January 28, 2014

Post 9/11

Thinking back to 9/11/01, that fateful day, and how we were sent home from the office around 1pm, presumably for security concerns or simply recognition that work was somehow a sacrilege given the circumstances. In hindsight it was obviously the right call, not for security concerns given Columbus was hardly a target, but because there is something right and proper to acknowledging the moment. I thought it kind of strange at the time but wiser heads prevailed.

My own reactions included incredulity that people would work so hard for such an evil purpose. Being naturally lazy, I'm hard-pressed to work hard for a good purpose let alone an evil one, so this struck me as nihilism run amok, a demonic, Hitler-like action. Evil is not only horrifying but seems rare: in the normal course of my everyday I come in contact of some sort with hundreds of people at work or on the roads or in the neighborhood who are most decidedly not evil. The “norm” for me, born lucky in the safety of American suburbia, is not malevolence.

The other reaction I had to 9/11 was surety that we would get bin Laden though it would take years. And that we would pursue him with the fervor Jewish organizations do ex-Nazis. I feel prescient in this, both in terms of how long it took and how un-forgetful America was.

But what I think I missed was how watershed an event it was. I didn't see how it would change us, how we would mark time as before and after 9/11. Despite the craziness of it, with all air traffic grounded and with both towers down and so many lives lost, I don't think I expected it to be as JFK-like as it turned out to be even though it deserved to be. If in 1963 we still held our leaders with a kind of imperial regard, after the '60s took hold we became even more thoroughly democratic. The “best and brightest” took us to Vietnam after all. Authority was depreciated and after the '60s came the de facto triumph of everyman over “Camelot”, the re-appreciation of the little guy as represented by various movements from women's rights to civil rights.

So the loss of 3,000+ Americans in democratic 2001 was at least equivalent to the loss of our “king”, Kennedy, in 1963. And while I saw it terms of ineffable tragedy, of those lives cut short without mercy, I didn't see it as transformative as it would become. I saw it as essentially a personal tragedies times 3,000, a predictably overly individualistic approach. I didn't dream it would result in two protracted wars lasting over a decade, or that grandmothers would be patted down in airports, or that potential terrorists would be tortured, or that the NSA would spy on all Americans. I couldn't have imagined our government, so typically Barney Fife inept, would be quite so vicious and determined, especially given our slack dealings with previous terrorist episodes during the 70s, 80s and 90s.

1 comment:

Thomas Hall said...

'I didn't dream it would result in two protracted wars lasting over a decade, or that grandmothers would be patted down in airports, or that potential terrorists would be tortured, or that the NSA would spy on all Americans. I couldn't have imagined our government, so typically Barney Fife inept, would be quite so vicious and determined....'

I hate to say *I told you so*, but, you know...