On September 12th, 2001 I was supposed to go to a wedding in San Francisco. It was a big deal. Cable cars were rented to take us on a tour of the city. The bride’s mother rented an entire island for the reception.
But the flight didn’t happen. No flights happened. The wedding was canceled. (The couple eventually split up and now the groom is married happily to someone else with at least one kid that I know of).
I lived in Austin then. I was 25 and working for a non profit that helped people with cancer. The day before I drove to work like always. Just before I got there, the NPR program I was listening to was disrupted for a news story, but rather than listen to it, I put in a CD.
When I got to work, there was a group of my co-workers huddled around the TV in the breakroom. I stood with my backpack staring at the screen with them. As I stood watching, the second plane crashed into the other tower. Everyone gasped, horrified, as it played out on the screen in front of us. Live, close up, and in color. I kept standing, watching the screen until the towers fell. One after the other. Tears streaming down my face.
The cameras zoom in on people jumping out of the smoldering building.
One of my co-workers touched my shoulder and asked, “Did you know somebody over there?”
I said, “No.” Even though I was thousands of miles away, I think that this single, horrible act was something that all Americans took personally. For the first time the most powerful country in the world was vulnerable, and the vulnerability was crippling.
My friend Courtney, who hadn’t been watching TV, e-mailed me about something trivial, and I responded by telling her, “Turn on your TV. It’s World War III.” An overreaction maybe, but at the time it seemed like the whole country was under attack. Reports came in of other planes. Someone said there was one circling Dallas, and we were all shell shocked and afraid, looking at the sky. No one knew, at first, what was really going on.
In the months that followed, I started having nightmares. Images of planes flying into the statue of liberty. Of buildings toppling. I became cynical. I lost my job helping people with cancer. The economy was suffering, and for the next couple of years I’d find a job, only to be downsized, or I’d get by doing temp work. I feel like I spent the next few years completely lost. The world seemed devoid of meaning.
George W. Bush was talking about war with Afghanistan. Even one of my most liberal friends said to me at the time, “I’m glad the Supreme Court appointed him instead of Gore. Because he’ll make them pay.” It seemed like everybody wanted vengeance. Blood for blood.
I went to a rally at the state capital to protest the war. It didn’t make sense to me to attack a poor, developing country nowehere near us over something a group of fanatics did. I have this crazy notion that killing people is never right or justified. I didn’t understand the point of fighting the “War on Terror” by terrorizing someone else.
I’d like to say my intentions were completely nobel, but what was driving me more than righteous indignation over an unjust war was the prospect that there might be some cute guys there. I was newly single, and longing for some type of connection.
I stood with my friend James alongside people brandishing signs that said, “No blood for oil.” and “Bush is a Nazi.” I listened to the speakers in front of the Capital speaking passionately. The intense, determined faces of the crowd. The old hippies with tie dyed peace signs, and the college students with hemp bracelets. But I didn’t feel connected. There were cute guys there, but none of them paid attention to me, and when the protest was over, we all went home, and the war happened anyway.
10 years later the war is still happening. On September 11th, 2001, 2,977 innocent civilians were killed by 19 terrorists. Many times that number of innocent Afghanistan civilians have been killed since then both directly by US forces, or indirectly because of the war. Countless others have been disfigured or or have been left devastated by crippling injuries. Thousands of young men and women, both ours and theirs have died as soldiers. Trillions of dollars have been spent. And the war is still happening. And because one war wasn’t enough, we went to war again.
10 years later I’m living on the west coast. I’m 35 and I work for a non profit that helps people quit smoking. I’m connected, and life has personal meaning again. I have a boyfriend, and we’re making plans to move to NYC. He recently visited Ground Zero which is now a tourist destination. He got me a t-shirt.
The fire fighters and first responders are dying of cancer. We have trillions of dollars to wage war, but no money, it seems, to help the people who risked their lives helping others.
10 years on and those horrible images have become dulled by repetition.
In many ways it feels like the terrorists have won. The economy seems to have never fully recovered. The cycle of violence seems neverending. In an effort to protect ourselves we’ve given up many of our rights and freedoms. (Freedom is worth less than a false sense of security, it seems.) Going through the airport now is a tedious hassle. The wars we’ve waged have only increased the ill will of other nations, and fosters more anti-American sentiment.
Maybe it’s just my naive hippie world view, but it seems like if we ended the wars, and redirected the spending to things that will improve our infrastructure like creating jobs, providing healthcare, and improving education, then our nation could regain it’s standing as a world leader rather than a war monger.
I know that the wealthy people who weild all the power and make all the decisions are, like the rest of us, driven primarily by self interest. But maybe if they understood that it would be in their best interest to provide for the people of this country, then real change could actually happen. I’m sure that a lot of money can be made from defense contracts and controlling oil reserves, but more could be made by educating the people. Innovation is what will drive the market and open up new jobs. Happy secure people are also good consumers, so it’s a win win situation.
Maybe we should start with helping out those first responders and the civilians everywhere who’ve been affected by the tragedy. Maybe we could restore that faith we lost if we tempered the blood shed with healing. Maybe this “us against them” mentality is just devisive retoric used to control us all. Maybe the people who hate the U.S. would cease to do so if we acted with understanding and compassion instead of with bombs.