There are signal events that divide and change our lives. If you live in the south like I do, there is “Before Katrina” and “After Katrina.” We all remember what we were doing and where we were when Katrina made landfall. Millions of lives were irrevocably changed and many were lost. My mother and I were chatting earlier today and spoke about how the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 was another such event. My nation was forever transformed on that day.
In modern times, the attacks on September 11th, 2001 are another such event. We all remember what we were doing and where we were when we first heard about the attacks. Afterward, the terms “pre-9/11” and “post-9/11” became a part of the language in the United States, as did the phrase “Never Forget.” Our way of life in America has been profoundly affected in countless ways by 9/11. Perhaps the most obvious is the massive (and largely inept) efforts at airport security. But there are many far more subtle effects. Our attitudes have changed toward Muslim nations and Muslims in general. Most of us take border security more seriously than before. Conspiracy theories abound of course, but most have been thoroughly debunked and I won’t get into that here, nor will I entertain conspiracy-related comments. So don’t get started with the “Bush did it” or “The Jews did it” or any other unfounded nonsense, OK? That isn’t what this post is about.
So what were you doing when you first heard about the 9/11 attacks? For my part I was working, driving down I-57 in northern Illinois on my way to Houston, TX. I didn’t have the stereo on, but I heard a guy on the CB saying that an aircraft had hit a building in New York City. I remember thinking what a terrible thing that was. I happened to be approaching an exit where a truck stop was located so I pulled off and went inside. Dozens of people were crowded around the television. By the time I had joined them of course the second plane had hit. One plane could have been an accident, but not two. I thought to myself, “my god we’re at war.” As more news came in regarding the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the crash in Pennsylvania we were all in shock. I eventually went back to my truck where it was quiet and watched the deluge of news online. My employer at that time shut his small fleet down and told us to stay put until further notice. None of us moved for two days.
For years afterward America and her mostly-sympathetic allies waged war across Afghanistan to cripple the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and to find Osama bin Laden who masterminded the attacks. It took a decade to find and kill bin Laden. But we’re still at war (when has America not been at war?) in the desert. My youngest son spent a few years in Afghanistan and came home with many bitter memories. He and other veterans of conflicts in the region have all told me that nothing will ever change the culture of hate that exists there. It’s both cultural and the Islamic religion with one constantly reinforcing the other – a vicious cycle fueled by anger and ignorance that never ends.
It breaks my heart to see so many veterans coming home with permanent injuries, missing limbs and broken spirits. We do not do nearly enough for them. These men and women left their homes and journeyed to a strange and hostile place. They fought to end a threat to the safety of free nations around the world. Revelations about the ineptitude and corruption within the VA System are a sad by-product of the so-called War On Terror. Our veterans deserve better than the empty promises of change from politicians. Nearly two decades after the 9/11 attacks, lives are still being ruined. The ripple effect of 9/11 continues to spread.
But in more recent years most Americans have distanced themselves from that memory. We can go for weeks at a time without thinking about it. And that’s natural. Life happens. Dwelling on the past has little value beyond the lessons we learn at the time. But on this anniversary of that awful day, it’s proper to again mourn for those we’ve lost and to honor those brave souls who worked tirelessly to rescue the survivors and restore order. It’s proper to mourn the losses suffered by our veterans and their families and to honor their service to our country. And it’s necessary that we use this day to remind ourselves that a free nation is never completely safe from those who despise freedom.
September 11th, 2001. We will never forget.
Wikimedia Image Credit:
UpstateNYer [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D