The morning of September 11th, 2001 scarred America’s psyche in ways that we still haven’t recovered from, as this episode of “What Would You Do?” shows.
A dozen years after 9/11, this nation is still struggling with its identity. The war of revenge we fought in the Middle East is over, or all but. But the war we fight within ourselves rages on. It was on that day that we rediscovered our nation’s ability to truly hate another human being because of his clothes, or the color of his skin. We found that for all our talk of Civil Rights, all our supposed liberalism, we were no more above fearing a man for his religion than our European predecessors of centuries ago.
Past the specter of slavery, of whites-only drinking fountains; past the anti-semitism of America’s past, and Nazi marches through Chicago, we came to believe we were truly BETTER than that. We had EVOLVED, as a people. But one act of terror proved that in the smoking death of fear, we can all rediscover the hate that hides just below our veneer of acceptance.
In this segment, host John Quinones sets up a scenario in which a “bigot” relentlessly harasses a “Muslim” store clerk. The camera records the customers’ reactions. Some are outraged, some are insulted, one man even tacitly agrees with the “bigot” that “they’re everwhere, and you never know.”
Most say nothing at all.
But the one man in that deli — the one whose job it is to pick up a gun and kill men who look like our clerk — knows what an American is. The soldier, who we know only by the “Bud” on his uniform, has been trained to tell friend from foe. He knows, more than most, that an enemy isn’t the man of a particular religion or skin color, but one who is himself consumed by fear and hate. He’s the one who fears you. Who hates you. He is your enemy.
The morning of Sept. 11th showed us the face of our “enemy,” and it was brown. It was Muslim. And in the false equivalence of the untrained mind, that face became synonymous with those who wished us harm. But those faces are here, and they are us.
They are as American as anyone else. And what would you call a man who hates and fears his fellow American?
This soldier knows an enemy when he sees one.
At the end of the day, maybe soldiers like Bud can help to lead us out of the false equivalence of hate that still scars our nation today. If you’re reading this from Maine to Hawaii, Florida to Alaska, this soldier would stand for you against YOUR enemies. Through battle, he’s learned to tell friend from foe, and he would protect you from your enemies, even if you don’t know who “they” are.
Even if “they” are you.
September 11th left a scar on our nation’s heart. It reminded us that human beings will never be above hate, or fear. But men like this teach us that a nation’s heart can be scarred, and ultimately be the better for it.
Read the transcript below:
Bud: “Put your chips down and go buy them somewhere else.”
Bigot: “You want ME to leave?”
Bud: “You have a choice to go shop anywhere, just like he has a choice to practice his religion, anywhere. THAT’S the reason I wear the uniform. So anyone can live free in this country. Leave the man alone, buy your stuff, and leave.”
Host John Quinones came up to interview Bud afterward, informing him that he was on a television show.
JQ: “Some might say what you just said was heroic, what you said. Is it?”
Bud: “No, sir. No. Heroes come in many shapes and sizes, and that wasn’t heroic at all. That was just being a person, and standing up for someone else.”
JQ: “And what principles were you defending?”
Bud: “Everyone’s inalienable rights.”
Bud: “Everyone’s. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Muslim. If you’re an American, you’re an American. Period.”