Nine Eleven

Nine Eleven

September 11, 2001.

Every year when this date comes to pass, the conversation always turns to what a person was doing at the time these attacks happened because they were so traumatizing to people across America. I don’t know what the point of this exercise will be for me as I try to share my experience, but maybe it will relate how this date changed the lives of people who lived far away from the chaos for the younger people today.

The day

I was at home with a rare day off here in Kentucky at my mother’s house. My university was closed that day in order to celebrate the inauguration of our new president. Students were encouraged to attend, but I opted to stay home and catch up on rest instead. I was fast asleep in my bed when my 13 inch television turned on. I had an alarm on it to wake me up at 9:30 a.m. I remember the sun pouring through the blinds and hearing what sounded like the news, and I first woke up with the vague recollection that perhaps a surprise daytime movie was on. Since I only had network television (maybe three channels), I was initially delighted in my groggy state until I started recognizing Tom Brokaw’s voice. Then I realized Brokaw wasn’t an actor and woke up enough to see what was going on.

People may not remember this but early coverage of the attacks showed people falling from the building as they jumped for their lives to escape the smoke and flames. Sounds of bodies slamming into rooftops on cars were audible as reporters hunkered in the lobby of the World Trade Center with the initial first respondents, many whom would never make it out again. Then the building fell and a dust cloud covered the area as people ran for their lives. Then the second. Interspersed with this was coverage of the Pentagon attack and the downed plane in Pennsylvania. For these couple of hours I was transfixed by the television. I remember calling a friend to ask if we were at war. Then reports that it was a terrorist attack and that planes had been grounded gave a relief that the government was back in control again.

The day after

The next day I went to class and my economics professor detailed the United States’ relationship with Afghanistan, the Taliban, and Osama bin Laden. People were angry, and a few were crying, as the class peppered him with questions about a country that most people admitted never even knew existed. They were in a daze. Literally the news leading up to 9/11 was mostly about shark attacks in Florida, and now it was nothing but wall to wall coverage of the attacks and America’s upcoming response to it.

It was clear from the outset we were going to war. You were hard-pressed to find anyone who thought invading Afghanistan was a bad idea. Al Qaeda needed to be dealt with immediately. Interesting enough, as part of my summer reading just a few months prior, I had picked up a book called “Feast of Bones” randomly from the library. It was a historical fiction about the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan told from the perspective of an elite combat group. From this book, I understood the problems America would face. To me, it wouldn’t be much different than what Soviets dealt with in their failed war there. It would be a battle where a large technologically advanced military would take on a determined foe who would be satisfied with simply waiting out the invader. It would be fought in a place where religion and economic interests collided, in a country with sparse resources, where the enemy could slip back into the populace and use the border with Pakistan as a shield. Unfortunately, this is how it played out. Although Al-Qaeda has for the most part been wrecked, the Taliban is still a force there.

Today

What’s next for our country I cannot say. 9/11 put this country in a malaise for a better part of a decade. Does anyone remember the 2000s with as much fondness as they do the 80s or 90s? Most people rarely even mention those years. Obama seemed to offer relief from our despair and then a few short months before he took office the country faced economic collapse as the Great Recession began. Stack on a depleted economic center where jobs drifted to the coasts, an opioid problem that seems to just get worse, and you start realizing why we can’t seem to get along with each other anymore. Americans are divided, angry, and aren’t even talking to each other about it so we can move forward. We’re just calling each other names. It also seems politicians have taken to stoking these divisions, so there’s no hope from our current leadership in healing our wounds still even today, almost twenty years later.

Tomorrow

My hope is America continues being a bastion of freedom, both politically and economically. I have no idea what will happen in the future, but my feeling is that 9/11 changed America in ways we don’t understand yet. Young people have it in them to start over again, and build something we can all be proud of in the future. Something that’s built on freedom and justice for everyone, and retakes America’s place as leader of the free world and not a country willing to hide behind its walls. Hopefully that day comes soon, because we’ve been through enough already.

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