9/11 about Individuals
If we haven’t run out of words, in ten years, to describe 9/11, we certainly haven’t run out of feelings. Neither words nor feelings, however, are static. They change over time. They change as events change and even as circumstances remain the same.
In contrast, December 7, 2011 which will mark the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor is frozen in time though we still observe the event even though we are at peace with Japan. Pearl Harbor forced us into a war in Europe and Asia, an unavoidable war many saw coming several years earlier. The war, hundreds of times more devastating than the War on Terror, for us lasted only five years.
The September 11 aftermath continues today after ten years, just as its roots reach back to the Beirut bombing and multiple terrorist kidnappings of the 1980s. And, after ten years we seek a way to end the war that drains our lives and our dollars. Even a withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq will not end the conflict and many believe will prolong and encourage more attacks. The enemy has a head in Al Qaeda type organizations, but its arms, legs, heart, body and soul in a radical sect of a major religion.
Winning World War II did not eliminate tyranny and killing. Those continued for nearly 50 years under Communism some believe because the western allies did not challenge Communism in the aftermath of victory. Two major challenges did come later at great cost: Korea and Vietnam. One was ultimately successful; the other not.
Ultimately, Communism died out because it did not work, because it used up its resources, because it met opposition. Hopefully, radical Islam will do the same, but there are few signs of change. The Arab Spring movement may or may not be a game changer and it may be for the worst.
So, in the meantime, officially, we observe 9/11 in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Ironically, in New York religious leaders are excluded even though 9/11 was a religious attack and even though in its immediate aftermath, Christians, Muslim and Jews, participated together in shared grief at Ground Zero. Unofficially, churches all over the country have special services. The latter is really more important than the former.
Each of us have our individual memories. I was in the newsroom of a small newspaper in Washington, Pa., and watched as a re-run of the first plane hitting the first tower came on. I saw that the plane was not a private plane, but an airliner. Then came the second plane, then reports of a plane hitting the Pentagon, then a report of a plane down near Somerset, Pa. 90 miles away. It was unreal. My immediate emotional response was somewhat detached, more focused on the event, the news aspects.
I called the publisher of the Somerset paper who told me that all he knew was that a plane went down in Shanksville, a tiny farm community outside of Somerset and that he had reporters and photographer on the way. There was no chit chat. Our newsroom scrambled for news and leads on any local people involved.
Emotions came later, but as noted earlier, weren’t static as they aren’t today. For instance, I could reflect later how the hijackers must have felt God was on their side, because of the perfect weather, the luck going through security, the confusion by officials on the ground and in the air.
Life has changed and continues to change because of 9/11. Much was done by our government in the immediate aftermath of 9/11: Afghanistan (and, later, Iraq), Homeland Security, re-booting the economy, repairing the damaged infrastructure, re-setting the agenda. We moved from passive reaction to aggressive action. That has made us safer at home than before.
But, 9/11 is the story, not of the hi-jackers, and not of government, but the individuals who died in the Towers, and at the Pentagon, on the flights, particularly United flight 93, the rescuers on the ground, and those who picked through the debris at the Towers and the Pentagon, and those who are rebuilding at Ground Zero, all those who scrambled to meet the challenges of that day, all who lost loved ones, and all those individuals in the military who served to protect us then and today.
For America, it has been, is and will always be about its citizens and the action its individuals take.