The nation paused to remember the tragic events of September 11, 2001 earlier this week. Flags were flown at half-staff, special programs were held, and familiar video footage of the events were replayed. Instead of “Remember the Alamo,” the mantra was “Remember 9/11.”
Remembering is not the issue for those of us who were alive on 9/11 and were glued to our radios, TVs, and computers while the unbelievable events unfolded. I mean who could forget those horrifying scenes and chilling news reports? A common theme on Facebook this week has been to recount where one was when they were informed of what was taking place.
To quote Walter Cronkite from the “You Were There” series, “It was a day like all days.” People went about their business as they always did. There was nothing to indicate at the outset that this day would be any different than the day which preceded it. I was at my office when the receptionist came in with the news that a plane had struck one of the Twin Towers. Even more unsettling was the realization that this incident was believed to be a planned terrorist attack.
One minute I was in my safe cozy little world wielding control over the cases my office handled. The next my head was reeling because the security rug had been pulled out from under me, and my country spun out of control. How could something so violent and catastrophic happen in the United States? If I were a resident of say South Sudan, the most violent country in the world, it may have been just another ordinary day filled with death and destruction. But this was the U.S.A.!
Unbelief soon turned to fear. What if this was just the beginning of an attack against this country? How could I protect my young children? What should I do? My first thought was that being in close proximity to a military base probably made local residents sitting ducks. Why, I’d flee to the North Georgia mountains where my parents had a summer home on a mountainside in a lightly populated area. Not much likelihood of terrorists showing up there unless they needed a mountain vacation after wreaking havoc on us infidels.
I attempted to get through the day as if it were a normal one. Only it was anything but normal. An eerie silence hung in the air. Being five minutes from an Air Force base meant that planes flying overhead was commonplace, but none were flying. Traffic on the busy road near my office was light. I learned that the base gates had been locked down; no one was getting on and no one was getting off the base. So much for going to the court hearing that afternoon with my client who was stuck on base. No worries; court hearings were cancelled.
It should have been a relief to head home to my house, a place of familiarity and security, but the drive home was surreal. Few cars were on the road, and I saw military members armed to the teeth patrolling the base perimeter. All I wanted to do was go to bed and wake up the next morning to find that the nightmare of 9/11 was really only a nightmare. Alas, the events were sadly all too true.
9/11 may have been a day that will live in infamy for our generation, but it was still a day like every other. The sun set in the west, followed by the sun rising in the east the next morning. Despite the loss of just under 3,000 people killed, most civilians, and an additional 6,000 being injured, time marched on.
Fast forward to 2018. What’s different? OK, yes the year is seventeen higher than when the Twin Towers were attacked. There’s a memorial area (which I have seen in person) where the Twin Towers once stood. Security is much tighter in airports. Who knows what would happen if someone (who shall, ahem, remain nameless) carried lemon body spray over 3.4 ounces onto a plane? Surely, to everyone’s great relief, that will never happen as the dangerous liquid would be confiscated and tossed. (And I had just purchased that bottle too!)
I’d like to be able to say that 9/11 resulted in a continuing pattern of national unity and a concern for being “one nation under God, indivisible.” But, what we see today is nothing even remotely close. Americans are at each other’s throats ideologically. If a terrorist tried to sneak up on us, we’d probably be too busy squabbling over who said what to whom, what someone tweeted, or who is/isn’t a hero to notice his approach. Has no one ever heard that “a house divided cannot stand?” United we stand; divided we fall. Divisiveness is pervasive in our country. Hope everyone is preparing for a fall, and I don’t mean a tower being taken down by an outside enemy.
I know what my dear departed Mom would say about Americans today. Well, actually, she’d say two things. First, she’d say, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Hmm. Likely to be lots of dead air on the political shows and plenty of white space in the newspaper. Mom would also urge everyone to simply “agree to disagree.” No one is going to change anyone else’s opinion by verbal attacks, so acknowledge that and move on.
Back in 2001, the enemy was a terrorist. The enemy today is not a terrorist or even anyone from a foreign country. The Pogo comic strip put it best while parodying a message from U.S. Navy Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry (a maternal ancestor of mine!) regarding the Battle of Lake Erie: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Americans are our own worst enemies. Who needs terrorists to explode anything when we are fully capable of imploding what we have on our own?
While it’s fine to remember 9/11 and to regurgitate the facts and figures relating to its horrors, remembering isn’t the key. We Americans need to learn from this historical event. The safety and security of our country is fragile; at any minute, the world as we know it could be turned upside down. 9/11 should teach us that we cannot be complacent. We need to be ever vigilant for threats to our country–from without or from within.
Just WONDER-ing: What do you remember about 9/11? What lessons should Americans take away from 9/11?