America’s New War
September 11 started out as a pleasantly blue-skied day in central Ohio. I woke and checked my email like any other day. I noticed that funds were precariously missing from my bank account, so I immediately trekked to the bank to settle everything.
I stopped in my mother’s on the way home when she said, "The World Trade Center just got hit by terrorists. They crashed a plane into it.”
An odd sense of detachment pushed my mind back a notch and a faint sense of vertigo gave my head a decompressed feel. No, I thought, it has to be a mistake. An airliner had to have had malfunctions. Perhaps the pilot was experiencing system failures.
I ran home to turn on the news. And there I sat for the next ten hours. If the feeling must be put into words, it was something like the feeling you have as a child in school who has been caught doing something wrong, and everyone knows about it. Yet I was alone most of the day, and no one’s attention was on me. It was the feeling of great events happening to you against your will, and you want to force reality to change back to normal with a sheer effort of inner resolve.
I went to bed with the fate of the world pressed sharply in my mind. There was no room left for a few dollars missing from my bank account. Only stunned images of people plummeting from one of the world’s tallest buildings, and firefighters rushing by the droves into a scene that loomed with the heavy smoke of current and imminent danger.
The next day I woke, holding precariously to that childlike notion that it had all been a dream. The world is fine. I don’t have to worry about wars and other barbaric movements.
But the world was not fine. The World Trade Center no longer stood. The Pentagon was still smoldering. And America was holding its breath.
Psychologists and historians should be acute to the potential for learning right now, as they see en masse the effects of a social psyche put to motion. It has been decades since we have been able to study at home the power of our tribal instincts of group protection kicking into furious mobilization.
People that were complacently disenchanted with America and life in general have suddenly surged with patriotism, sometimes humble, sometimes stubborn, but always genuine.
Words we’ve heard numerous times from our fathers and grandfathers and other veterans suddenly seem meaningful. Now we know a bit of what they meant when they have said that kids just don’t care anymore—because up until September 11, 2001, most of us, kids and adults, didn’t care much about flags and national pride.
I think we haven’t been complacent because we intended to let America come to this tragedy. We have not been apathetic because we wanted to let down our guard. It happened because we have spent so long away from struggling for our global position that we have not intimately felt the forces of red tooth and claw that are realities beyond our borders.
We’ve given up the bogeyman with widespread fall of Communism. It seems that a new bogeyman has crawled under our bed. In some cases, it almost seems like we were sleeping with him, unaware that a hairy fiend slept in the same sheets we came home to every night.
Finding a way to eliminate the terror is going to require resources and outlooks that we haven’t really wanted accommodating in smoother times. But we really have no choice, and we will have to live with the facts and realities of our world and time, and try to courageously pave a new path for the world.
We owe it to the brave souls who fell in the past to keep the free world safe. We owe it to our children who are our greatest potential and most vulnerable targets. We owe it to ourselves because we have already shown that we are the wisest nation in history to patiently assess our enemies and look for truth rather than lashing out at the sinister clans of intrigue the moment we were knocked down.
2011-10-30 After re-reading this many years later I see clearly that I wasn't immune to the patriotism of the moment after the attack. An educated primate is still a primate.
I have the feeling that the spirit of the age is drifting away from war, finally. I hope the trend continues and that the world can heal itself for the sake of all of us.
- The New American War
Essays, commentaries and cartoons about the American War on Terrorism arising after September 11, 2003.
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