It’s been 10 years since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Many of us have memories of where we were and how we reacted. Some of us even have been touched by the experiences of others who were at what became known as Ground Zero, some who perished and some who survived. Take, for example, a story I’ve carried with me these many years.
One of my work colleagues at Film Garden in Los Angeles in 2001 had a brother who worked at a firm at One World Trade Center. After the first plane struck that first tower, the employees in the second tower were evacuated to the street, but were soon given the all clear to return to their offices. A brief discussion among them concluded that none were comfortable with the idea of going back in. They opted instead to wait in a public bomb shelter across the street. Life changing decisions don’t get any more tangible.
But looking back is only one facet of the date we know refer to in our lexicon as “9/11.” There is also the future of this era’s “Dec. 7, 1941 … a date which will live in infamy,” as then President Franklin Roosevelt described it. In some ways the two are rather similar, and in others they’re a bit different.
On 9/11, not unlike what happened at Pearl Harbor almost 60 years earlier, America was attacked. Recently, while I viewed National Geographic’s “George W. Bush: The 9/11 Interview,” the former president observed that the notion that the U.S. and its enemies were separated by oceans had been dispelled. True enough. Like the Japanese Empire successfully managed to do, once again the fight had been brought to us.
Then, and in 2001, a plan was conceived overseas and executed on our shores, capitalizing on gaps in our security and other protocols. The Pearl Harbor and 9/11 attacks were both “spectacular,” monumental in their hubris and devastating in their planning. And in both events, America had hoped to avoid conflict, but now found itself inexorably drawn into retaliation.
This time, however, things were also different. As historian Doris Kearns Goodwin pointed out last Sunday on “Meet The Press,” after Pearl Harbor, America plunged itself into WWII. Almost no one didn’t know someone either affected by the war or who was off serving in it somewhere. And at the end, there was a sense of closure when it was over.
This time, “terrorism” as an enemy has no face, as such. It wears no uniform, flies no flag … there is no swastika or rising sun. And, perhaps most disturbingly, no true sense of closure waiting in the future. President Bush referred to our response as a “war on terror,” but when that “war” will be over could well never be known.
Which brings us to the concept of “war” as we now know it. The U.S. response and its resulting policy immediately following 9/11 entailed sending forces to the Middle East, at a cost of trillions of dollars, and thousands of American troops and civilian casualties. Some progress has been made, to be sure … 9/11 mastermind Kahlid Sheikh Mohammed is in custody, and as we all know, Osama Bin Laden, the iconic Al Qaeda leader, is now dead.
Were those actions justified? Many call President Bush, then Vice President Dick Cheney and then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld “war criminals.” In other countries, detractors say, they would be tried and executed; here we give them book deals.
At the same time, conversely, support for U.S. troops has never been higher perhaps since WWII. Whatever happens (or not) to Bush, Cheney, et al, this will not be a Vietnam for the soldiers charged with fighting the terrorists on the ground. Today, they are not welcomed home with shouts of protest and spitting, but with applause and gratitude.
The methodology, it seems, might be debatable, but the fight against terrorism itself has taken on a certain noble status. And that’s as it should be, also.
As to President Bush’s decisions, right or wrong, I prefer to think that history will be his ultimate judge. Especially given the war on “terror,” whatever that might mean to you and me, the future will be the arbiter of how well he did, and the mistakes and triumphs that will characterize his legacy.
Recently some have suggested that this anniversary of the attacks is our opportunity to make sure that 9/11 is shared by the entire “world,” and not co-opted by the United States alone.
While people of many nationalities perished on 9/11, and the fallout has affected the world to one degree or another, the attacks were perpetrated against this country specifically. I submit that the terrorists frankly didn’t care if the Twin Towers, Pentagon and airliners were full of only Americans or not. That wasn’t the point. It was the targets that mattered.
Yes, terror attacks are routinely carried out in other countries. Embassies have been bombed, leaders assassinated, but the events of 9/11 weren’t like those. Planes weren’t flown into the British Parliament or the Eiffel Tower. Also true, two of the planes hit the “World” Trade Centers, but the structures were inextricably linked to New York, the core of economic power of America, aka “the Great Satan.”
Further, other planes targeted Washington, D.C., the seat of U.S. government. Flight 77 hit the Pentagon, and Flight 93, which went down in a field in Shanksville, Penn., presumably was intended for either the White House or the Capitol building.
Americans wouldn’t wish the attacks on any of our allies, and have always mourned the death of all nationalities that day; however, that being said, it was not the “world” that was being attacked. And to try to broaden the scope of the remembrance is to dilute or otherwise water down not only the events themselves, but also how we remember them.
Near the end of his “9/11 Interview” documentary, President Bush posited that, “Eventually, Sept. 11 will be another date on the calendar, like Pearl Harbor Day. For those of us who lived through it, it will be a day we’ll never forget.”
As 9/11 anniversary dates come and go, like Dec. 7, 1941, our mandate is to make sure future generations not only commemorate the date, but if possible have a better understanding of what happened and why.