The events of September 11, 2001 were dramatic. The images were powerful. For the families and friends of 2,977 people September 12 would be a tough day to face. I understand that they were feeling pain, grief, anger, and myriad other emotions.
However, I don’t understand why the rest of the country felt so strongly. Did the entire country become angry and afraid after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995? After the WTC bombing in 1993? Or when it was still believed that the crash of TWA flight 800 was a terrorist attack in 1996? Or after the USS Cole attack in 2000?
For millions upon millions of us, September 12 was much like September 10. Nothing in particular about our lives had changed. So why were so many people suddenly afraid, angry, and vengeful? I wish I knew. Perhaps it would help me understand why our country vastly overreacted. Compare the sweeping changes that occurred after September 11 with the changes enacted after those other events. Having a tough time? Me too. Now, admittedly I was much younger for the other events I’ve mentioned. So if you remember drastic legislation changes and invasions occurring after any of those events, please share. But I don’t think any such thing did occur.
So why the massive overreaction this time? And subsequent overreactions at every new (and all failed) attack attempts? My best guess is that we, as a country, but in particular government leaders, reacted purely out of fear and anger. And when you make decisions from a place of fear and anger you make bad decisions.
I also think the anger many felt was a actually a desire for vengeance. I think people felt their opportunity for vengeance (and hopefully justice) had been stolen from them because the assailants died in the attacks as well. And not only died, but planned to die and welcomed death. They didn’t feel punishment, they felt rewarded! I truly wonder if the course of events over the last decade would have been dramatically different if the attacks had occurred in such a way as to allow the attackers to survive. Then they could have been caught, tried in court, and subjected to sentencing. Perhaps that would have satisfied the bloodlust of our populace.
Our country changed dramatically after 2001. But, the attacks themselves didn’t change our country. We changed our country. In response to this nebulous, faceless threat we decided it would be acceptable to treat law-abiding citizens like criminals. We allowed the government to conduct warrant-less wiretaps on U.S. citizens. We gave up our freedoms because we were afraid. We invaded 2 countries because we were angry and desired vengeance. Our anger has resulted in the deaths of over 130,000 civilians in those countries. Our anger and fear pushed our military to use torture and indefinite incarceration (many times on innocent people).
We pounded our chests and talked about how great we are and why “they” hate us for our freedom and liberty. Then we quietly disposed of a slew of those freedoms and liberties in the name of “safety.” Our reaction to 9/11 as a country was a complete disaster. And our reaction has cost hundreds of thousands of lives, trillions of dollars, some of the principles we claim to hold dear, and, so far, 10 years of our nation’s focus.
I look around at the absurd paraphernalia being sold everywhere right now that demands we “Never Forget 9/11.” And I wonder what that’s supposed to mean. Are loved ones supposed to spend their days focusing on the pain they feel from their loss? Are the rest of us supposed to spend our days nursing anger and fear? And I wonder to what end? Is there anything whatsoever to be gained by never forgetting?
After the attacks I mentioned at the beginning of this post, we, as a nation, mostly moved on and got on with life. We didn’t pass new laws to violate the Constitutionally guaranteed rights of the citizens (which we claimed were why “they” hated us in the first place) to make some people feel better. We didn’t start any wars. We didn’t spend trillions of dollars on changes affecting our daily lives in order to keep us “safe.” We mourned our losses and pushed forward with life.
Until that happens–until we, as a nation, simply get on with life–we’ll continue to sacrifice our rights, freedoms, and liberties for hollow promises of security. We’ll continue to respond from places of fear and anger while the world we actually live in crumbles around us from lack of attention.