Well…it’s been eight years since the horrific attacks by terrorists on September 11, 2001. I, like so many Americans, have that morning forever burned into my memory. I can recall sitting in my dorm room at William and Mary before class reading news of some sort of airplane crash into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. At the time, I didn’t know what to think. Was it an unfortunate pilot error? Was it an attack similar to the 1993 bombing of the very same center? I remember leaving for class pondering the significance of that event. However, it was more of a curiosity, like studying an unusual insect that just landed on a nearby windowpane, than anything else. Certainly I had lived through similar events (the Cole bombing, Oklahoma City, Waco, 1993 as mentioned above, and Columbine to name a few), but they were isolated one-time events and in a part of the country far removed from our fair Virginia.
As I traveled down the stairs heading to the eyesore known as Morton (the Government Department’s building), a fellow member of the College Republicans approached me. He asked if I had heard of the attacks. Yes, I said, I did hear of the plane hitting the tower. I asked him what he thought it meant and if he had any more details. Towers, he corrected me. Towers? What? He told me that the other tower had been struck as well. I recall feeling a bit queasy as I entered the building. Both towers? That couldn’t be a mere accident. In the government wing every television on my floor broadcast the second plane striking the South tower again and again and again. As I watched the scene repeatedly, fixated on the fiery impact, my heart sank lower and lower until I felt I could no longer stand. Then in this dark hour came news of the attack on the Pentagon. Moments later, the first tower descended into a grey plume of smoke. I began to wonder if this could be the end, if the country we knew and loved was approaching its finale…if life from that moment would ever be the same again…if all youth and innocence were suddenly and permanently ripped asunder from this world. Except those were days and worries now eight years in the past.
Prior to 9/11, the national tragedy that haunted my mind was the destruction of the Challenger. Sitting there in my small plastic chair in my elementary school, my classmates and I eagerly watched the launch. After all, a schoolteacher was going into space. How exciting! My mind swam with the possibilities of space travel. Oh, wouldn’t it be fun to be an astronaut! As the shuttle rose into the sky, it carried not only the NASA crew, but my hopes and dreams too. In a blinding flash both were torn apart and thrown into the cold sea. I didn’t understand what went wrong at that time, but suddenly becoming an astronaut didn’t seem like such a great idea anymore. However…that’s another story for another day.
Getting back to 9/11, in the days, weeks, and months that followed fear became a normal part of life. Runaway airplanes gave way to anthrax letters and no one felt like leaving the relative safety of their plastic encased homes anymore. The government devised a panic inducing color-coded chart to supposedly assess the terror level. With danger a shopping mall, bridge, or nuclear power plant away, it felt as if the terrorists had truly won, as if being an American meant living a life of constant fear.
Fortunately, slowly but surely life began to return to a quasi-normal state. Unfortunately, as is typical, the federal government agency that arose to “deal” with 9/11 remains to this very day. In our fear, and in the name of temporary security, we bartered away a portion of our freedom to the federal government. As Ben Franklin reminds us, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety.” What startled me was that many of my conservative allies embraced this new police state as if it were natural. For sticking to our principles and resisting further government intrusion as I had always done, I was labeled a libertarian and scorned by many of my Republican colleagues. Of course, the nation-building preemptive conflict in Iraq only deepened this growing divide. Therefore, I must condemn every last one of the neoconservative bastards who used the hijacking of a handful of planes as a political opportunity to hijack our nation and the Republican Party. Although the state guards over them, neither true security and liberty are derived from the government. Rather they spring forth from the society, the individual, and, lest we forget, our creator.
What have we learned in eight years time? Are we wiser than we were then? Do we have more liberty? Are we more secure? I know that this sentiment will sound naïve, but I long for a return to the days of September 10, 2001 when the government was a bit smaller, our foreign policy slightly less interventionist, our gas considerably cheaper, and our people felt more at ease. Can it happen? I sorely wish it could. Nevertheless, like the Kennedy assassination and Pearl Harbor before it, 9/11 has become the tragedy of the present generation. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, so what, if anything, have we learned?