On this day, eleven years ago, five tragic things happened. Unless you have been residing in darkest Peru, or are of the opinion that the deliberate suicide-murder of 3000 people, (and counting,) was laudable rather than tragic, you know what three of them are. The other two are not as immediately shocking, but are most assuredly worse in their outcomes. First, Uncle Sam went from neurotically wary in the manner of a soldier fitfully battling PTSD to suffering outright psychosis mainlined into the political process by a flagpole drafted into double-duty as a needle by the amoral with the support of the oblivious. To put it more bluntly: there were and are those who saw 9/11 not as an act of terror or an agonizingly inhuman crime of almost incomprehensible evil but as a ready opportunity for the seizure of power and wealth, and they took full and ruthless advantage of that opportunity.

The last and most tragic event that happened in the wake of 9/11/01 was that the American people, the beneficiaries of the first secular constitution in the world, made a tremendous mistake. America, or at least some significant subset of her citizenry, decided that the flag itself was more important than what it represents–we bought into the delusion that expedience is its own moral good. The fact that a large majority of those fastidious “patriots” so vigorously agitating the fabric of the Stars and Stripes in the name of American purity seem to have forgotten that the blood, sweat, and tears Theodore Roosevelt spoke of stain the flag not due to the touch of tyranny but in spite of it.

The scars of war, the blood of patriots, and the tears that result from their falling indelibly mark Old Glory but they do not mar her. Far from it, they serve to evoke the words of Thomas Paine: “those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.” Take up the flag then, and carry it forward, and let your hands stain those sacred folds with your blood, your sweat, and your tears as you return it again and again to the sky and the view of all who yearn for freedom and opportunity. But never forget that it is valor, liberty, courage, and unity that those stars and stripes portend, and be eternally wary of those tepid souls who wrap themselves in a flag that remains bright and clean. Their vehement zeal is for their own interests, and the cloth they bear a facsimile.

It is just this sort of person who in past eras we found gleefully coming to the assistance of Joseph McCarthy, John Hathorne, or Tomás de Torquemada. The ideologies were inspiring certainly, but the truth of the matter is that these men offered the legitimization of self-interest through a combination of nationalistic zeal and religious fervor. These men would counsel us to abandon the probity of our better natures in pursuit of a narcissistic and myopic mythology lifted more or less directly from the obdurately smug babblings which attend the notion that present privilege constitutes absolute proof of preeminence.

I say not in my America. I say that if we oblige these hucksters that the result will in time be that the stars and stripes that symbolize our nation’s character will not even receive the dignity of being rent asunder in conflict, but will be broken up and auctioned off to the highest bidder with the mindless thoroughness a cow lavishes on her cud. I refuse to believe such a wrenchingly abhorrent fate befits the legacy we have inherited from Paine, Jefferson,Franklin, Madison, and the succession of other worthies beyond my power to recall or to recount. It lies within our power to repudiate evil, but it is not a thing to be done casually or in comfort–selling our liberty wholesale in the cause of security is not an acceptable answer, no matter how small the increments it is portioned into.

Now, it is important to note that I do not mean to imply that the entire fabric of American freedom has been dissolved and replaced with the sort of Orwellian autocracy that might bring tinfoil hats into fashion. That would be unfeelingly churlish of someone who has been the recipient of a rather serviceable lifestyle quite palatial in comparison with that of many places in the world. The fabric of freedom still exists in large part, even if it is frayed and obscured in places by greed and injustice. What I intend to attack is the casual languor in the hearts of Americans toward those among us who are only too happy to wrap their own purposes in red, white, and blue camouflage and continue business as usual.

The earthly representatives of Wesley’s “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” are among those who cried out most stridently for bloody vengeance. Apparently there was some sort of misunderstanding with regard to the turning of cheeks occurring between the sermon on the mount and the present day. Equally confusing is the miscommunication regarding loving one’s neighbor regarding the exceptions for those who happen to appear vaguely Middle Eastern. Surely there are sound theological reasons for this that I, as a humble member of the ranks of the ungodly, am simply not privy to in the absence of the Holy Spirit. The important part is that these peaceful fishers of men took their mission to spread love, tolerance, and faith very seriously: love of only those like us, tolerance of any trifles like the loss of freedom, and faith that God is fully behind whatever is most convenient for us at the time.

The political leadership on whom we depend to form an utterly dedicated and relentlessly competent vanguard in the service of American citizens and the essential rights and duties that make our nation worth fighting for were struck similarly by a plague of popular expedience. Whether calling loudly for pre-emptive defense, (better known to most of us as, “attack”,) an end to the threat of terrorism or most importantly, something easily visible and emotionally palatable to their constituents, these radiant exemplars fearlessly went forth to seek contracts for their largest campaign donors and selflessly invested their own money in those businesses they knew would benefit from taxpayer largesse.

These two visionary groups of red-blooded, white, and true-blue (but not blue collar, naturally) leaders provided us the political expediency and the metaphysical sophistries we needed to elevate ourselves into the same august strata as the citizens of Oceania, heroically locked in endless and just war against a fearful chimera the likes of which the world will never see. Blood, death, and fear are acceptable, you see. When they serve the cause of justice–our justice. There are doubtless many more such groups with sardonically warranted titles such as the Religio-Industrial Complex, or the more commonly invoked and now wan specters of special interest groups and super PACs, but enough has been said to give one a sense of the sorts to whom I refer.

The sheer monstrous immensity of the mass-murders that took place eleven years ago today defy any real understanding of their eventual consequence to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives. However, it is not only ludicrous but an actively destructive abnegation of moral responsibility to stop there. If the deaths of those persons who were killed are to have any sort of meaning, we must not let the opportunity to learn our lesson slip away by allowing the unpleasant chill of mortality to deter our rational faculties and our moral rectitude from their purposes.

I challenge you then, American or not, to engage with the horror of terrorism and stay with it in the circle until its blood stains the sand and you can look into a mirror and say with complete honesty that freedom for all humans can never be subsumed by fear, only briefly obscured. The other option is to lower your head permanently to the ground and content yourself that a life lived in acceptance of utter abjection is better than death in the defiance of it. I find this notion contemptible; so long as we are in a position to thoughtfully and responsibly support the cause of freedom, there is no reason sufficient to justify neglect of this most vital duty. At the very least, we owe it to ourselves.