Even before 9/11, I believed in George W. Bush. The 13-year-old version of me got a kick out of Rush Limbaugh, had listened to Atlas Shrugged on tape, and revered conservative radio talk show host Michael Graham as an intellectual titan imparting wisdom on us mere mortals.

So when the Twin Towers came down and Bush’s approval rating sprang up to 90 percent, I took solace in the cowboy president’s televised speech from the Oval Office. Do you remember what he said to us?

“Tonight, I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered, for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened. And I pray they will be comforted by a power greater than any of us, spoken through the ages in Psalm 23: ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.’ ”

Right off the bat, there was also talk of absolute evil and a plan to hunt down the responsible parties to the ends of the earth — and while those things no doubt brought a swell to my Young Republican chest, the Bush I remember from those days was standing in the apocalyptic rubble of Ground Zero, arm slung around a firefighter’s shoulder, speaking tidings of comfort and peace into a bullhorn. Now that I go back and rewatch footage of that impromptu speech, I realize he was actually winning the crowd over with a promise of bloody vengeance. But that’s not how I remember things.

Really, my world was not shattered by 9/11. I lived in Summerville, hardly a target for terrorists, and I had no family anyplace near where the attacks happened. But it all got me thinking — a dangerous thing when you are 13 years old with an active imagination and a basic grasp of American history. I knew that the last time a group of people had attacked American soil, we tried a military response but eventually gave up and dropped atomic bombs on two of their cities. I also had an understanding that there were enough nuclear weapons on the planet by 2001 to kill us all several times over, and I envisioned a series of retaliatory launches that would reduce my family, my school, my house, and my body to a wisp of radioactive ash.

It took me about a day to arrive at the Mutually Assured Destruction theory. So when I prayed on the night of Sept. 12, 2001, I made a special supplication: Don’t let George drop the bomb on anyone. Help him to do the right thing.

Over the past 10 years, I have heard war mongering from the pulpit and xenophobia from the halls of my high school. I have seen the War on Terror framed as a war against Islam, and I have learned how my own faith gets abused for political gain. Today, I still pray for our president to do the right thing, but I am less certain of what the right thing is.

Do you remember what President Bush really said over the bullhorn to all those shell-shocked people after 9/11, the ones who were chanting “U.S.A.” in the cratered wasteland where the World Trade Center once stood? It makes sense now, looking back on 10 years of war:

“I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”


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