosperity.
Yesterday, the White House asked us to remember the losses in "the most barbaric attack in our nation's history." How long other countries will completely sympathize with our loss is a growing question. With each pound, each square foot, each SUV, we conduct our own attack on what we should share with the rest of the world.
Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2007 The Boston Globe