Posted by: joha5 | September 10, 2010

A Change of Tides: Reflections upon 9/11

Tomorrow will mark the 9th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks.  Granted, you already know this.  It would be impossible to have completely blocked out some of the politicizing going on in the United States surrounding those very events.  If it isn’t a heated – and ridiculous – debate on the construction of a mosque a few blocks away from where the Twin Towers once stood then it is a renegade pastor in Gainesville, Florida holding the nation’s collective emotions hostage as he plans to burn hundreds of copies of the Quran in protest of…well, I’m not even quite sure.  And if it isn’t a renegade pastor then it is Donald Trump who decides to enter the fray by saying he will buy the land where the mosque will be so he can be the ultimate proprietor of any major decision.  And if all else fails to capture our attention then there is always the inevitable questions of ‘Why has nothing been built on Ground Zero yet?’, ‘Why is there no memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania?’, and ‘How far have we really come in the aftermath of September 11th?’. 

It would be easy to share my own personal experience of 9/11 and what happened to me on that day.  I’m sure that it would not be much unlike many of your own stories.  In spite of the fact that I was born and raised in Washington, D.C., I don’t feel any ownership of those events that day.  Whether it was down the street from me or across the country from you matters not.  The visceral and emotional reaction to it is consistent throughout the United States.  Even 9 years later, there is still a sense of rawness deep within me about what happened on September 11th.  But it is a different kind of rawness from what I experienced a year or two or three after the attacks.  I find that my feelings on the 9th anniversary are much less emotional and much more cerebral when compared to how I have felt in years past.

Have emotions changed towards 9/11 in the past 9 years?

This is not to say that I won’t reflect at all tomorrow or that I will ever forget about the atrocities that happened on that day.  How could I?  But as time elapses and our world changes around us I can’t help but wonder what really happened on September 11th.  I have wondered this in years past but I have wondered more about the context of the attacks, how it was planned, why would this happen, and how could this happen.  Most of these answers have readily available answers to them and can be found in the reports of the 9/11 commission, documentaries produced by the BBC and National Geographic, or even now in history books (I know this because I have taught it).

What I want to know as we approach the 9th anniversary is what really happened?  I want to know what changed that day.  I want to know what really happened to America.  I want to know if we are better off now than we were before.  I want to know whether or not life would be the same for me now if 9/11 never happened.  I want to know the effect it had on our culture, society, politics, economy, the way we see ourselves, and the way we view others around us.  Clearly, these questions can not and will never have a readily available answer.  This is not to say that they cannot be discussed or debated or even partly answered.  They can.  And this is where my attention is turning to as the 9th anniversary approaches. 

Many of you may disagree with me but I can’t help but find myself wallowing in a deep sense of despondence when I think about where we are today in the aftermath of September 11th.  If you had told me even a year or two after the attacks that we would be where we are today I would have told you unapologetically that you were an imbecile.  I suppose I should have expected the politicking, the xenophobia, the knee-jerk reactions, the loss of compromise, the polarization, and the distinct lack of resolution that I was hoping for.  What I absolutely did not expect is to be living in a world or society that constantly has a shadow cast over us by this single day of events. 

How big - and real - is the shadow of 9/11 on the United States of America?

And this is what I mean by trying to figure out what really changed.  Sure, laws changed, families changed, schools changed, politics changed, and attitudes changed.  But perhaps most importantly, the way we viewed ourselves changed and that permanently changed the way we interact with the world around us.  Perhaps that is what frustrates me most.  I hate the idea that a handful of people on the other side of the world could irreversibly alter the course of my own personal history – let alone the trajectory of an entire nation.  But the conclusion that I have come to 9 years later is that – like it or not – they did.   

There are many people who will trumpet the new era of American Exceptionalism in the post 9/11 world.  Greater security, the promise of a global movement towards participatory democracy, and a return to greatness through our powerful economy and even stronger value system.  They may be right and I would like nothing more than if they were.  The only problem is that 9 years removed from September 11th, 2001, other than these sweeping statements that I see in the newspapers and watch on the news, I see no tangible pathway opening up to any kind of life comparable to the one that we had before 9/11.  It is clear we can not return to the place from whence we came.

And at that time, we didn’t want to.  The unity that followed – nationally and globally – after those horrific attacks was something that I may never be witness to again in my lifetime.  The events of that day transcended nationalism.  It could never be permanent but the promise of building a better world off of the back of a catastrophe was there.  We all saw it.  I just wonder what ever happened to those days.  I wonder when it was exactly that we realized we had been transformed.  I wonder when it was the silver lining faded and new storm clouds formed.  I want answers to all of these things but these are precisely the answers that I will never get.  And it hurts.

On September 11th, 2010, I will reflect on the journey that we have embarked upon as a country in the years after the terrorist attacks.  I have changed since that day and so has the United States of America.  All I can say for sure is that in the years immediately following 9/11 I felt angry, and hurt, and cheated by external forces that could not be controlled.  Now I can’t really help but feel angry, and hurt, and cheated by internal forces that we actually do have complete control over.  I will reflect tomorrow and I will spend time thinking about that day but I know that I will have a tiny nagging thought in the back of my mind that I won’t be able to stop asking.  Isn’t this the path that Al-Qaeda wanted us to go down in the first place?



  1. I have spent the past nine years seeking answers myself.

    Now, all I can do is remember the day and what life was like before…what life was like afterwards.

    I remember the big news nine years ago focused on Gary Condit. Connie Chung landed an exclusive “no holds barred” interview with the beleaguered lawmaker. We crowded around our TV sets on an Indian Summer Monday evening all those years ago, like some Fireside Chat for the New Millenium. Connie asked the questions and we watched and listened intently for his responses. Condit categorically denied having ANY knowledge of Chandra Levy’s where abouts. He knwe NOTHIG about the mssing intern. Did we believe him?

    Did it matter??? We just wanted more and we couldn’t wait until the next juicy Condit interview.

    But that never happened. Our focus shifted.

    The next morning, 19 religious zealots in four hijacked Boeing 757’s made sure of that.


    • Hey Laurie. Thanks so much for your insightful and well thought out comment. It’s so strange to transport yourself back to a time while simultaneously trying to void out your current perspective. It isn’t often that I reflect on things that are so difficult to think about but I really appreciate you stopping by and giving me your perspective on that day more than 9 years ago now. Thanks again and please stop by and comment as often as you can.

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