EDITORIAL: September 11 and relevance of symbols

by Sep 5, 2017OPINIONS0 comments





We are approaching another anniversary of a tragic event in America’s history. The attack in 2001 cost the lives of 2,996 people and wounded 6,000 more. The immediate deaths included 265 on the four airplanes that were used as weapons. Those deaths included 19 terrorists. No one got to speak to the people who committed this act of violence, so what was going through their minds when they hijacked the airliners and executed the plan to use them to kill Americans will never truly be known.

What is known is that they were ISIS or ISIL sympathizers and very likely part of a massive network of terrorists. In taking credit for the acts of 9-11, the leadership of ISIS confirmed that the reason they selected their targets was to destroy symbols of America and to denigrate/demoralize the government and people of the nation. They hit the World Trade Center in New York, a hub of American commercialism and capitalism, the Pentagon in Washington, DC, a symbol of American military might, and one plane that did not make it to its presumed destination, which likely would have been the White House or Capitol Building in DC, both representative symbols of American democracy and society.

ISIS either didn’t learn or, if they learned, didn’t heed the tragic lesson that history teaches about striking at symbols of society. In 1941, the Japanese, fearing that America was about to enter into the second World War against them, decided to strike at America’s Pacific fleet, the majority of which was stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. As much as to get a first blood advantage against America’s war machine strategically, the Japanese wanted to demoralize the people by destroying this fleet’s symbolic “American might” value. They thought if they could crush America’s spirit, they would get a leg up on winning the war, take America for their own, and assimilate it.

In both cases, the enemy postulated wrong. With the attack on Pearl Harbor, a total of 2,403 lives were taken by the Japanese -2,335 military personnel and 68 civilians. The United States, who had been on the fence about entering the war, now declared war with a vengeance. Instead of demoralizing the people, they were catalyzed into becoming a force that ultimately crushed Japan.

History tells the story of the nuclear retaliatory strike on Japan prior to their surrender. The death toll after America dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki totaled over 200,000. To this day, Japan has not more than a defensive military presence in the world, primarily due to their actions at Pearl Harbor some 76 years ago.

In the case of ISIS, they engaged America with the thought of striking paralyzing fear into the people. Instead, America unleashed its weapons on the countries thought to be havens of ISIS, Iraq and Afghanistan. Primarily, American forces invaded Iraq, crushed their military and took control of their government. Their leader was chased down and eventually executed, and the regime in Iraq was forced to conduct democratic elections to have the people select new leadership. Today, America still battles ISIS with a determined vigor that was ignited by the actions of ISIS terrorists on 9-11.

These are just two of the many examples of what happens when we forget or ignore our history.

On June 17, 2015, a sociopathic killer took the lives of nine people at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.  Among the killer’s belongings and photos, was the image of a Confederate flag. He stated “reason” for the killings was that he felt that African-Americans were taking over America and must be stopped. The killer was taken into custody and convicted of federal murder. He is going through the appeal process while he waits on death row in a federal prison in Indiana.

As a result of his actions, there was a groundswell of support for a special interest movement to remove all government-sponsored displays of the Confederate flag. Those who promoted the removal said that it was a symbol of hate from a chapter of American history that needed to be forgotten. Just last month, another deviant used the chaos of a protest event to kill one woman and injure 19 other people. The sociopath has been arrested, charged, and awaits trial. As a result of his actions, the special interests pressed to have Confederate monuments torn down. Some in the government and media are fanning the flames on this issue.

The important thing to remember about sociopaths is that they do not care about causes or people, only self-gratification. They do what makes them happy and what will get them what they want. Much of the time what they want is attention.

The idea of a supreme race is ridiculous. As several people have pointed out, we all bleed red. There are many unique cultures in this world and in America. All have a sense of history and cultural pride. Slavery was a dark part of the history of America and our Tribe. There were slaveholders among our ancestors too.

Today, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has a very unique culture, history, and people. But, we don’t claim to be better than anyone else. One of our greatest strengths throughout our history has been our adaptability and our compassion. We honor our elders, who gave us life, history and culture. We respect other cultures and celebrate differences.

Symbols mean different things to different people. The meaning of symbols changes over time. For example, the swastika that became the symbol of Hitler’s Nazi regime and the moniker for the white supremacy movement, had a life before becoming a symbol of hate. In fact, it was and is a common religious symbol, first in Hinduism and Buddhism, then even in Byzantine and Christian artwork, all pre-Hitler.

At one time in America, the people of the country used slave labor for commerce and comfort. It was unmistakably a heinous and wrong decision. Some wanted to do away with the practice of slave ownership while others did not. A war ensued and 620,000 people died. In the South, the side that wanted to continue slavery, there were several different flags flown representing different southern states and regiments. One that was used regularly was referred to as the “Stars and Bars” or rebel flag. Some still see these flags as signs of white supremacy. But, I think the vast majority of Southerners have left behind the hatred once represented by the flag and look at it as a symbol of pride in their roots and heritage. It relates a sense of place for them. There is a whole modern Southern culture that doesn’t condone the slaveholding of their ancestors. They are relating the flag to a sense of place and an antebellum culture. The same is true for most monuments to that time period. I believe that the supremacy group is a small subculture that doesn’t represent the majority of people who celebrate more so their culture than their checkered past.

And, let’s remember the lessons of history. You don’t stop hate by attacking symbols. You don’t teach children to avoid the hazards of racism by hiding it from them. Symbols can be just a powerful tool to remind us not to make the mistakes we have made in the past as they are a reminder of the hatred that was once behind them. Human emotion and morality is much more complex than whether or not we see a symbol as good or evil. It is not the symbol, but the issue and the mindsets we must contend with and find resolution for.

As we remember the heinous acts of Sept. 11, 2001 and the symbols of hate that ISIS worked to establish, let us also remember the resolve, character, and patriotism that those symbols inspired. Just as in an individual life, we are the Tribe.  We are the country we are because of the decisions we have made, both good and bad. We can either use those symbols of the life history of our society to destroy each other, or we can choose to lift each other up and make those symbols mean something positive in our lives.