Ten years ago today, many peoples’ lives changed forever. Many of those lives ended tragically. The idea of two jumbo jets being used as weapons of mass destruction would have been deemed impossible prior to that sunny morning in New York City, Washington DC and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Terrorism had been with us, to be sure, for decades prior to this fateful day. But to many of us Americans, it was a foreign thing. something which happened on another nation’s soil. Even while terrorists had attempted to bring down the World Trade Center prior to this event, when I thought of terrorism, I thought of places such as the Middle East and Somalia. Oklahoma City should have been a wake up call telling all of us that we were vulnerable. But the idea of taking a jet and flying it into not just one but two of our most visible landmarks? It was incomprehensible.
This day, which would end up with the dubious distinction of being one of the three most recognizable dates in American history (after December 7, 1941 and July 4, 1776) began as most previous days had. We were at work, consumed in the daily tasks at hand, probably making plans for the coming weekend or whatever. For us, it was six months prior to the start of our second Hawaiian vacation, and I was going to work a half-day and then drive up to Destination Travel to meet with our travel agent, finalize our plans and put down the deposit on the trip. I know I was certainly engrossed in that.
When the first plane hit the World Trade Center, it was reported as a “small plane”, so we weren’t unduly concerned. Just one of those strange things which happen from time to time, and there was certainly no evidence of what was to come. Most of us went back to work while a few of us were on the internet gathering updates. When it was finally reported that the small plane was actually a passenger jet, work stopped. If you weren’t on the internet trying to get updates from a host of websites which were quickly overwhelmed with bandwidth, you were talking to others either in the office or on the phone. What the hell was this and what did it mean? We all grieved for our fellow citizens that day, and worried about those we knew who were near either site.
We all know what it would mean in the coming years.
Meanwhile, my visit to Destination Travel that afternoon took on an almost surreal appearance. Travel agents were glued to TV sets, watching constant updates on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News (I was never sure why Fox was being watched, maybe they needed a break from the truth). Here we had hundreds killed on four separate airplanes with another couple thousand killed in three buildings, and we were putting down a deposit to take an airplane flight in exactly six months?! Hell, all flights across the United States had just been grounded with no idea when flights would resume and what air travel would look like in the future. I mean, it was just weird in a “I don’t know why the hell we’re doing this” way.
What else has it meant in the past ten years? Hundreds of billions of dollars spent on two wars, thousands of fighting men and women killed or maimed, an entire new bureaucracy devoted to keeping us “safe”.
Are we safer now than we were then? Perhaps. Al Qaeda has been attacked and somewhat successfully. Those who perpetrated the terrorist acts are dead. The primary individual who planned and funded the acts is now dead.
Flying is now an ordeal unlike what it ever was prior to 9/11, and for what? Has TSA prevented a single act of terrorism? No solid evidence points to it doing just that, but it has ensured that you are far less likely to fly using only carry-on luggage due to 3-1-1 restrictions on liquids in carry-ons. And airlines have been quick to cash in using fees to check our bags!
What is next? Will we see something similar to what happened that day in the future? I really don’t know. Nobody does. We could see worse, of course; a nuke obtained from the old Soviet Union or from North Korea (or Iran) could be used some day, dwarfing the destruction wrought by the 9/11 terrorists. More likely, in my opinion, conventional explosives will be used, concealed in a truck or a barge. And how will we react then? The events of 9/11 brought the country and its politicians together like few events have (certainly not since Pearl Harbor day), but that was temporary. Politically, we are now polarized like we have never been and it’s getting worse. There is no longer any forum for civil political discourse. And because of that, we are perhaps more vulnerable than we were prior to 9/11. That is sad. It’s also pathetic. It makes me ashamed to be a member of either major political party in America.