To the victims of 9/11: I’m sorry

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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31 Responses

  1. Joe says:

    Great writing as always Brad. I agree. One thing you mentioned struck me: the idea that ‘because we are American we’re better than everyone else.’ While I think that’s what American exceptionalism has come to mean in our generation, the version our ancestors lived was what made America a great nation and we’ve lost sight of it. In their time it meant ‘as Americans we can do anything that needs to be done and we can do it as well as anyone. We won’t wait for anyone to do it for us but we’ll accept any honest person who wants to join in.’

    I want my boys to live that way, but it’s tough when they don’t see it in the world around them.

    I hope the world is cyclical and we will turn toward a more honorable way of living. But it’s a scary prospect that the ability to do so might be lost forever. You gave me alot to think about.

  2. otis says:

    Thank, Joe. You make a really good point there.

  3. Drizztdj says:

    I often ask, “what makes a good American?”.

    This post would be a great outline for someone looking to become one.

    Keep up the great work sir.

  4. First of all let me just say that you seem to express your feelings and opinions very well in this piece. I agree with you about most of the things you say. However I do not believe that we have failed yet. The country has had many of the flaws that you mentioned since the begining. Technology has over the past few decades allowed the few to influence the many and magnified the flaws to make them seem the norm.I believe that new social medias growth over the last few years, especially facebook and twitter, have given the voice back to the real strength in america, the vast majority. Many people have been disgusted by the things you have named but thought maybe they were alone in thinking that people should not all act as if they live on an island in big brothers house near the jersey shore or any of the other extremes that television has shown as the way to be for many years. Now the vast majority can communicate with others and help get things headed back in the right direction. We as a nation have been through many ups and downs before and I hope we continue to learn and grow and move forward for many many more generations. If everyone teaches their kids as you are doing and we all try to do what we think is right, I believe we will be alright. Nice picture by the way. PS I have voted republican for the last twenty plus years and I am no happier with them than you are with the democrats. As you say we all all to blame and we all can fix it.

  5. Gorby says:


    That is a very moving, well thought out piece of writing my friend. I share many of the same views as yourself. I hate what this country and how apathetic or polarized the people have become. Yet, I hope, that we will some how wake up and become a better, more progressive nation.

  6. StB says:

    Interesting but I disagree with a lot of what you have to say. It is the optimist in me. Simply put I could never live in such a cynical view such as yours.

    Yes, too many skin color and sexual preference still is an overriding issue. What have you done about it? People can always complain but acting makes a difference.

    It isn’t up to me to judge anyone. I don’t have the guilt complex you seem to have. I doubt I appreciate life, family, or friends as much as you have expressed on these pages, but something seems to be missing that you feel this way. Maybe it is time for you to seek guidance from those spiritual leaders who you feel failed you. I don’t know.

    Our country always has, and always will, have its faults. But I do not, will not, can not ever think that the many lives lost on that day or in the wars that followed were lost in vain.

  7. Katie Baxter says:

    Wow, Brad, this is really excellent and echoes so much of what I’ve felt myself recently.

    About a week ago, my dad and I had one of the best conversations I’ve ever had. He started by asking me if there was one thing I could accomplish in my life, what that would be. I told him that I would really like to work towards getting people to think more critically. Even if those people don’t have the same beliefs as me, to teach people to at least have well-reasoned beliefs, not just echo the beliefs of opinion leaders they think are right. Increasingly I see people, even people I consider to be intelligent, adopting the opinions of talking heads from “their side” even if the talking heads’ opinions aren’t actually in the interest of that person. People can’t even answer why they have some of these beliefs. I find that shocking and disturbing.

    I mentioned to my dad that this might be something like the nostalgia trap. That maybe things have always been this way and I’m just now noticing it for whatever reason. It’s easy to say “things were better then” even if that is not always true.

    I don’t know. And, as I told my Dad, I have no idea how to work towards getting people to think differently. But it is certainly something I’ve given a great deal of thought to recently.

  8. DavidG says:

    Great piece, Otis! As a father of 2 little girls, I found it very inspirational. I rarely post things on Facebook, but I definitely had to share this with others. I added with my post: “You may not agree with all of the details. I certainly don’t. But I certainly agree with the main point.”

    And that is the point. Very thought provoking. Very worthy of sharing with someone else.

    “In the fight of Us versus Them, we have somehow forgotten that Them is Us. And we hate each other.” Brilliant!!!

  9. CJ says:

    Thank goodness I’m not this cynical. I’m not sure I could do what I do if I saw evil and indifference at almost every turn.

    America is exceptional, despite its flaws. I love this country and believe there are always better days ahead.

  10. Dr. Chako says:

    You’ve seen my CV. I am a good American.

    I’ve traveled quite a bit. You don’t hear about it on the news, but people in other countries still want to be like us. No, they want to BE us – more than you could possibly imagine. Still. Even after all the nonsense. Why? Because we’re still here. Because we take a licking and keep on ticking. Because of Bill Gates and Paris Hilton and Barack Obama and Derek Jeter. Because we create great art and express ourselves and we help out when we can. Or at least we try.

    I’ve seen your CV. You are a good American, and I’m proud to know you. Great piece.


  11. Jason Kirk says:

    “I ask them to listen.
    I ask them to embrace tolerance.
    I ask them to practice moderation.
    I ask them to think critically.
    I ask them to work for what they need, but not take more.
    I ask them to give to people who need it.
    I ask them to love.”

    These statements are the polar opposite of cynicism. Fantastic piece, my friend.

  12. Truth_Teller says:

    “I ask them to listen.” Communication is bi-directional. Your boys will be worse-off for following this tenet.

    “I ask them to embrace tolerance.” Like what? Tolerate the displacement of ones own identity, ones long held personal beliefs for anothers, or even worse just plain ‘ol ‘tolerance’.

    “I ask them to practice moderation.” In other words, you want your boys to ‘CONSERVE’. You want them to be CONSERVATIVES. Good show.

    “I ask them to think critically.” Not to be cynical, but I believe this tenet to be beyond the cognitive reach of 80% of the human race.

    “I ask them to work for what they need, but not take more.” So how do they know what they need? Who dictates that? Parents? News media?? Internet blog postings??? Think critically. Clear this propaganda up.

    “I ask them to give to people who need it.” In their own country? or just the eastern hemisphere? What about in certain South American countries where dictators now designate just who is in need of what? Nobody *needs* anybody’s help.

    “I ask them to love.” You should ask them to love things worth loving. Sharia is not worth loving. Female subjugation and all its ugly forms – not worth loving. Hatred disguised as religion? Religion disguised as justice? Disdain disguised as intelligence? All not worth an ounce of tolerance, consideration or love. Period.

    There is plenty for Americans to be ashamed of. Including insipid prose masquerading as wisdom. Think about it. Critically.

  13. CJ says:

    Jason: Okay… then it was 80% cynicism and 20% hope.

  14. Julius_Goat says:

    Thank you for writing this, Otis. I have to echo Jason’s statement; this couldn’t be further from cynicism. Yes, as a country we are great. And yes, we still have many qualities rightfully worth emulating. But we’re not great just because we say we are. Our greatness is not We’re great because of what we do. Wen what we do is small and petty and fearful and greedy, then we are not attaining the standard to which we rightfully hold ourselves.

    In many ways, we haven’t been what we should be. We can be more of what we should be in the future, but we must first face what we’ve been. Observing the fact that we have been acting in small and petty and fearful and greedy ways is not cynicism, nor is it pointless guilt when your heart hurts upon that observance. I think this is what Otis means when he says: “We failed, and there is no more honest or patriotic way to put it.”

    I will proudly stand with the guy who is arguing in favor of loving and listening and tolerance and sustainable living and helping people in need. And I’ll allow it to hurt me that there are actually people in my country arguing against these things as insipid or foolish. I don’t know what you’d call that pain I feel, but it’s not cynicism.

    Again, Otis, thank you for writing this.

  15. otis says:

    Thanks to all for taking the time to think and comment. And to think how silly I felt a few years ago when I wrote hopeful posts and was met with, “Hope and change? Good luck with that!”

  16. Bryan P says:

    I love your prose, Brad. You are, as always, a though-provoking writer.

    I just happen to disagree with a lot of what you wrote.

    You seem to dismiss the fact that we haven’t been attacked by terrorists in 10 years as a mere footnote. Thank back to the fall of 2001. Wasn’t protecting our country from another terrorist attack priority one? I recall the most common phrase uttered after 9/11 seemed to be “it’s not a matter of if, but when.” Turns out, it WAS a matter of if. Bin Laden and many of the other masterminds of 9/11 are dead. Al Qaeda is a shell of its former self (if that). So what if we have to take our shoes off at the airport?

    We achieved our primary goal. Our military achieved it. Our intellegence networks achieved it. Democrats and Republicans achieved it. The men and women who died fighting those politically unpopular, “bloody” wars achieved it. Incidentially, war is never popular. And it is always bloody. It is also sometimes necessary.

    We go about our business today watching “Jersey Shore” without any substantial fear of an international threat to our Jersey shore. I abhor reality television, but I rejoice over the freedom we have to produce and consume it.

    Is there a lot to criticize about the tone of our discourse? Absolutely. But yellow journalism wasn’t born after 9/11/2001. Pulitzer and Hearst were guilty of it in 1883.

    Are there still racists and homophobes among us? Yes. But they are properly viewed by collective society as extreme where they were once (not long ago) mainstream.

    I, like you, have grown – if not cynical – more skeptical as I pile on years. I sometimes wonder if I’m already a grumpy, old man. But I simply can’t see what’s happened over the past 10 years as a failure.

    I appreciate you starting the conversation. You are, my friend, a great American.

  17. lightning36 says:

    Having worked my entire professional life in higher education and now having three teenagers, the prevaling theme I see is hope. Immediately after 9/11, I was amazed at how many young students took a hard look at their lives and their plans and decided to work toward careers that would assist other people — fire service technology, criminal justice, social work… My kids have grown up in a multicultural environment and treasure diversity and understanding. I rarely see people whose main goal appears to be making money.

    I cannot even begin to express my disappointment with politicians in this country and in my state, one of the most politically corrupt states in the union. The polarization of political beliefs and the lack of civility only help to keep us mired in a giant muck. As a country, however, we have always gotten through any crisis, and I have no reason to doubt that this time will be any different.

  18. Mrs. Otis says:

    I love civil discourse. Discussion is healthy. Disagreement is healthy. It continues to fascinate me, though, that hundreds of people can read the same words in their native language and interpret them so differently. Amazing how our life experience colors our world view, isn’t it? I am thankful that in spite of the liberties we have given up that we still have the right to publicly express our opinions.

  19. Aaron says:

    Nice read Brad. Not quite as cynical as you are expressing in this post, and I don’t place the blame for a lot of our financial problems just on the corporations. We the people borrowed a lot of money that we shouldn’t have to buy things we couldn’t afford. That’s not the banks fault, that is our fault. While there was plenty of fraud and greed on the side of the banks, there was plenty of it on the side of the borrowers as well that are defaulting. I would like to think that part of why the recovery is taking so long to move forward is that people are working harder to keep their financial house in order, and working harder to be smarter with the money they have, which would be healthier in the long run.

    I am curious about 2 things. First what would you compormise about if you were elected? If you had a deep personal belief, would you compromise it? If you think something is wrong, would you agree with it or let it pass just for the sake of compromise? Second, what liberties have we lost that you actually recognize and feel in your life? I haven’t really noticed much lost myself.

  20. otis says:

    Thanks again for all the comments. In direct response to Aaron…I don’t think we disagree as much as you you think.

    I had hoped to be pretty clear that I don’t blame only the corporations. Simply put, “We failed.” We all shoulder the blame for the financial crisis. However, just because the borrower’s were at fault in the subprime mortgage crisis, that doesn’t remove any of the blame from the banks. If you haven’t read “The Big Short,” I encourage you to do so. (While I’m at it, I encourage you to read that, “Blackwater,” re war profiteering and croynism) and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” Then watch it’s companion documentary “Food Inc.” Those are a good start about corporate control of our food supply). All, of course, should be read with a critical and jaundiced eye, but they are eye-opening no matter whether you agree with the politics involved)

    To your direct question, it’s not a matter of whether compromise is possible, but whether the convictions that are up for compromise are true or manufactured. Compromise is key to moving forward. Moral conviction is admirable, but only if it is rooted in actual moral conviction. A couple of discouraging points on that include “Goodbye to All of That” ( and the documentary “Casino Jack.”

    Finally, it’s not a matter of whether I’ve noticed my personal civil liberties eroding. I’m a non-revolutionary, white suburban man entering middle age. It’s a matter of whether our civil liberties as a nation have been eroding. Take the Patriot Act, it’s no-knock warrants, sneak-and-peeks, and its warrantless wiretaps. Created ostensibly to fight terrorism, since its inception has been used 1,618 times for drugs, 122 times for fraud, and only 15 times for terrorism. That’s to say nothing of the erosion of due process for domestic terror suspects or domestic electronic surveillance and wiretaps. None of this will affect me today. Heaven help me, however, should I or anyone I love ever has reason to question the legitimacy of the American government.

    All of this, however, puts too fine of points on the admittedly blunt club I used here which could just as easily have read: We were supposed to become a better nation. We didn’t and I see little in 2011 American that convinces me we’re moving in that direction. If I seem too cynical, I invite everyone to read my posts in the year 2008 in which I was roundly derided for being too pie-in-the-sky hopeful and optimistic.

    In any case, I welcome the disagreement and the dialog. There are some great comments in opposition here that make legitimate, heartfelt arguments that I credit for having a basis in truth. I admire optimism based on critical thinking, even if it conflicts with how I feel.

    Thanks again for taking the time to read and comment.

  21. Steve Wood says:

    Great piece Brad. Don’t let anyone change the incredibly insightful lessons your are teaching your boys. If every parent did the same, the next generation would outshine anything in the history of humanity.

    The cynicism is understandable given that you are a journalist and have seen much of your profession move from reporting facts to advocacy. All too often advocacy without basis in fact. My only suggestion is to step back from the fray and realize that a significant majority share many of your views. What they don’t share is your passion for expressing those views.

    The “Truth_Teller”s of our country are a small minority of extremists who are very passionate about their views without regard for fact. Most are followers, trained to parrot the views of an even smaller group motivated by greed and power.

    The real failure lies with the passive majority who have yet to realize that given just a bit of passion on their part the extremists (both left and right) can be rendered powerless.

  22. Aaron says:

    Hey Brad I think that cynical is the wrong word, and disillusioned is the better word. I do remember your 2008 posts quite well and the few times you have written since stating your disappointment in politics in general since. I think you were derided because you were pie in the sky because of a politician. The Avett’s put it best “Your life doesn’t change by the man who’s elected”. I have always liked the writings of the happy hopeful Brad over the cynical disillusioned Brad.

    You say you thought we would become better since 9/11, why? Did we become better as a people because of any conflict? I personally don’t think so. But I also disagree that we have’t gotten better as a people. Growing up in the 70 & 80’s could you even imagine the open debate of gay marriage and the implimentation and then repeal of don’t ask don’t tell? We as a society do move towards freedom, it may take a long time, and a lot of struggle, but it does happen.

    There is plenty to be proud of. You mentioned the warrentless wire tapping (and I am not saying I am in favor of this), but only mentioned it being used to confirm illeagle activity. I still have the freedom to call anyone I want, talk about whatever I want, and disagree with anyone I want on the phone and pretty much anywhere else I want. While I do not have a blind eye to the fact that the goverment has lied and falsified information before and after this program to prosecute people, we still by and large have to freedom to go where we want, say what we want, believe how we want, and do what we want. That I am proud of.

    You asked the question do I think I am a good American. Yes. Do I think I am a better American than you? no. I don’t think I am a worse American either. I think the idea of grading your Americaness is a sad statment, and part of the fracturing of society, but then again that has been going on for as long as there has been an America.

    As for The Omnivore’s Delima and Food Inc. Well I think we have more choice now in our food supply than ever, especially if you are willing or able to spend the money, and I would not want to go back to the time when the average family spent 30% of their income food instead of the less than 10% that is typical for the current family.

    As always I enjoy reading your thoughts, even when I don’t agree with them.

  23. Devon says:

    Great. Job.

    I echo essentially every sentiment expressed in this article.

    I too, wonder if we are even worth saving and battle every day to reconcile my natural optimism with my empirically acquired cynicism.

    Always remember, we are not the first to face such struggles. We won’t be the last.

  24. Jason Kirk says:

    Mrs. Otis – there’s a Karl Popper quote that comes to mind:

    “It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood.”

    Pretty much says it all.

  25. some dad says:

    I’ve long felt that we are doing it wrong. Living well is the best revenge and in that we have failed. I will spend today trying watch football and shield my youngsters from horrible images and hyperbole of “one country” and “together”. We feel bad today, we remember today and the tomorrow we are right back to hating each other. And no, that isn’t hyperbole. Read the papers, follow the elections, read the quotes from our presidential candidates. Attend a political rally, left or right. We despise our fellow countrymen.

  26. Not2Sure says:

    Talk about histrionics replacing critical thought. This “essay” is rhetorical nonsense.

    Teach your children whatever hero worship idolatry while you can. They will listen to you for just a few more years. But leave “America” and “Americans” out of it. If you want to whine about failed morality then be specific. I’m sure you can find some specific examples to talk about. Oh, that’s right as soon as you discuss the real, the complexities of reality get in the way of your naïve ideology and grand morality tales of right and wrong.

    It is true that America is in decline by almost any metric. Nothing to be cynical about. It’s simply the way of things. That’s what generally happens to all empires. They are corrupted by a minority to the point of weakness and either wither to irrelevance or are conquered by “evil barbarians”.

    If you really want to do something about it, put your middle class life at risk and take part in the upcoming class war. Or sit around sipping latte and “blogging”, whatevs.

  27. Frank Rich wrote something along the same sentiment, and I think it’s worth reading…

  28. miranda says:

    You write well. hat makes it better and more important, is what you write. All the saneness and logical thinking has emptied itself right here, in front of me, and quite honestly Im completely shocked, impressed and awestruck at this, of course i totally agree with what you say. Im impressed because all of it, is what we should all be thinking, writing, speaking. Living.
    You most definately have a powerful way of writing.
    Im glad you are out there. In this world.

  1. September 11, 2011

    […] The passage of nine more years has changed the way I think about the events of this date. Like Otis, I think I believed then that our best selves would prevail in the aftermath of destruction and […]

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