Remember How We Felt on 9/11

08Sep11

Never ForgetEvery generation has one of those “always remember where you were” dates. For the Greatest Generation, it was Pearl Harbor. For the Baby Boomers, it was the JFK assassination.

September 11, 2001 is one of those dates.

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is upon us, and even more than any of the preceding anniversaries, the 10th is calculated to remind us of how we felt on that clear blue Tuesday morning.

As it should.

Those of us old enough on September 11, 2001 to see and comprehend what occurred will never forget the sights and sounds that day. Planes flying into skyscrapers. Skyscrapers collapsing in a colossal cloud of dust and debris. Horrified screams and cries audible even over the television.

But the 10th anniversary should also remind us of the emotional memory – the jaw-dropping disbelief, the fierce outrage, and the all too brief and transcendent sense of unity that we all felt as Americans regardless of our political and ideological affiliations.

For the enemy that did this was the enemy of us all – of everyone who went to work that morning, just like the people in those towers; of the people who boarded those planes fully expecting to land on the west coast in six hours. They were us and we were them. The enemy made no distinction.

For a time after the attack we understood. With commerce brought to an abrupt halt, we had the time to absorb it.

American AirlinesWe take for granted the sound of commercial aircraft as the default background noise of our lives. When it’s there, we are barely aware of it. But in the aftermath of 9/11, when all commercial aircraft were grounded for days, we all noticed an eerie silence overhead, punctuated only occasionally by the distinctly different engine sound of a patrolling military jet.

For a time after the attack, we understood on an emotional level what it meant to be Americans.Veterans Day is Nov. 11, 2009 It seemed that two out of every three cars had American flags flying from their antennas – flags that eventually became tattered and frayed but remained attached. We were Americans. We were the good guys. No one in those first weeks after the attacks was even hinting that we “had it coming.”

Those sentiments would creep in later, after things began to slowly get back to something resembling “normal.”
Airlines began again to take to the air, but business would remain down for months as a traumatized public refused to fly.

Television networks gradually scaled back their 24/7 coverage of the attacks and resumed their regular schedules. When Saturday Night Live came back, New York City mayor Rudi Giuliani joined SNL producer Lorne Michaels to open the show.
Rudy Giuliani
“Is it OK if we’re funny?” Michaels asked Giuliani.

“Why start now?” Giuliani quipped, officially giving a wounded nation permission to laugh again.

Eventually, American life did return to normal. We were not defeated as a people. Besides, it would be emotionally impossible, not to mention unhealthy, to forever remain in the immediate post-9/11 mindset.

Still, we need these occasional reminders of what it felt like to be an American in the days, weeks and months after September 11, 2001. We need to remember that there will always be those who hate and resent us, no matter what we do. No nation in history has ever achieved perfection, but despite what our enemies and their apologists say, we need to remember that the United States has been and remains far more a force for good than ill in the world.

Those who suggest, even indirectly, that on 9/11 America reaped what its policies had sown are caught up in abstract thinking. The 3,000 civilians who were incinerated alive in the Twin Towers did not set US policy. Those same critics who are quick to hold America accountable for each and every collateral civilian war casualty downplay the fact that the avenging terrorists went out of their way to target thousands of innocent civilians.

The 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001 should rekindle that immediate post-9/11 feeling just long enough to remind us that it’s no accident that there hasn’t been a repeat of 9/11. Our enemies have not gone away. They have not stopped hating us.

On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, we need to remember the victims, and for their sake and ours we need to remind ourselves that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

[This column originally appeared in the September 8, 2011 Wakefield Daily Item.]

Photo of Rudy Giuliani by Marc Nozell.

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