9/11/1857 – 9/11/2001 The Wakeful Dead

We are called to remember, mourn, grieve and perhaps parade a bit today – in honor of lives lost to violence ten years ago today. The stories of those who died or suffered familial losses in the Twin Towers, at the Pentagon or in planes involved, are traded by the media with tasteful sincerity. Our leaders gather with stone faces and tightly crafted words. The media speaks of the dead, if not for them.

Mountain Meadows Monument
Memorial at Mountain Meadows

154 years ago today another tragic massacre occurred in southern Utah. A group of a 120 immigrants, making their way to a new life in California, were slaughtered by a group of Mormon militia men. That day marked the beginning of a cover-up that lasted until 1999, when the dead were unwilling to stay silently buried. Click here to read more about the Mountain Meadows Massacre, a horrible event wrongly blamed on the Paiute tribe for well over a century.
The dead spoke loudly in 1999, and not without a sense of irony. After a backhoe accidentally uncovered the remains of some 25 victims, it became clear they would not be re-interred without examination. A law created to empower anthropologists to review the buried remains of Native Americans that might be discovered accidentally or otherwise, forced the state of Utah to allow forensic examination of the emigrant remains. Denying the dead their voice would be a violation of a federal law designed to excise the solemn secrets of the wrongly accused native dead.
Governor Mike Leavitt, direct descendant of early settler Dudley Leavitt, commuted the standard 2 week examination to 48 hours, ostensibly to protect the feelings of the descendants of the massacred Baker-Francher party. Leavitt’s ancestor was not only a purported participant in the massacre, he was a Mormon liaison to the local native tribes, the same tribes who took the fall for the massacre. I wonder if the spirits of the people he betrayed, both emigrant and native, chose to unearth the truth when a descendent of Leavitt was in office – pointing a firm finger at the religious/political machine that kept a lie alive for so many years.
For a moment it must have seemed like the truth would be hastily reburied, silencing the dead once again. But those wronged had foreseen this possible travesty. A highly motivated, experienced forensic anthropologist was on staff at the University of Utah. Shannon Novak had examined the recent mass graves of Serbia, and the bones of British soldiers who died in 1461. The dead would have their due by the hands of passionate students and an extraordinary investigator, working without rest until the remains were taken away. Shannon must hear stories flowing from the bones she sees, truths revealing themselves like newborns waiting to find their way into the world. The stories she saw all but exonerated the native people who were framed, pinning the mass murder solidly on the local Mormon militia.
9/11 was a massacre with no single location of violence. A crime carried out in the theatre of global power, it includes the former site of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, the homes and graves of thousands of Iraqi’s. It includes our first responders who suffer and die today without adequate healthcare. It includes our military families who’s active duty soldiers continue to chase ghosts across the middle-east though Bin Laden has been killed.
This morning I sit in the 9/11 echo chamber as it rattles its messages of hope, grief and American might around the world. I can’t help feeling that we are weaving a story that – just like the lie of Mountain Meadows – hides many truths, though it might not be an outright lie. I’m not even talking about the many conspiracy theories that surround this event, some that have credibility, some that do not. In personalizing the losses of this ongoing tragedy, focusing so much on those who died on US soil that day, we turn away from the powers that gave birth to this murderous event, galvanizing a perspective that may serve a few of the living, but perhaps not most of us and certainly not the dead.

911 Memorial
911 Memorial viewed from NJ

Some accounts of the Mountain Meadows Massacre suggest that Mormon militia dressed as Indians to execute at least the initial stage of their attack. From the beginning they planned to pin the attack, however it ended, on the Paiutes. Even if we’ve gotten the list of hijackers right, I can’t realistically attribute all the deaths on 9/11, and the tens of thousands who died as a result of military actions since then, on that small group of patsies.
The Bin Ladens, Bushes, and Cheynes of the world play chess with pieces made up of corporations, cities, armies, and the humble families of our world. One cannot hear about the supposed principal players in 9/11, both attackers and defenders, without recognizing their obvious connections to wealth, oil, power and each other. Perhaps descendants of Bush will, like the descendants Leavitt, seek to hide his connection to Saudi power.  This has never been about freedom or even religion. Its always been about the way we’re consuming the earth, who gets what piece of the pie.
Like Leavitt’s both then and now, the powerful seek to hide bones from view today and forever by wrapping them in warm, dignified ceremony and government reports. They entice us with the idea of a return to normalcy, albeit the new normalcy of terrorism and peak oil. Like the bodies of Mountain Meadows, the wreckage of 9/11 was swept from view and replaced with a memorial designed to protect our feelings. I’m reminded of the catch phrase that heralded the end of the Nixon administration “the long national nightmare is over”. Our ‘feelings’ are not helped by half-truths, questions left unanswered, and lessons left half-learned. The feelings of the ancestors of the Baker-Francher party were not helped by a limited exploration of how their kin died. Only lies are helped by such thinly disguised, poorly executed political theater.
There is a monster afoot, it respects no nations borders, protects no single peoples. It craves oil to maintain its power, it consumes more lives each year. Today we morn only a few of its victims while bodies continue to pile up the world over. Lets not forget that people die every day by the hands of those who crave power over peace and justice.
The dead can help us to battle against the suffering this monster creates, they can lead us to truths that expose the monster and render it powerless. We all have a responsibility to listen for the messages the dead might send us, to help them tell their truths when we can. Lets remember those who died today by honoring the uncomfortable truths of our lives, making sure they’re given their due. Lets honor the dead when they return to us with messages meant to liberate and truly heal us.

Image 1: Mountain Meadows monument by Rick Willoughby
Image 2: 911 Memorial by Sister72
Both images from Flickr, used under 
a Creative Commons license

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