Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11 Reflections

They say that everyone who was sentient then remembers where they were when they heard that terrorists hijacked passenger airliners and flew them into buildings. That’s true for me. I was at work, in Massachusetts, when people started telling others what they just heard on the radio.

My employer set up a television we used for showing training videos. Without a makeshift antenna, reception was lousy, but I saw the second plane hit and then the towers fall and then the hole in the Pentagon. I remember the chaos, the rumors of a car bomb at the State Department, the fear, the sheer “What the Fuck is going on” we all felt.

My employer sent us home—we weren’t working much anyway. How can you concentrate when we didn’t know what happen next? Would planes hit the Sears Tower in Chicago? Would car bombs explode outside our door? I lived only five minutes away from work then. I got home about 10:30 and talked to Bill on the phone. I turned the TV on and it stayed on the news channel for quite awhile.

Five years later, the country is divided. Our President has led, but not all of us have followed. The divisions are partly due to partisan politics, partly due to a certain lack of presidential eloquence, and partly due to a refusal to accept that the world has changed.

About thirty percent of our neighbors, relatives, and Americans seem to believe that our government conspired to ensure the towers fell down. They believe this despite independent commission reports, thousands of witnesses, boasts planners made, and scads of other evidence.

I think they want to believe in a conspiracy because they want to go back to September 10, 2001. They want to go back to a time when progressive “quality of life” issues sounded so important, when foreign policy really didn’t matter, and when our military was seen as a regretted necessity (but let’s spend more on schools than bombs).

Instead, we found out that there’re people who hate us because we don’t keep women in their place, we separate church and state, and we don’t put our asses in the air five times a day. We can’t change our society enough to please our opponents and even the left realizes this, but won’t admit it. It becomes easier then to blame the government, to think that George Bush used robotic planes to knock over towers and is holding those passengers inside a secret mountain base—or whatever the conspiracy du jour is.

I don’t have a crystal ball, but if there’s another major attack, even the left might decide that terrorists and their supporters must die. If this happens, our divisions end and our vengeance would be terrible. Twenty years later, the left will tut-tut about American barbarism.

As for me, my primary heroes of the day are not George Bush when he rallied us on those first few days or the police and firemen who ran to their deaths. All of these people are worthy of my respect, but my personal heroes of 9/11 are the passengers of United 93.

Because of delays in their flight, they found out what the terrorists meant to do. They tearfully told family and friends good bye and realized they needed to unite and fight their killers. They were male and female, straight and gay, government workers and business people, white and black. In an impossible situation they fought back. They didn’t survive, but they still emerged victorious. Truly a lesson for us all.

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