We must not forget.
First, 911 changed a lot of perceptions and paradigms that we as a people had. Hijackings were certainly not a new thing, we had seen them before. A group would take over a plane; we would watch news coverage of them as they negotiated for the release of a comrade, or safe passage to this or that country. But before, there was a typical pattern. Hijack, land, make demands, deliver messages and ultimatums, and eventually (in most cases) some kind of resolution where most hostages were released unharmed. It was theorized that the first three planes in the 911 attack never even considered fighting back because they were probably expecting to land and go through some process of negotiation. We were not prepared for the mindset these hijackers had, where their deaths and their method of dying *was* the message. Flight 93 apparently after realizing their fate chose another path.
It isn’t that terrorism was a new thing. I can personally remember some manner of terrorist like activity going back to the 1972 Munich Olympics. Bombings, including suicide bombings have a long history. The Middle East, particularly the Palestinian and Israeli conflict, has been a source of decades of violence, and even Europe has had its share of problems, specifically in the UK with the IRA conflicts a not too distant memory.
But there has been a kind of bubble in the USA that seems to have insulated us from a lot of this, with a couple of exceptions, those being the UniBomber and the Oklahoma City Bombing. But those seem to be isolated acts of disgruntled individuals, not organized acts by a foreign group against us as a people.
We have been attacked before, but always overseas. The USS Cole bombing, car bombs in Beirut and various other places, all of these were attacks but in lands far from Manhattan. They were news stories, but unless a loved one was hurt, it wasn’t real. It was just a story.
Here we were safe. Until September 11th.
Then the reality came home, and one of our last bits of innocence was gone.
What made the comparisons to Pearl Harbor a little inaccurate was the fact that Pearl Harbor was an attack by a Sovereign nation using an armada of military planes and ships to attack a strategic military target. 911 was a handful of men using our own unarmed civilian planes as devastating weapons against a purely civilian target. Nothing prepared us for how effective a fuel laden passenger airplane can destroy an office building. In the aftermath, we expected to find Iraq at the heart of it, I know I did. And while Iraq did have limited ties to Al Qaeda, there was surprisingly no connection to 911. It was the work of a group, not a country.
All the rules were changed. We had become used to the world as safe place, but no longer.
We became united. We were solid and unwavering in our desire to punish those responsible. Congress was acting in an unprecedented unity…for a while. Eventually politics proved more persuasive then unity. By the time the 2004 election rolled around, we were just as fragmented as we were before, only now we were divided during war.
Our leaders chose to take war to the terrorists and those who harbored them, in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Now we again fight them over there. I will defer any arguments on the validity of the places we fight. I am a realist. We are already there, and we will be there for a time to come. The problem I see is we are once again losing valuable unity and perspective. I see this as akin to the pre 911 attitude of seeing it happen “over there”.
We have forgotten the deaths and the pain of watching the towers fall. We forgot the coming together we saw locally in NYC. We forgot the stepping forward as a nation we did, all partisan bickering gone.
Hurricane Katrina has proven just how far back we have fallen and how much we forgot. The response flaws should have been dealt with in proactive correction, and in stepping forward to save those afflicted, and often it was, but as often as not it was greeted with blaming, mostly down party lines.
We have forgotten almost every lesson we learned after 911, and it isn’t really a surpise. The bubble is back. In four years we have not had anything happen here of any significance.
But we are just as vulnerable, because our borders are ridiculous and our security is still flawed. We may be hit here again.
We as a people must wake up and become unified as a country again, not just to combat Al Qaeda and those whose ideology wishes our deaths, but against nature and her fury, which we have seen respects no borders.
The Tsunami was another case of watching it happen over there. Sure whole cities were flattened but that was some place far away. Katrina brought it home again, and the lesson was clear: Yes it can happen here.
And when it did we weren’t ready. As a city, as a state, as a country we were not prepared. Once again, we were faced with something that changed the rules. We had weathered storms, we replaced windows and roofs and moved on. That was the normal procedure.
But the floodwaters, and the resultant pollution in the waters was not what we expected, nor we prepared for the looting and raping. The rules changed. Now local communities are stepping forward, and the spirit of the country is coming close to a partial unification.
The lesson is clear. We must unify as a people, or we will continue to be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. United we stand and divided we fall. How much more clear can it be?
If we only remember one facet of 911, it must be that we have shown we can stand united.